Buried news. Evil or Genius?

As a child, did you ever sit down to a big bowl of steaming spaghetti, only to see tiny slithers of green rind peeking through the bolognese sauce? In that moment you realised your parents had needlessly injected unwanted vegetables into a perfectly delicious meaty meal.

Perhaps your parents were so good at hiding finely sliced zucchini – heck, maybe they even juiced it. Your parents knew you would be so focused on twirling that spaghetti with a heart full of carbolicious happiness, that you wouldn’t consider any foul play had taken place while preparing the meal. If you think you may have been fooled, you may need to sit your parents down and ask them the hard question: Are you selling your vegetable hiding tactics to the government?

Because just like the tactics used by your parents to hide vegetables in your spaghetti, the government has been hiding bad information – information they’d rather you not notice – during the AFL and NRL grand final long weekend.

If you haven’t heard, the bad information I’m referring to is the report about greenhouse gas pollution, which the Federal Government chose to release late on the Friday afternoon of said long weekend, which was also a public holiday. Even though the report had been finalised two months earlier. Let me repeat that one more time for the guys in the cheap seats, Two. Months. Earlier.

Coincidence? I think not. It reeks of political communication tactics 101, and is a common practice used to strategically release information when society’s focus is on something else. Beyond politics, it also runs rife with companies wanting to bury bad news, such as earning shortfalls or product recalls.

Why does it happen? Simple. They want to reduce public awareness of sensitive or controversial stories. And nothing reduces potential awareness like a weekend full of football finals.

This type of PR trickery even has its own nickname: the Friday Night Dump. Even the fictional White House in the television show, The West Wing, used to “take out the trash” on Fridays.

DONNA: What’s ‘Take Out the Trash Day’?
JOSH: Friday.
DONNA: I mean what is it?
JOSH: Any stories we have to give the press that we’re not wild about we give all in a lump on Friday.

-The West Wing
“Take Out The Trash Day” Season 1 Episode 13
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(Check it out 6min 39sec)

This practice extends beyond a late Friday dump of information.  It’s also relied upon when a major event is happening – a hurricane perhaps. Back in 2017, the White House released three pieces of bad press, including handing down the decision that transgender members wouldn’t be allowed in the military as Hurricane Harvey hammered down the coastline of Texas. Do you think many people were paying attention, especially the media? Not likely! I’d say they were a little preoccupied with mother nature reaping chaos on Texas.

I think Jo Moore – British government aide – has to win the award for most evil timing in history, when she released a memo as the twin towers were falling.

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

Jo Moore, 2.55pm September 11

 Was this just another facet of spin? Another widely known public relations tactic? Where is the line drawn? I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure Jo went so far past the line she couldn’t even see it.

Traditionally, the number of journalists working over weekends or during holidays compared to during the week is limited. The Friday Night Dump was effective as news dumped late Friday wouldn’t be in the paper until Saturday, if at all. Less journalists meant they had to pick and choose what was going to be reported. So, if everyone is dumping their bad news on Friday – would it even get picked up? The numbers game comes into play when a major event is happening, because journalists are stretched to provide round-the-clock coverage about the natural disaster or major event.

If you’re livid at the thought of the wool being pulled over your eyes, then you’d be happy to know research has shown times are changing and questions are being raised, with the changing 24/7 news cycle, does the Friday Night Dump still work? Perhaps, not. But just like parents worldwide continue to hide vegetables in their spaghetti sauce, the Australian Government and Trump have proved they’ll still try.

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