What's Wrong with the Media.

AuthorStockwell, Norman

Hate Inc.: Why Today's Media Makes Us Despise One Another by Matt Taibbi. OR Books, 304 pages, on sale October 9.

United States of Distraction: Media Manipulation in Post-Truth America (And What We Can Do About It) by Nolan Higdon and Mickey Huff. City Lights Publishers, 248 pages.

Matt Taibbi's latest book is a no-holds-barred takedown of what the media have become in the era of Donald Trump. Taibbi, a longtime writer and now contributing editor for Rolling Stone, takes to task not only rightwing ideologues like Sean Hannity of Fox News, but also liberal media icons like MSNBC's Rachel Maddow. And he does not spare himself, often using the pronoun "we" when talking about shortcomings. He occasionally confesses to having contributed to the problem directly.

"We also sell content that's just plain stupid," he writes. "I know this because I've created a lot of that content."

The book began as a "rethinking" of Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, the classic 1988 book by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky. Taibbi argues that today's media are "manufacturing discontent" on both sides of the political aisle. "[T]he biggest change to Chomsky's model is the discovery of a far superior 'common enemy' in modern media: each other.... Who we hate just depends on what channel we watch."

This transformation of the media into entities that generate division rather than consensus had its genesis in "behemoths like Fox" that "turned the old business model on its head," moving away from "objective news" to news that was "opinionated, and nasty." The new model took off with Donald Trump's presidential campaign. Taibbi quotes the now-disgraced former chairman and chief executive officer of CBS Corporation, Les Moonves, who told an audience in February 2016 that Trump's candidacy "may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS." Moonves went on to crow that "the money's rolling in... this is going to be a very good year for us."

According to Taibbi, this is a symptom of a much greater problem in the media. "We are trying to keep your brain locked in conflict," he writes, "not just for the grubby commercial reason that it keeps people tuned in, but because it prevents them from thinking about other things."

Hate Inc. draws deeply from Taibbi's own years of reporting on various political campaigns. The son of TV journalist Mike Taibbi, he even goes so far as to argue, with regard to cable news, that people should "turn it...

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