Let’s talk about dead cats, since you’re going to be seeing a lot of them in the coming weeks.

First published in November 2019.

In this context, a dead cat is a shock story to distract from another, potentially more damaging story.

You purposely whip up outrage to drown out the other stuff.

Wednesday morning brought an example of this.

Ben Johnson penned a piece in the Telegraph to launch his campaign, comparing Jeremy Corbyn to Stalin and the kulaks, and thus changing the debate.

Listen to the headlines from BBC Radio 4 to get a sense of what that debate looked like then.

Yes, not many people in the UK know about the kulaks, but enough commentators do to pick up the analogy. And everyone knows that Stalin was a VERY BAD MAN.

But accuracy is not the point. Distraction is.

When my kids were younger, I used to be able to distract them by pointing in some random direction and going “Oooh, a distraction.” They are older now and wise to this. But it is a similar strategy, albeit drawing in attention, rather than pushing it away.

It is not intrinsically illegitimate to try to change the debate – it happens all the time – but we (as citizens) have to be aware of what it implies.

Just because X is important doesn’t mean Y or Z stop being important.

In sum:

● When a new thing comes up, check what is being pushed aside;

● Judge an issue’s importance against objective benchmarks, not just the participants’ evaluations;

● The more you use this, the less it works;

● Never google ‘dead cat’.🔷

Share this article now:

[This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article on 8 November 2019, with the author’s consent, with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected. | The author of the tweets writes in a personal capacity.]

Creative Commons License
(Cover: Flickr/Justin Ennis. - Mummified cat. / Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)