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Father Brown: For an intelligent murderer, such as you or I might be, it is an impossible plan to make sure that nobody is looking at you.

Flambeau: But what other plan is there?

Father Brown: There is only one...To make sure that everybody is looking at something else.
"I will periodically send my assassins to kill random conspiracy nuts in suspicious-looking ways. There is little danger that they will find out about my plans and no one would have believed them anyway, but the heroes will be convinced that they were killed for what they knew and will get so wrapped up in trying to foil my diabolical plan to give all trees epilepsy that my real plans will go unchallenged. Plus it gives my assassins something to do."

Generally speaking, when you're a Diabolical Mastermind and you want to cover up some kind of nefarious activity, the general desire is to be low-key, go about one's business and not attract undue attention. This is especially critical when you don't want the other guys to know that you're being nefarious all over their business. What's the point of breaking in and stealing the codebook if they know you have it and simply change the code? So you keep it simple, keep it quiet, don't rock the boat...

...well, unless you're so clever you've thought of a cunning plan that does the exact opposite. Instead of having your agent sneak into the embassy to photograph the codebook, you're going to make huge splashy headlines to get everyone looking the other way. Why, with your plan to fake aliens landing and blowing up the embassy, surely no one will notice a code book gone missing. It would be the last thing they'd suspect.

Unless you're a Magnificent Bastard or a very proficient Chessmaster, it never works. Inevitably they'll connect the fake aliens to your organization, making them wonder what you're up to, which will lead them to the (hitherto unknown) Mole you had planted in the embassy staff, and then it's heroes getting all over your business all up in yo' bidness with the rappelling into the volcanic headquarters and the shooting and the debris falling into the Shark Pool and having to run away while waving your fist and yelling about getting away with it if it hadn't been for those darn kids and then having to find a new lieutenant after having shot the previous one for having the bad taste to point out that it was your plan that caused all this when you'd have been further ahead just getting the damn pictures taken.

See the Conspicuous Trenchcoat for this same principle applied to costumes. Contrast this with Crime After Crime. Subtrope of the Kansas City Shuffle. For the comedic version, see Legitimate Businessmen's Social Club.

An occasional subversion is someone organizing a Revealing Coverup because they want to keep the heroes interested. Compare Kansas City Shuffle.

See also Streisand Effect.

Examples of Revealing Coverup include:


Anime & Manga

  • Used to extreme effect in the eleventh volume of The Kindaichi Case Files. The killer followed Kindaichi throughout the two-parter mystery, killing people after they provided messages which was supposed to lead to a manuscript he wanted to keep from being published. What neither the killer nor Kindaichi realize until after the last message was a dead end is that the message itself was irrelevant. The real clue was hidden in the order of the now dead message givers. Because of the murders meant to silence them, the newspaper following the last murder would inevitably print them in order of killing, providing the same clue to everyone who read the paper, guaranteeing someone would figure it out before the killer could and prompting a desperate grasping of the Villain Ball.
  • In One Piece, the denizens of Punk Hazard try to trick Smoker out of investigating their island by putting out toxic gas. The idea was to make him think it was still uninhabitable after a prior accident. Unfortunately, Smoker knows the history of that island and this only makes him more suspicious.
  • In Death Note, L baits Kira into trying to kill him on TV (with a condemned criminal pretending to be L as bait). As a result, L learns Kira's general whereabouts, time of activity, and that the killings are done by supernatural means.


Comics

  • The Jack the Ripper conspiracy graphic novel From Hell, and the real-life Prince Albert Victor-centric conspiracy theory it dramatizes, hinges on the monarch of the world's most powerful nation being so threatened by the possibility of unsubstantiated (though true) allegations from four London prostitutes that she has them all murdered.
    • Not only murdered, but killed in such a needlessly elaborate and gruesome way that it inevitably attracts the attention of half the country, never mind the obsessive detective.
    • Though Victoria only wanted the situation quietly taken care of. It was her bad luck that the man she picked to do it turned out to be an increasingly insane psychopath who insisted on mutilating the bodies in an ever more shocking and attention drawing fashion.
  • Classic Superman villain the Prankster has actually started hiring out his services as a distraction. So while you're pulling off whatever crime you've got planned, Superman is busy dealing with Prankster. Naturally, it didn't take Superman long to figure this out.


