Neural mechanisms that detect changes in the auditory environment appear to rely on processes that predict sensory state. Here we propose that in tinnitus there is a disparity between what the brain predicts it should be hearing (this prediction based on aberrant neural activity occurring in cortical frequency regions affected by hearing loss and underlying the tinnitus percept) and the acoustic information that is delivered to the brain by the damaged cochlea. The disparity between the predicted and delivered inputs activates a system for auditory attention that facilitates through subcortical neuromodulatory systems neuroplastic changes that contribute to the generation of tinnitus. We review behavioral and functional brain imaging evidence for persisting auditory attention in tinnitus and present a qualitative model for how attention operates in normal hearing and may be triggered in tinnitus accompanied by hearing loss. The viewpoint has implications for the role of cochlear pathology in tinnitus, for neural plasticity and the contribution of forebrain neuromodulatory systems in tinnitus, and for tinnitus management and treatment.