Don’t Be Fooled: A Citizen’s Guide to News and Information in the Digital Age

Cover art for Don't Be Fooled

A new and updated guide designed to help citizens think critically about news and information — to build a personal BS (Bald Sophistry) meter that can become a habit of mind.

Written for a general audience, this book contains easy-to-remember methods for vetting information from any source in any medium. The centerpiece is the SMELL test. The book also examines the origins of bias, the nature of truth, commercial bias in news, how to decode images and video, and new online tools for vetting allegedly factual information on the Web.

Second Edition, Published October, 2017. 246 pages. ISBN-13: 978-1976425783. ISBN-10: 1976425786 $14.95. Shipping within U.S. $3.60 (Allow 7-10 days)
Tags/keywords: Fake news, news literacy, journalism, media literacy


This book presents a method – the SMELL test – for separating real from fake and misleading news. But it goes much further:
* Assessing the dimensions of a communication revolution that’s upending politics and altering every aspect of modern life;
* Exploring the limited nature of facts;
* Explaining the origins of bias and how to uncover them;
* Showing how self-interest on the part of individuals and news organizations influences what becomes news;
* Providing realistic standards for news quality;
* Describing how to “read” images and video;
* Exposing common ways spinmeisters manipulate the public, and finally:
* Reviewing online tools and techniques for unmasking bias, including our own.

Reviews of Don’t Be Fooled

“This book does an excellent job of showing why news literacy matters, why misinformation and distortions are so prevalent in today’s media, and how to know what to trust on the Web, in print and on TV. I teach media literacy in a university mass communications program, and I’ve woven John McManus’ ideas into my courses. (In the interest of transparency — a topic covered in Don’t Be Fooled — I should note that John and I worked together many years ago at the daily newspaper in Norfolk, Va. But I didn’t realize he wrote this book until I stumbled upon it on Amazon and bought the Kindle edition.)

“In the past, I’ve used a previous book by McManus titled Detecting Bull. I noticed that it’s just come out in a second edition. “Don’t Be Fooled” is aimed at a different audience — written more for everyday readers than for scholars.

“Don’t Be Fooled has an engaging, conversational tone, with references ranging from A.J. Liebling to Stephen Colbert. It combines theory (the news media’s role in democracy) with practical advice for both news consumers (how to spot unreliable information) and media professionals (examine your own biases). McManus provides a critical perspective in an age of spinmeisters and the Kardashianization of news.”

— Jeff South, professor, Virginia Commonwealth University

“This Guide says a lot in relatively few pages. Every citizen concerned about the future of this country should read it in order to understand how so much of journalism is now failing us and to discern how to better understand what’s actually happening from our local communities to the global arena.”

— Michael J. Copps, former Federal Communications Commissioner

“A tour de force for anyone trying to sift through the muck and understand the news today. John McManus has taken his decades of experience as an outstanding journalist and scholar and produced one of the most accessible and useful books in years. I strongly recommend it.”

— Robert W. McChesney, author of Dollarocracy, and the Gutgsell Endowed Professor in the Department of Communication, University of Illinois

“Quite simply — the best roadmap I’ve seen for navigating the twists and turns in the ever-evolving media landscape. As a journalist and an educator, I am immensely grateful to John McManus for this book, which comes at a time when the digital revolution is spawning an unprecedented flood of information and disinformation every day. McManus helps us ferret out the bull and the bias, including our own.”

— Judy Muller, former ABC News correspondent and NPR commentator, and professor of journalism, University of Southern California, Annenberg School

“These days, all sorts of misinformation is reported as fact. Since very little fact-checking is done, citizens have to figure out how to sort out fact from deception. Don’t Be Fooled helps get the job done, providing real ways anyone can subject what they hear to a simple SMELL test.”

— Craig Newmark, founder of

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