weapon of mass distraction
n. Something that distracts large numbers of people from thinking about important issues.

Example Citation:
For a few hours at least today, the heat will be off George W Bush as America switches focus from Baghdad to San Diego. Maybe the Super Bowl will be the weapon of mass distraction that Bush has been praying for.
—James Corrigan, "Cinderella really goes to the bowl," Independent on Sunday (London), January 26, 2003

Earliest Citation:
That lesson was reinforced for Danny Schechter when he covered one of the biggest stories of the decade: the election that brought Nelson Mandela to power in South Africa. The U.S. networks weren't interested in his vivid, insider's account of the Mandela campaign — and this at a time when hundreds of hours were broadcast about the O. J. Simpson trial. No wonder the creator of M.A.S.H. called TV "the weapon of mass distraction."
—Michele Landsberg, "No room for human rights on TV's agenda of greed," The Toronto Star, December 7, 1997

Weapon of mass distraction is a pun-perfect play on weapon of mass destruction. The latter phrase (in its plural form) was voted word (or, in this case, phrase) of the year for 2002 by the American Dialect Society. Researcher Fred Shapiro has traced this phrase back to 1937, so it's surprising that the obvious weapon of mass distraction pun didn't appear earlier than 1996, when M*A*S*H creator Larry Gelbart used it as the title of an HBO movie:

Gabriel Byrne..will star in the HBO movie "Weapons of Mass Distraction," a black comedy about two feuding media moguls who clash while vying to buy a Los Angeles sports franchise.
—Marisa Guthrie, "Plugged In," The Boston Herald, November 17, 1996

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