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Two characters are discussing a controversial, possibly Ripped from the Headlines course of action or social policy. After one of them comes out against it, the other recites a quote endorsing it, or a description of a person who believed it. When the person opposing the policy asks who said that, the proponent identifies it as being by a universally respected historical figure, religious icon, or someone else who is typically considered to have been wise and generally correct about things (such as Jesus, Abraham Lincoln, or Albert Einstein).
A common variant is to have the person being quoted turn out to be somebody commonly considered one of history's greatest monsters (such as Adolf Hitler). In this situation, the person agreeing with the idea is shamed by showing that they are in agreement with a person they consider despicable. This often combines with a Strawman Political situation (see Godwin's Law).
Occasionally, the same thing is used in an opposite manner; to show that, just because an evil person agreed with it, doesn't mean it's wrong. Sometimes, the person doing the quoting is actually pointing out that the other person agrees with someone considered despicable, to illustrate the universality of the idea. After all, even Josef Stalin thought that walking upright was a pretty good idea. This is mainly used to show that the technique is rhetorical rather than logical. (Appeal to Authority, if the authority isn't an expert in the field, or Reductio ad Hitlerum if Hitler himself is used for the shame job).
Played straight, this can be an elaborate biographical snapshot, where it's revealed that the subject is a historical figure (good or bad) whose origin and backstory are often overlooked. These sort of anecdotes are often greatly entertaining, although be aware that the narrator may be sensationalizing or distorting the facts to justify his own theory of what this person actually believed. Other times, however, It's All True.
There's also the little matter of the person missing the point - pointing out someone who approved or disapproved of a notion fails to explain why exactly that notion is a good one or a bad one. The implication is usually that the person being quoted knows what he or she is talking about. More often, though, it's an Appeal to Authority or an Association Fallacy and the person quoting them (or the author) is failing at logic.
- The former Trope Namer was the last line of Paul Harvey's "Rest of the Story" series, wherein Harvey tells a long story of someone whose true identity he hides until the very end: "And now you know...The Rest of the Story!"
- Biblical quotes are often used in this context. Common examples are "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's" in the context of separation of church and state, and "Love your enemies" in the context of pacifism (both uttered by Jesus). Louis Blanc derived the slogan "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need" from a passage in Acts, chapter 2, which was more famously reproduced by Karl Marx, though in reference to only the higher phase of socialism, as he supported labour vouchers being used in the 'lower phase' of socialism, while Louis Blanc intended it to describe an immediate post-revolutionary situation.
- The Karl Marx quote is very hard to find in Acts 2. I still haven't found it. If anything like that is in a bible passage, it must have been heavily re-interpreted by Louis Blanc. The Other Wiki attributes the quote to Blanc with no biblical source cited.
- This leads to people of every position on the Bible and Christianity to accuse everyone with other positions or interpretations of taking things out of context for every quote.
- In Star Trek: First Contact, Will Riker, attempting to inspire a young Zephram Cochrane, tells him "Don't try to be a great man. Just be a man, and let history make its own judgment." When Cochrane, annoyed by the triteness of the proverb, asks him who said that, Riker replies "You did, ten years from now." (This possibly creates a Stable Time Loop.)
- In the South Park episode, Damien, Stan gives Jesus this quote to encourage him before his fight with Satan. When Jesus asks who said it, Stan tells him he (Jesus) did. Stan later admits that he just heard the quote on Star Trek.
- In Star Trek: The Next Generation, similarly, Jean-Luc Picard, facing a Witch Hunt of a trial, quotes the prosecutor's father speaking out against just such actions. The prosecutor doesn't take her father's quote being thrown in her face well.
- Edward R. Murrow did this against Senator McCarthy, as seen in Good Night and Good Luck, regarding a quote from Julius Caesar.
- A chapter of Runaways has Nico go into a church and quote the Bible to a priest, who immediately assumes that she is a New Age goth until she reveals the source of her quotation.
- There was an episode of Tales from the Crypt wherein the antagonist, a corrupt mortician, is constantly doing this with the Bible. For example, at one point he says, "Like the Bible says, 'Penny saved, penny earned.'" He is told that the quotation is actually from Benjamin Franklin. Later in the episode the same formula is inverted by the same character against him in a cruelly ironic way.
- There was another episode with a young thug (who may be undead) who does the same thing with the quotes of various religions. For instance, at one point he attributes "first come, first serve" to Buddha Guatama.
- An experiment carried out during the McCarthy days had people refusing to sign a document consisting of quotes from the Declaration of Independence and Constitution... out of fear it would have them marked as a Communist.
- Occasionally, reporters pull this stunt for a quick story on how poorly modern US citizens understand their founding documents. It's all quotes with most people, not concepts.
- In the 2004 Starsky and Hutch movie, we get this bit of dialogue:
- In a later scene, it is attributed to be from William Shakespeare, when actually the quote derives from Alexander Pope
- Hitler Ate Sugar fail from FSTDT:
Here are two official slogans or mottos. As I rehearse them for you, ask yourself where these originated.
