red herring

A political diversion which draws attention away from something of significance.

Michael Quinlan notes the term likely originates from an article published on February 14, 1807 by journalist William Cobbett in the Weekly Political Register. In a critique of the English press, which had mistakenly reported Napoleon’s defeat, Cobbett recounted that he had once used a red herring to deflect hounds in pursuit of a hare, adding “It was a mere transitory effect of the political red-herring; for, on the Saturday, the scent became as cold as a stone.”