Red herrings and multicultural plots

One newspaper technique for fooling people is the red herring.  Here's how it works.  Someone offers a list of things that have happened or reasons for something happening and the papers choose the most outrageous or ridiculous and focus on it as if it's the only one.

Luckily for me, who wanted to write more about this, there has been a great example of a more subtle than usual red herring causing a massive brouhaha in the press in the last week or so.

Andrew Neather wrote an article 'Don't listen to the whingers - London needs immigrants' in last Friday's Evening Standard.  You can probably guess from the headline that it was a pro-immigration article, and it included a lot of reasons why immigration is good for London. 

Trouble is, Neather is a former civil servant who wrote a key speech on immigration for Barbara Roche.  In his article, he says:
But the earlier drafts I saw also included a driving political purpose: that mass immigration was the way that the Government was going to make the UK truly multicultural.

I remember coming away from some discussions with the clear sense that the policy was intended - even if this wasn't its main purpose - to rub the Right's nose in diversity and render their arguments out of date. That seemed to me to be a manoeuvre too far.
Dun dun duurrrn!!  The smoking gun!  The whole point of Labour's immigration policy was to secretly increase MULTICULTURALISM.

To be fair to the papers, in this case Neather's original article wasn't amazingly clear, and he's written a clarification pointing out:
Multiculturalism was not the primary point of the report or the speech. The main goal was to allow in more migrant workers at a point when - hard as it is to imagine now - the booming economy was running up against skills shortages.

But my sense from several discussions was there was also a subsidiary political purpose to it - boosting diversity and undermining the Right's opposition to multiculturalism.

I was not comfortable with that. But it wasn't the main point at issue.

Somehow this has become distorted by excitable Right-wing newspaper columnists into being a "plot" to make Britain multicultural.
If you want more blatant examples of this kind of red herring, Richard Littlejohn is a past master.  He's managed to excuse torture of a prisoner who died in custody in Iraq, who had:
suffered asphyxiation and at least 93 injuries to his body, including fractured ribs and a broken nose. At a High Court hearing in 2004, his father Daoud Mousa said he had been "horrified" by the state of his son's body and had burst into tears when asked to identify it.

because prisoners were also forced to dance like Michael Jackson.  Smellyface managed to spin this into:
The Not In My Name crowd are so desperate to convict British soldiers of torture they'll clutch at any straw, from fake photos to uncorroborated testimony from hardened terrorists.

At the latest inquiry, which opened this week, it was even claimed that Iraqi prisoners were forced at gunpoint to dance like Michael Jackson. Now that's what I call torture.
Lovely bloke.

This one also applies to an awful lot of Political Correctness Gone Mad stories.  A favourite tactic is to take things that have been done to accomodate for all religions and zero in on the fact that it applies to Muslims.  Hence stories like the one I covered in 'You seen what they're doing now?' and the one TabloidWatch covered in 'Mail returns to attacking immigrants and Muslims'.  A great example of one snowballing and finding its way into loads of stories is a recent one about an illegal immigrant not being deported because he had a cat, whcih TabloidWatch painstakingly covered.

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