I’m not sure who’s to blame for the proliferation of red herrings in society.
The media? I imagine they push the stories that produce responses.
Society? Probably the most to blame. We do like our red herrings.
Education? I would put some blame here, too. Many of my college educated friends can’t explain to me what red herring means. Every sixth grader should know this and be able to spot them.
For those of you who don’t know, red herrings are distractions from the real issue.
You tell me that my gum chomping annoys you. I respond that your yawning bugs me. Not only did I not address my gum chomping, but I attempted to distract you from that issue by introducing a new, unrelated topic — your yawning — and I put you on the defensive hoping you will begin to discuss that or something else (maybe my throat clearing) rather than my gum chomping.
According to Wikipedia, William Corbett first used “red herring” in his weekly newspaper in the early 1800s as a metaphor for a political maneuver to distract people from the issue at hand. A red herring is a cured and pungent fish. Corbett wrote that hounds can be distracted from the scent of their mark by dragging a red herring across the trail.