Fanfic


Film

  • The bad guy in Die Hard With a Vengeance just had to get cute when he left McClane strapped to a bomb; that stupid aspirin bottle led the cops right to him.
    • On the other hand, his brother did it perfectly in the first Die Hard, disguising a bank robbery as an act of terrorism so the FBI would treat it as one and cut the power so they could break into the vault. Hell, they even counted on the whole "The United States Does Not Negotiate With Terrorists" thing, and planned on suckering them into strafing the rooftop full of hostages with helicopter gunships - that and the explosives they planted would mean that by the time they figured out that they weren't among the casualties, they'd be "sitting on a beach, earning twenty percent". Too bad that McClane didn't care about the plan and was just trying to screw things up any way he could.
    • Simon's plot in Die Hard 3 is actually yet another example of this, detonating bombs around New York City, forcing McClane personally to jump through hoops to find the others, then convincing the police there's a bomb planted in an unspecified NYC school - all so the Federal Reserve Bank on Wall Street will be relatively free of emergency services.
  • If the traitor in the Mission Impossible film had not tried to be overly clever in trying to frame Kittridge as the real traitor, Ethan Hunt would not have been able to confirm the identity of The Mole on his team. All he'd had to do was simply shoot Hunt, have The Mole grab the list, and he'd have been in the clear with Hunt still considered the traitor and everyone else believing Jim Phelps was dead.
  • In You Only Live Twice, SPECTRE could have completed their scheme if they hadn't given themselves away on three separate occasions, all but red flags to James Bond and Tiger Tanaka. The first was one where Bond finds a photo of a cargo vessel with a secret message saying the tourists who took the photo were killed, leading him to wonder what in the photo was worth killing for (of course, the photo was in a safe in a office building Bond broke into, perhaps a reasonable level of security). In the second, Bond was doing an aerial search and was about to give up when he was attacked by 4 choppers. They obviously had to have come from SPECTRE, whose base therefore had to be in the general area. Lastly Bond learns of a local woman's mysterious death in a cave, which leads to him and Kissy to investigate it, dodge the poison gas trap and find SPECTRE's base.
    • In another Bond example, the scheme to steal nuclear weapons in Thunderball would have had a greater chance to succeed if a SPECTRE agent hadn't tried to off Bond while he was on leave and alerting him that something was up. Said SPECTRE agent was then killed for getting Bond's attention.
    • In the first movie, Dr. No, the titular doctor's assassination attempts are what convinces Bond that Dr. No and his base are behind everything[1].
    • One more Bond example: In From Russia with Love, Bond and his ally Kerim Bey determine the easiest way to steal the Lektor device is to blow up the entire Russian Consulate, then sneakily make the device "disappear".
  • If the bad guys in L.A. Confidential just killed one guy and dumped his body somewhere, instead of trying to pass his death as a part of another, larger, crime, the various protagonists paths wouldn't have converged and the bad guys wouldn't have been caught.
    • Possibly justified as his murder would have been thoroughly investigated, while framing it as part of random shoot out meant the case was ALMOST quickly closed.
  • The Alliance in Serenity (and the predecessor series Firefly) spent a whole lot of time and effort hunting down River Tam, including murdering just about everybody who may have been in contact with her in order to cover up what she learned through her telepathy and being in the same room as several high ranking Alliance members. River, being insane, probably didn't understand what she knew and, in any case, wasn't in any position to tell anybody even if she did. But the Alliance's campaign of persecution gave Serenity's crew a big motive to find out and make the information public knowledge.
  • The Conspiracy in Left Behind killed a conspiracy theorist, ransacked his house, and left his corpse lying in it, about 24 hours after The Rapture has caused billions of people to disappear and killed thousands more in the resultant chaos. You'd think adding one more disappearance would be simple for any competent villains. Instead, his friend the Designated Hero finds the body, but since he ends up selling out to the conspiracy later, it might be a mild aversion.
  • Averted in The Bourne Series. Treadstone assassin Jason Bourne is supposed to kill people in a way that won't cast suspicion on the US government ("I don't send you to kill! I send you because you don't exist!") such as a former dictator who's threatening to blow the whistle on CIA activities in Africa, the plan being to make it look like he'd been killed by one of his own men. After Bourne fails the dictator is killed by a sniper, as by that time Treadstone is trying to cover up for its own activities by making it look like Bourne has gone rogue.