- From the other side of the Hitler was an atheist narm campaign guess who said this:
- "Secular schools can never be tolerated because such schools have no religious instruction, and a general moral instruction without religious foundation is built on air; consequently all character training and religion must be derived from faith..."
- "We were convinced that the people need and require this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out."
- From the other side of the Hitler was an atheist narm campaign guess who said this:
- Keith Olbermann loves to do this, usually pointing out that a right-winger is going against himself, Ronald Reagan, or Republican leaders, or is paralleling (or mischaracterizing) Hitler, Chamberlain, Stalin, McCarthy, and that merry crew.
- The film Max starring a young art student named Hitler and his idealistic mentor/sponsor Max Rothman is an entire movie built around this trope. It's also the subject of one of Paul Harvey's stories.
- Many quotes by Hitler are commonly used - Hitler approved of vegetarianism (although contrary to popular belief, did not follow it himself), animal rights, urban renewal (although that may not have been such a good idea), gun control, and many other popular political stances wholly unconnected to the one he is remembered for. One notable example is the following passage recited in the movie Billy Jack:
"The streets in our country are in turmoil. The universities are filled with students rebelling and rioting. Communists are seeking to destroy our country. Russia is threatening us with her might, and our Republic is in danger -- yes, danger from within and without. We need law and order. Without law and order, our nation cannot survive."
- This quotation was also recited by Yoko Ono when performing with John Lennon in the 1970s, in order to draw parallels with the current political situation in the US.
- The book They Never Said It questions this one: the students rebelling at the time were mostly Young Nazis objecting to Jewish professors.
- Done to chilling effect in The Wave, a Based on a True Story account of a teacher who inadvertently kicked off a Nazi-esque movement in his school-Initially, he'd planned to show how anyone could get suckered into Nazi propaganda. It worked a little too well.
- Hitler's underling Hermann Goering uttered a phrase which has often been used in this sense, especially in recent years:
"Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger."
- Biblical passages are also used in this manner, as a number of passages approve of things such as slavery, misogyny, and violence towards children, which are not considered appropriate in modern society.
- This is wonderfully lampshaded in a The West Wing episode where the President takes apart a woman who made her radio career on this type of thing.
Bartlet: I like your show. I like how you call homosexuality an abomination.
- In an episode of Red Dwarf, Lister asks, "Wasn't it Descartes who said, 'I am what I am'?" to which Rimmer replies, "No, it was Popeye the sailor man." Later in the same episode, Lister gives the quote again, attributing it to Popeye. Kryten says that he always thought it was Descartes, and Lister replies, "Me too, man. It's so easy to get those two dudes mixed up."
- Real-life new-media example: A popular chain e-mail offers the reader a choice in leaders between a pair of lazy, womanising drunkards and a chaste war hero. After you read further along, you discover that the drunkards were Franklin D Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, and the war hero was Adolf Hitler. This is actually inaccurate, as Hitler had a girlfriend and Churchill was extremely loyal to his wife. (But he was a drunkard.)
- There's also the anti-abortion argument in the same link, which paints a squalid picture of a mother of a huge family riddled with health problems and no father mentioned, and then "reveals" that the last potential child is Ludwig Van Beethoven. Beethoven was the third child of professional-class parents, wealthy enough to give him an extensive musical education, and only a few of his siblings even survived infancy.
- In Slings and Arrows, Sanjay has a habit of making up quotes that support his (totally absurd) claims, and attributing them to Richard Nixon.
- One which has been linked to on this site is a page comparing Al Gore quotes from those of the Unabomber.
- In an episode of the short-lived family sitcom Movie Stars, the boy (who goes to a school for child actors and kids of actors) gets in trouble with the principal for a bunch of minor infractions, including calling it "Puke-anan" (rather than "Buchanan") High. At the end, they make up, and the principal tells him, "In fact, you know who coined the nickname "Puke-anan," back when he was a student here?" "You, sir?" the boy replies. "No," the principal says. "Harvey Keitel."
- Parodied on The Daily Show in a segment where Stephen Colbert plays a pundit who thinks the media has a responsibility during wartime to report only encouraging nationalistic stories.
Stephen Colbert: It was Thomas Jefferson himself who said, "Everyone imposes his own system as far as his army can reach."
- The Roy Zimmerman song "That is the War on Terror" uses this, referring to a 'great quote about war': "Now, who said that...? Oh that's right, it was Hermann Goering."
- Inverted-averted-subverted-generallyallkindsofverted version in Metal Gear Solid: Snake points out to Otacon that Hitler was a dog lover. He's not actually speaking one way or the other to the morality of being a dog lover, and in fact is a big fan of canines himself. He's merely refuting Otacon's assertion that Sniper Wolf liking dogs is concrete proof that she's a good person.
- A history professor once read a series of speeches to the general approval of his generally left-leaning students, only to reveal at the end that the speeches were given by Benito Mussolini. Similar to the MGS example above, the goal was not to condemn left wing politics but merely to dispel the persistent myth that fascism was a right-wing philosophy.
- This may be an urban legend