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In a recent Economics Explained video "Emergency PSA - The End of YouTube in Australia" at 0:27 and 5:39, there was a claim that a specific Australian policy may have been timed to be announced while the general population was distracted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Guardian claims in Take Out the Trash Day – the perfect opportunity to bury bad news that the UK government buries bad news while people are distracted by Christmas.

Jo Moore suggested taking advantage of the September 11 attacks to release bad news, but it seems to have been a major blunder.

It sounds like a plausible hypothesis, that governments deliberately announce unpopular policies or release bad news when the population is distracted, but I'd like to know whether the hypothesis has been critically examined, and if so, what the conclusions are.

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    Trillions of dollars each year are spent to convince people around the world what product to buy, what philosophy to believe, what candidate to vote for.... It's frankly impossible to believe that any government would not participate in basic marketing for the simple reason that if the people in that government didn't - their campaign opponents would - and thereby it will always happen. Aug 23 '20 at 17:57
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    If they are good politicians, most everything they do will be deliberate. Aug 23 '20 at 23:25
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    Legislation against net neutrality has been attempted every christmas during the last few years.
    – user23406
    Aug 24 '20 at 3:27
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    This could also be a good question to ask on skeptics.stackexchange, if you want answers based on evidence.
    – henning
    Aug 24 '20 at 8:23
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    To go further : en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Shock_Doctrine In this book, the author explains that some states use "shocking events" to put in place policies that otherwise will face a massive disapproval of the population.
    – Genorme
    Aug 24 '20 at 11:18
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Yes, this has been studied in the case of US presidents, and the commonly held belief seems to be well evidenced.

Presidents tend to issue executive orders, and specifically ones that are likely to generate negative publicity, in coincidence with other important events that distract the media and the public.

CEPR study.

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Apart from a government using outside events as a distraction to release unpopular policies or publicise information that must be disclosed but might be damaging, it's actually a named practice to deliberately create such a distraction. When you have to publicly announce something damaging, you also go ahead and do something which is sensational, but not (in the long run) particularly damaging.

This practice as a, "dead cat," after a phrase coined by Lynton Crosby, who use the metaphor of "throwing a dead cat on the table." The idea being that everyone would be talking about the dead cat, and not the absolute disaster you are distracting them from.

For example, the recent focus the UK government has placed on immigrants attempting to cross the English channel in small boats as well as the blatant, jingoistic comments made by some Conservative MPs on the subject (such as taking Calais back from the French or sending the Royal Navy to intercept these boats mid-channel), is seen by many independent observers as a deliberate distraction from the government's mishandling of A Level results and the replacement of Public Health England with the highly controversial Dido Harding as head of the new body.

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    The thing (as well as the name) is quite a bit older...
    – Zeus
    Aug 24 '20 at 5:55
  • Do you know if there are any studies on how systematically this occurs? So far, this answer only adds a few more anecdotes.
    – henning
    Aug 24 '20 at 8:21
  • Down-voted due to the politicised opinion of referring to the desire to defend our country from unwanted, uninvited invaders, as “jingoistic”. This is a real problem: you wouldn’t accept people barging into your home uninvited. Aug 24 '20 at 23:11
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    @ChrisMelville - It is not about dealing with immigration, it is the manner in which the Tories are talking about it. "Taking back Calais," or, "Sending in the Navy." Neither of which are realistic or actually particularly sensible solutions to this. Aug 25 '20 at 6:00
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    @ChrisMelville While I disagree that it's possible to send the navy anywhere without creating an automatic implicit threat of force, the point was that jingoistic is an accurate description of the language being used. Calling schlubs in tubs "invaders" is similarly jingoistic. Chauvanism/jingoism is just as much about HOW you say it as what you say. Example: "We have a problem with illegal immigrants. We need policies to properly address this problem." NOT Jingoistic. "We have a problem with foreign invaders threatening our way of life. We must stop this threat." Jingoistic.
    – barbecue
    Aug 25 '20 at 21:33
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A common tactic used by both parties is the Friday news dump, where you put out a bunch of things that are either not that important or potentially bad. The TV series The West Wing had this note

Donna: Why do you do it on Friday?

Josh: Because no one reads the paper on Saturday.

Fewer people watch or read about the news on Saturday or Sunday. It's a bit less effective in the Internet age (where avid Internet users still read social media), but it is still done this way today

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    This is also used by businesses and other organizations with news they don't want focused on. Aug 24 '20 at 4:45
  • This. If the announcement/action might look particularly bad, you try to do it at the end of the day right before a long holiday weekend.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 25 '20 at 23:25
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In one case an aide to the governing Labour party in the UK suggested that the 9/11 attacks would be a good cover for bad news. She wrote:

"It is now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury. Councillors expenses?"

(The latter question referred to a minor U-turn in government policy)

The way the memo was phrased strongly suggests that this kind of thing was standard practice in Tony Blair's government. Of course New Labour was notorious for spin; it was the era when the term "spin doctor" entered the public awareness.

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    The OP already mentioned this incident in their question.
    – Nzall
    Aug 24 '20 at 12:44
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I've heard the term Burying for doing unpopular stuff while the population is distracted, e.g. passing legislation during FIFA worldcup finals or releasing reports on Black Friday.

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