  • Agent Nick Memphis from Shooter smells fish when the police officer who got a shot at the alleged-would-be assassin of the President dies few days later in a "botched robbery".
  • Noticeably averted in Seven Days in May, about a plot to take over the US via military coup. Several people who appear to have been murdered turn out later to have been merely detained on justifiable pretexts. There's only one suspicious death (of a White House aide carrying direct evidence of the conspiracy who had to be stopped) and only luck enables the signed confession he was carrying to survive the plane crash and be found in time to avert the coup. The closest you get to this trope is when an orderly is reassigned to Hawaii after discussing an apparently innocuous signal with the protagonist, which is what first arouses his suspicions.
  • In Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the Thuggee cult sends an assassin against Indy once he reveals he knows about the Shankara stones to the Maharajah. This gives him the lead he needs to find the secret temple and thwart their evil schemes. If they had just left Indy alone he probably wouldn't have found anything at all. Or they could have just said, "Sorry Dr. Jones, you've overstayed your welcome", given him a lift to the nearest port and sent him home.
    • Possibly this was a Batman Gambit on the Thuggees' part, as they'd already prepared ways to Mind Control Indy via voodoo dolls and black blood of Kali. The assassin and secret passage could have been an audition, to see if he was worth ensorcelling; had his trance not been broken, he'd have been a useful agent to seek out more relics for the cult.
    • He's there because a nearby village told him that people from the palace had abducted their children, and he let them know this. So he probably wasn't going to just give up, and seeing as he is a world renowned archaeologist and tomb raider, the kind of guy who has made a career out of finding what he's looking for, it makes sense to kill him. Especially since he might inform the British authorities.
  • Played with in Race to Witch Mountain. The lead characters are quick to publish a book on what happened to them during the movie, specifically they're Genre Savvy enough to know The Government can't touch them without validating their claims.
  • In The Other Guys, a highly armed crew makes a daring heist into a jewelry store using a wrecking ball. As it turns out, the real target was not the jewelry store but the adjoining accountancy firm where the "robbers" surreptitiously snuck into and altered the books.
  • In Return of the Living Dead, when the medical-supply warehouse staff accidentally release a corpse-animating toxin, their boss chooses to destroy the evidence (i.e. zombies) in the crematorium next door, rather than risk letting the cops or Army snoop around. This directly causes a localized Zombie Apocalypse in Louisville... and is completely justified in-verse, as the boss isn't a brilliant criminal mastermind, just an average schmuck out to cover his own ass.
  • Mercury Rising's plot kicks off when the NSA's supposedly unbreakable code is published in a magazine by low-ranking employee's to test it and a little Autistic Idiot Savant cracks the code and dials the NSA's phone number that was hidden in it. The boss freaks out at this breach of security and sends a hitman to kill the kid and his parents, but who fails to find the boy before the police shows up. Even ignoring how this is well beyond the Moral Event Horizon, the boy still didn't know what the code really meant, had no initiative to find anyone to sell his knowledge to and only the NSA knew he could break the code. But the NSA can't think of a better way to hush this up, apparently.
    • Fridge Logic kicks in when you realize that the whole point of publishing the code was to see if anyone could break it.
      • The code had been published years before, and since no one was able to break it, had been put into use. The point of killing the family was to prevent anyone leaking that the code actually could be broken.
      • Which is still a straight example, since only the NSA knew it was their code, and the kid had only told the NSA that he broke it. Killing them all should not be plan A.
  • In the movie Sniper 3, the sniper's mission to kill an old war buddy turned Vietnamese drug lord/rogue intelligence agent is interrupted by a second sniper trying to kill him. This is due to the fact that said drug lord is one of three people who had participated in a war crime in Vietnam, the other two being the NSA director and a powerful senator, and they wanted him dead to protect themselves, and kill the killer to ensure that the sniper didn't learn why. Given that they had destroyed all physical evidence of their crimes thirty years earlier, the only reason why it gets discovered is because they tried to cover it up.


