In recent weeks a new kind of propaganda strategy has been deployed in order to muddy the waters and get people quibbling over trivial details to distract attention away from the main issue.
It’s a specific kind of distraction tactic based on getting people arguing over the trivial minutiae of a subject rather than the big picture, and I’ll explain why I’ve decided to coin the term “Corbyn’s hat” distraction tactic to describe it.
The reason I’ve decided to call this kind of propaganda ploy a “Corbyn’s hat” distraction tactic is that the most glaring example I’ve ever seen to date involved sidetracking an important debate about broadcaster bias into a heated argument over Jeremy Corbyn’s hat.
The bigger issue was that the BBC (which is supposed to be a politically impartial state broadcaster) made the extraordinary decision to mock up a giant poster of a red-tinted Jeremy Corbyn in front of the Kremlin to use for the background of one of their shows in which Corbyn’s evidence-seeking stance on the Sailsbury poisoning was ridiculed and no mention of the £800,000+ Theresa May’s Tories have taken in donations from Russian oligarchs and Putin cronies.
This wasn’t the first time the British state broadcaster has used photoshop to attack Jeremy Corbyn, they even photoshopped him with Osama Bin Laden during a debate on terrorism during the 2017 General Election.
This staggeringly biased editorial decision displayed the kind of extreme pro-government anti-opposition bias you’d actually expect to see in Putin’s Russia, so it’s no surprise that it generated a lot of complaints, but somehow the BBC and their mates in the establishment club managed to focus the debate down onto the trivial issue of whether Jeremy Corbyn’s hat had been photoshopped.
The literal big picture (that the supposedly impartial BBC blatantly photoshopped a red-tinted picture of Jeremy Corbyn onto the Kremlin) was lost in a ridiculous quibble over whether the BBC had also altered Jeremy Corbyn’s hat to make it look more Russian, with hard-right Tories and so-called ‘centrists’ alike pouring scorn on the “Corbyn’s hat” debate as if that was the core issue, rather than an utterly trivial side issue distraction away from the Putineqsue behaviour of the BBC.
You couldn’t really get a clearer example of people quibbling over a trivial issue to distract from the big picture when the big picture was literally a big picture.
Getting people quibbling over a trivial side issue rather than thinking about the big picture is distinct from other propaganda distraction tactics like “whataboutery” (trying to deflect attention onto a different subject altogether) and the “dead cat” tactic (doing, saying, or revealing something so grotesque that public attention is diverted away from the serious issue at hand) because it doesn’t actually change the subject of the debate, it just narrows it down to such an extent that people end up quibbling over one very specific aspect of the subject, rather than viewing the subject in its broader context.
This “Corbyn’s hat” type distraction strategy is highly effective because it’s not an obvious “look! a squirrel” kind of distraction, it’s a distraction that involves directing attention at a trivial aspect of the subject, which means that people could actually conclude that they’ve debated the subject and come to a conclusion on it, even though they’ve completely sidetracked away from the main issue.
Clearly a distraction tactic that allows the victim to erroneously believe that they’ve actually debated and understood the wider subject is a much more effective form of propaganda than a simplistic ploy to switch their attention to another matter altogether.
Windrush landing cards
Theresa May created the Windrush scandal by introducing vile UKIP-pandering anti-migrant legislation in 2014. Legislation that has resulted in British citizens without documentation being denied employment, denied housing, denied social security, denied pensions, and denied NHS care. These dehumanising and discriminatory rules have left thousands living in fear of imprisonment and deportation from their own country.
In a desperate attempt to deflect blame away from herself Theresa May stood at the dispatch box and misled parliament by claiming that the decision to destroy Windrush landing cards was taken by Labour in 2009.
It didn’t matter that the Home Office had already admitted that the landing cards were destroyed in October 2010, under Theresa May’s watch, her misleading claim was the ideal “Corbyn’s hat” distraction for the Tory propaganda machine, and the debate waged for the rest of the day over who destroyed the landing cards.
The fact is that even if Labour had destroyed them, which they didn’t, it was only because of Theresa May’s vile Faragist anti-immigrant legislation that the Windrush scandal developed.
But by sidetracking the debate onto who destroyed the Windrush landing cards the Tory propaganda machine created the misleading impression that there’s some kind of debate over whether Labour or the Tories were to blame, when the indisputable reality is that Theresa May’s grotesque UKIP-pandering attack on immigrants is to blame.
Using a “Corbyn’s hat” distraction to deliberately sidetrack the debate into ridiculous quibbling over a minor aspect of the issue is clearly and undeniably an effective propaganda strategy, so be vigilant, and don’t be afraid to call out “Corbyn’s hat” distraction tactics the next time you see this kind of propaganda in action.