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red herring

A “red herring” is a political diversion which draws attention away from something of significance.

It’s often used by politicians or political parties to distract from a controversy or difficult situation by introducing a new or unrelated issue.

A red herring is often used as a tactic to avoid answering a difficult question or to deflect criticism.

For example, a politician who is asked about a controversial policy or decision may introduce a red herring by talking about a different issue that they believe will be more popular or more favorable to them.

This tactic can be effective because it allows the politician to avoid addressing the original issue and to focus on something that they believe will be more favorable to them.

The use of red herrings in politics is often criticized because it can be seen as dishonest or manipulative.

By introducing a new issue or topic, the politician who uses a red herring is able to avoid answering a difficult question or addressing a controversial issue.

This can be frustrating to journalists, voters, and others who are interested in hearing the politician’s views on the original issue.

The term likely originates from an article published in 1807 by journalist William Cobbett in the Weekly Political Register.

In a critique of the English newspapers, 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. But he noted “It was a mere transitory effect of the political red-herring; for, on the Saturday, the scent became as cold as a stone.”

Examples of “red herring” in a sentence

  • The politician’s response to the scandal was seen as a red herring, as he avoided addressing the issue and instead focused on an unrelated topic.
  • Critics accused the political party of using red herrings to distract from the controversy and to avoid answering difficult questions.
  • The use of red herrings in politics is often seen as a form of deception, and some argue that it undermines the honesty and transparency that are essential to democratic politics.