Literature

  • This happens a lot in Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels involving the Ankh-Morpork City Watch. You'd think people would have learned that if you try to cover something up in Ankh-Morpork, Commander Samuel Vimes is only going to get suspicious, dig deeper, and then come down on you like a ton of rectangular building things.
    • But is subverted in a rather interesting fashion in Thud!, when word is intentionally spread that a murder is not to be reported to the Watch, knowing that Vimes will find out sooner or later and come snooping around. The person who gave the order does this because he wants Vimes to unearth and stop the immoral activities of his superiors, which he himself is powerless to stop.
    • Also subverted in Jingo! when in order to cover up the fact that he had tried to have his brother killed as an excuse to start a war, the Crown Prince of Klatch (the Discworld's country of Saudi Arabia stereotypes) had various stereotypical items (coins, sand, everything but a "camel under the pillow" etc) left behind to make Vimes think that someone was trying to make him think that the assassin was Klatchian.
      • Indeed, it's also revealed eventually that a Klatchian pretended to be the villain and fled to Klatch in order to lure Vimes there so he could actually help.
    • And in the Discworld novel Interesting Times, the Agatean Empire tells its citizens that outside the Empire is nothing but a howling wasteland of invisible, man-eating ghosts. So when they have to go to war with barbarian invaders, they have to quickly change tack, and say that the enemy are not invisible, man-eating ghosts. Since Rincewind the wizard is technically on the side of the barbarian invaders, he wanders through the camp telling people that there officially are not 2,300,009 invisible, giant, man-eating ghosts. He was quite proud of the "9": If he'd simply said that there aren't any, they might have believed him, but since he is saying there aren't 2,300,009 of them, people obviously wonder about the precision.
      • It helps that the Empire's army of 700,000 men is already confused about why the barbarian army of seven men is cheerfully marching out to fight them. The Big Bad tries to be Genre Savvy when he realizes the rumour won't be squashed, by spreading the tale that those ghosts in fact are there, and that this has enraged the spirits of the Empire's ancestors. It backfires because the empire's armies have been fighting a lot of civil wars, and many soldiers are not keen on meeting the spirits of their late opponents either.
  • In the James Bond novel You Only Live Twice, evil mastermind Blofeld decides to best way to lie low is to operate a castle with a poison garden for people wanting to commit suicide. If they change their mind, the "gardeners" assist them. No one is going to pay any attention to that, right?
    • The novel explicitly points out that Blofeld had gone entirely off his nut by this point, and had actually been expecting the authorities to shut him down soon. In fact, the entire reason Bond was asked to go there in the first place was to kill "Shatterhand" in exchange for some intelligence, seeing as the garden itself was perfectly legal. He just happens to recognize Shatterhand as the man who killed his wife.
  • Being a Gentleman Bastard Locke Lamora loves this trope. Case in point: running a con on a wealthy nobleman, then disguising himself as one of the secret police and informing the mark that he's being robbed.
    • Partially justified in that informing the mark that he was being robbed and ordering him to play along meant that the Gentlemen Bastards didn't have to go through all the trouble and cost of pretending to prepare for a long and expensive journey. It was simply exceptionally unlucky that the nobleman's wife was unknowingly friends with the real head of the secret police and confided in her.
    • The second book takes it all Up to Eleven, with Locke running this trope back and forth between at least two different marks, at once exposing his plans and yet diverting suspicion away from himself.
  • How many Doc Savage pulps started out with the villain trying to pull a preemptive strike on the Man of Bronze, getting his minions slamdunked, and Doc then becoming curious about what was going on?
  • In Sandy Mitchell's Ciaphas Cain novel Duty Calls, Cain's Fake Ultimate Hero status bites him in the ass again when a rogue Inquisitor tries to have him killed -- repeatedly -- because of what he would surely have found out otherwise. Needless to say, he had no idea anything was going on until people suddenly started trying to kill him, and his investigation into why people are trying to kill him blows the plot wide open.
