Sarah Sanders is using our state to test her propaganda playbook. Her distraction method is a strategy to keep Arkansans outraged, avoid meaningful dialogue, and ultimately exhaust her opposition. 

Distraction as a means of manipulation is not a new technique. But today we consume a high volume of information via countless platforms, which makes us more likely to become victims of this type of propaganda.

Renowned linguist Noam Chomsky labels distraction as the most common form of media manipulation in modern society. Chomsky writes that distraction occurs when those in political and economic power divert public attention away from important issues. Those in power do this by flooding media platforms with a stream of continuous content, some of it potentially false, and insignificant information. The goal is to overwhelm the audience with meaningless matters and keep their focus away from the real issues. 

Spokespeople for the Sanders administration specialize in distraction as a type of media manipulation. The team produces so much inconsequential material that there are too many examples to share from the last seven months, but here are a few:

  • Insisting LEARNS was on the ballot when Arkansans voted in 2022 
  • Deploying the Arkansas National Guard to the Texas/Mexico border for a publicity stunt
  • Stirring the culture war pot with a Tweet defending Jason Aldean’s Try That in a Small Town 
  • Banning the term “Latinx” during the Governor’s first weeks in office 
  • Trolling California Governor Gavin Newsom ad nauseam 
  • Clapping back at local reporters, journalists, and media personalities 
  • Harping about sidewalk chalk crosses 
  • Launching a full-scale marketing campaign for anti-trans koozies 

We don’t know why Sanders and her team employ distraction at every turn, but there are two plausible reasons. 

The first is that the Governor and her inner circle, e.g. chief of staff Gretchen Conger, want eyes averted from their real political strategy and ambitions. Those may include future political opportunities, like a shot at the presidency or vice presidency, or something more achievable in the short term, like generating appeal among national extremists. 

The second reason could be that the Governor wants a buffer between her inexperienced lower-level staff and herself as an inexperienced Governor. Creating separation between the few powerful insiders and bottom-rung staff gives Sanders space to make mistakes during her first term in public office. If she flubs, she’s insulated from real accountability. If her spokespeople flub, they are scapegoats and very much expendable. 

Perhaps the reasoning behind the distraction strategy is based on a combination of the two reasons. 

Regardless, it’s imperative Arkansans — especially those who exercise their free-speech right to criticize the Governor and her policies — recognize how frequently she uses distraction techniques. There are three specific distraction methods that stand out in her public messaging: minimization, muddy the waters, and firehose of falsehood

  • Minimization is characterizing something as trivial or insignificant in order to shift the public’s attention. 
  • Muddy the waters is a method that uses irrelevant information to confuse or complicate an issue.
  • Firehose of falsehood is when a large number of messages (that ignore truth) are posted quickly and continuously across a variety of media channels. 

Sanders and her team use these tactics to distract, demoralize, and drain out the opposition. Familiarize yourself with these propaganda methods so you will know when her administration is trying to divert attention away from an issue or send the opposition into a tailspin of outrage. 

More importantly, look beyond the distraction techniques to find the truth. What are the Governor’s ambitions? How are these ambitions impacting Arkansans? How can we best hold her administration to account? 

Don’t let yourself be distracted. Keep seeking truth, keep calling out disinformation, and keep fighting to make Arkansas better.