  • In Edgar Rice Burroughs's Thuvia, Maid of Mars, Carthoris is framed for Thuvia's kidnapping. Not his love would have let him leave the matter alone, but it always helps, to implicate his honor.
  • The Zero Game, a mysterious game is set up and then all but one of the participants are killed off in suspicious ways. The worst part is that the game is really just an elaborate ruse to get an abandoned mine reopened. Which they could have gotten much more cheaply and easily just by simply asking. And not only was the mine completely unnecessary to their plans, it actually made it more difficult.
  • The Illuminatus Trilogy, being a Conspiracy Kitchen Sink, naturally has one of these. When a leftwing magazine's office is bombed, the police investigating find a stash of strange notes about The Illuminati in the wreckage. Subverted in that the bomb was set by the magazine's editor, as part of a Batman Gambit to get one of the police detectives investigating the Illuminati.
  • This is a recurring theme in (and, in fact, often the entire basic plot of) many of Christopher Brookmyre's books, notably Country of the Blind and Boiling a Frog. And Be My Enemy. And Quite Ugly One Morning. Essentially, the crimes that catch the protagonist's attention are almost always attempts to cover up a previous and otherwise unnoticed crime.
  • In Jules Verne's Master of the World, our hero investigates a mountain that's producing odd rumblings, but is unable to climb to the top. After giving up and filing it under "unexplained," he gets a note saying, "Stay away from that mountain, or it'll go badly for you!" If Robur had just left him alone, the hero would have dropped the case.
  • In The Pelican Brief, the protagonist publishes writes up a theory--more idle speculation than anything else--about why three US Supreme Court justices were killed. Then her car gets bombed. She isn't killed, and she realizes that her speculation must have hit a little close to home, and she begins investigating in earnest.
  • In The Hound of the Baskervilles, the villain steals one of an intended victim's new boots, then returns to swipe one of an older pair, while returning the first one, presumably so the owner would assume he'd just misplaced it. Granted, Holmes was bound to solve the case anyway, but the fact that the boot not bearing its owner's smell was brought back again clinched his suspicion that there was a real, trained dog involved. Had the culprit stolen all four boots and returned nothing, Holmes couldn't have ruled out the possibility that one of the hotel staff had a profitable sideline stealing guests' possessions.
  • Both of the Fargo Adventures by Clive Cussler written so far depend on this. The Fargos find some obscure item which is at least four steps away from in one case an artifact the villain wanted to find, and the other a secret the villain wants to conceal. So the villain sends assassins after them, letting the Fargos know that their totally innocuous discovery was important somehow. Had they just purchased the item at a fair price, or simply ignored them entirely, the villain would have succeeded.
  • Lyra Silvertongue, in His Dark Materials, carries out this skill with the modifiers of being the hero and a twelve-year-old girl. Her strategy, when she finds out that the cops are looking for her companion, Will, is to talk to the cops themselves, pretending that Will is her brother, to throw them off the trail. Will, who prefers to blend in and go completely unnoticed, finds this very irritating.
  • Don Quixote, Older Than Steam, presents a parody: In his first sally, Daydream Believer in Chivalric Romance books, Alonso Quijano, pretends he is an Knight Errant don Quixote. He tries to live the Medieval European Fantasy in Real Life Spain. He doesn’t find any dragon, enchanter nor any Damsel in Distress. He is very disappointed when he comes back to his house, where their family and two MoralGuardians have made a Book-Burning of his Chivalric Romance books. To avoid Don Quixote’s ire, the MoralGuardians advise the family to tell him, literally, that A Wizard Did It. That excuse was the Don Quixote’s first contact with the Medieval European Fantasy he so desperately wanted to live! If the Moral Guardians would have tell him the truth, he never would persevered in his madness.
  • In the Warrior Cats novel Forest of Secrets, Tigerclaw wants to kill Bluestar, leader of ThunderClan, so that he can take her position. To do this, he lures a large pack of rogues into ThunderClan camp, then sneaks into Bluestar's den to kill her with nobody interfering.


Live Action TV

  • In Veronica Mars, it's the Kanes' coverup of what they believed to be the circumstances of Lily's death that alerts Keith to their dishonesty.
  • Hawaii Five-O super agent Wo Fat had a cunning plan to distract archenemy Steve McGarret...which alerted the good guys something was up and allowed them to discover Wo Fat's real operation which, up until then, they had no idea was actually going on. It turns out China wanted to test a new missile but keep the Americans from analyzing it via radar, so Wo Fat was sent to disable the Pacific radar net for a critical few seconds, which he does by kidnapping the daughter of one of the men responsible for the system. Absolutely no one on the American side realizes this is happening. For some reason, Wo Fat believes McGarret will find out, and launches his distraction plan that he'd previously prepared in case he ever needed it. Once Wo Fat's involvement is known, police, intelligence, and military get together to try to figure out what Wo Fat is up to, discover a glitch in the radar system that had occurred a few days earlier (during a test to make sure that the system could be brought down), and while investigating it, on the off chance it has something to do with Wo Fat, uncover the kidnapping and blackmail.
  • Season 5 of 24 opens with the bad guys trying to frame Bauer which only gets him involved in the scheme far earlier than he would have (if ever).
    • Double-Subverted in Season 8, when a villain disguised as an EMT suspects Renee Walker recognized him. He tells his boss he can get rid of her and Bauer, but the boss orders him to wait out of concern for this trope. Ultimately, the guy goes ahead with an attempt anyway, but by that time Renee's already realized where she recognized the man from and alerted CTU to the fact.
      • Not to mention what happens afterwards is what ultimately brings Jack back into the field for the final episodes of the season. It's entirely possible that some of the more high ranking villians in that paticular plot would have gotten away had it not been for Jack's involvement. Nice job breaking it villian!
  • In the Doctor Who two-part story "Aliens of London/World War Three", a fake UFO crash was organized by real aliens among the British government to cause worldwide panic and distract attention from themselves and such "non-noteworthy" events as the "disappearance" of the Prime Minister. While this did allow them to take over 10 Downing Street, wipe out most of the country's alien-invasion experts (who were intentionally gathered in Number Ten to discuss the crash, so they could be taken out) and gain access to the British nuclear arsenal, it also alerted the Doctor and Rose Tyler to their presence.
  • A lot of the murderers in Columbo do this. As do about half of the murderers in Monk and the various Law and Order spin-offs.
  • This was the plot of the bad guys in the second season Numb3rs episode "Rampage". A man (who was a perfectly innocent civilian dad aside from having a brown belt in martial arts) was blackmailed into going on a shooting rampage in the FBI building and provoke an emergency evacuation in order to cover up getting a list of key witnesses in a trial out of the building. In a slight subversion, while the FBI was able to connect the shooter to the criminal, the guy was off the grid. The break came when Charlie analyzed the shooter's path, discovering that the only conscious choice he had made was to avoid shooting two people, one of whom was carrying the list.
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Mayor inexplicably has Faith kill a previously unheard of archaeologist. Lampshaded:

 Wesley: Ah, by attempting to keep a valuable clue from us, the mayor may have inadvertently led us right to it.

Buffy: What page are you on, Wes? 'Cause we already got there.

  • This is how The X-Files starts. All the weird brainwashing, floodlights, and murders undermine Scully's skepticism. Of course, it stays throughout the series, but...
  • An episode of Burn Notice had Michael break into a high security laboratory to put back a certain item. To "explain" the breach (without implicating the person who'd stolen the thing in the first place), he grabbed a couple of expensive-looking items and tossed them in the trash, so it would look like they'd stolen something. Else.
  • In one episode of Murder, She Wrote, Jessica is shot at while investigating at the behest of the accused's wife, while the accused himself is in jail. She quickly realizes it was the wife, who was worried Jessica was starting to think her husband might be guilty, and wanted to provide evidence otherwise.
  • One episode of The Good Guys has the Villain of the Week set up a bank robbery to be performed by expendable, unarmed, unwitting henchmen (including "the worst getaway driver in the business"). This was only meant to draw the entire Dallas police force to that location so that he could set off explosives on the bridge between the cops and his real target, a jewelry store. Jack and Dan figure out the plot just in time to scare the thieves off, but aren't able to catch them. Their presence does make the legitimately dangerous crooks wonder if their Manipulative Bastard boss had set them up to be the fall-guys, however, leading them all to kill each other off.
  • An episode of Republic of Doyle begins with Des being arrested (while wearing a snorkel) after robbing a convenience store and a male strip club while drunk, and leading every police officer in St. John's across the city to distract them from the real target that evening, a priceless statue.
  • Deep Space Nine invokes this trope in the opener of the last season; it's not until an assassin from the cult of the Pah Wraiths shows up to kill him and vows that he "will never find the orb of the Emissary" that Sisko learns it even exists (let alone that he needs to find it).
    • Pulled earlier by Garak when he sees a Romulan assassin on the station. Garak blows up his own shop to make Odo think the assassin did it, but Odo discovers otherwise that the assassin works with poisons not explosives.
      • And then the assassin gets killed anyway as though someone was covering their tracks, which only stokes Odo's curiosity further. By the time Odo and Garak figure out what's going on, the Romulans and Cardassians are making a joint first-strike on the Dominion.
  • An episode of Simon and Simon had a tourist hire the Simon Brothers to find out why she was the victim of a series of petty thefts: first her camera, then her purse, then her hotel room was broken into... Turned out she'd snapped a picture that showed a man someplace he wasn't supposed to be in the background, and he was trying to get the film. (She had already dropped it off to be developed, when he started stealing her stuff looking for it.)
  • In a variant compressed into less than five seconds, the team on NCIS needs to locate some terrorists hiding among any of a dozen warehouses. Knowing they're pressed for time, Gibbs whips out a shotgun and blasts a nearby street light, which causes the terrorists' rooftop lookout to immediately open fire and give away the bad guys' position. Had he had the sense to quietly keep his head down, the team would've been too late to stop them.


Video Games

  • Splinter Cell: Conviction, where if the conspirators hadn't sent thugs to try and kill Sam Fisher he would never have been aware there was even a conspiracy in the first place.

 Yahtzee: Note that Sam only finds out about the conspiracy after it sends thugs to kill him, so the baddies said to themselves, "Hey, the one guy who could threaten our operation is in a different country and isn't the slightest bit interested in our stupid conspiracy. Fuck that, let's go shoot at him!"

  • Clock Tower 3 has the protagonist's grandfather plan to sacrifice the protagonist when she turns 15 in order to gain immortality as an evil creature. To accomplish this he sends strange letters, sets up traps and throws her into various evil settings. Along the way, she clues in that something very wrong is going down, awakens her evil-fighting powers, and hones her combat skills by killing off other evil creatures; by the time he finally confronts her, she is ready to take him down. The alternative, not pulling any of that crap and just welcome her home, celebrate her birthday and then suddenly sacrifice her when the time is right, doesn't really occur to him.


Web Comics


Western Animation

  • On Gargoyles the Weird Sisters actually manage to get away with this: they have Demona and Macbeth steal the Phoenix Gate, the Eye of Odin, the Grimorum Arcanorum, and Coldstone's body. As Coldstone is much larger and more noticeable, and as the other three objects were only being held by the Gargoyles to keep it out of other people's hands, they only initially notice Coldstone's absence, which was exactly what the Weird Sisters were hoping for.
  • On Young Justice, Klarion and his allies cast a spell that splits the world in two, with one dimension for adults and one for children and teens. While the heroes are eventually able to trace the magic to its source and stop them, they fail to notice that in the confusion, Sportsmaster and the Riddler steal Starro's tissue sample from STAR Labs. Klarion's colleague the Brain even lampshades the fact that causing a world-wide catastrophe for the cover-up was "peut-etre extreme," but that's Klarion for you.
  • Used in Re Boot: Hexadecimal's extra security concerning The Medusa, a weapon she's developing, prompts Megabyte to steal it in hopes of gaining the power it's sure to have. The twist being that this was exactly what she wanted to happen, and he becomes the Medusa bug's first victim, while she gloats.


Real Life

  • The excesses of the Nixon Administration might not have become public if flunkies hadn't been carrying out completely unnecessary break-ins, with more cunning plans piled on top to prevent the preceding cunning plans from coming to light, which instead attracted even more attention.
    • The thing was, Nixon didn't even need to have flunkies break into Watergate. He was popular at the time, facing a weak opponent, and was so far ahead that he was almost certainly going to win reelection.
      • Nixon was facing a weak opponent because the stronger opponent, Ed Muskie, was marginalized after a letter, forged by Nixon aide Ken Clawson, claimed that Muskie was a racist. Watergate was simply a continuation of the cheating they did before.
      • Lesson: Don't cheat more than you have to.
  • The publishing company behind the Harry Potter books, in their rush to snuff out leaks, may be confirming the authenticity of said leaks by issuing highly visible subpoenas to certain websites. If they allowed the leaks to persist, they might be indiscernible from the huge amount of fake spoilers being posted up.
  • An incompetent version of this was behind the whole Roswell mystery. When a rancher discovered some strange debris on his property, the top brass realized that it was actually a balloon from a secret government project called Project Mogul (the balloons were supposed to be an early-warning system in the event of a nuclear strike). Since Project Mogul was top secret, the government quickly confiscated the the debris and ordered a press conference denying that it was anything but a weather balloon. Sometime after that, word got out that the weather balloon story was a cover up. Project Mogul was still classified, so they could only confirm that yes, the weather balloon story was a cover up, and no, they couldn't disclose what it was covering up. Bear in mind that this was the height of UFO sightings in the USA, and you have the explanation from how things went from "a few plastic strips and metal rods found on a ranch" to "OMG ALIENS!!!"
    • Notice, however, that nobody thought "OMG SECRET AIR FORCE EARLY WARNING SYSTEM", so the cover up worked.
    • The notoriety of the Roswell Incident stems from the fact that the first cover story used actually was "we've captured a flying saucer." (This lasted for about a day, and was the brainchild of a foolhardy local PR officer.) The replacement "weather balloon" cover passed without notice for decades; it was only in the 70s (once eyewitnesses became conveniently hard to locate) that UFO enthusiasts could latch onto the original cover story as a "smoking gun" and build an entertaining conspiracy theory out of it.
  • Scientology's Operation Snow White was started with the intention of expunging all 'unfavorable' material pertaining to the cult. Scarily, 5,000 of the organization's agents penetrated the IRS, FBI and other US government organizations, the largest such infiltration in history, and did manage to abscond with the 'erroneous' documents. Two Scientologists were caught essentially red-handed by the FBI, and from there the whole plot unraveled, and ended up with several prominent Scientologists getting hefty fines or prison sentences, including L. Ron Hubbard's wife. The resultant publicity caused a backlash against the Church, and indirectly led to its banning in several countries.
  • This very wiki sometimes falls into this, through badly placed spoiler tags. For example, if someone apparently dies (only to show up again many issues later), and an article describes it as "her apparent death"... there are very few words that would fit into that spot, and most of them indicate that the person's still around in some sense. So unless we all get into the habit of saying "her real, permanent, not a dream, not a robot, not an imaginary story! death", it's probably best to stick the spoiler at the end, where it could mean any number of things, including things that happened to someone else entirely.
  • This trope is the reason (some) government agencies will simply flat out deny/refuse to comment on any and everything. Saying that something is incorrect/won't work may imply that someone is on the right track of duplicating something or similar situations.
  • The scenes of Serial Killer Ted Bundy's crimes were suspiciously free of evidence, including doorknobs and light switches with absolutely no fingerprints on them.
  • During - and even before - WWII, many nuclear physicists correctly deduced that their foreign colleagues were working on top-secret atomic bomb programs because they were no longer publishing research papers.
    • Averted in the case of the science fiction story "Deadline", which featured a fairly accurate description of the atomic bomb -- in 1944. Astounding editor John Campbell convinced the FBI agents who showed up at his office that attempting to pull the issue from distribution would only call attention to it.

Notes

  1. Alright, Dent's incompetence and Strangways' death helped
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