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Authentication by Newspaper
"Remember to write us every day, and don't forget to include a photo of yourself holding up that day's newspaper.
, "Springtime for David"
The easiest way to prove that a photograph or video was taken recently is to make sure that it includes a recent newspaper, with the date and at least one article prominently visible. Since the front page of a newspaper is finalized mere hours before it is printed, it's impossible to accurately fake a newspaper from the future. Often this is a photo of a hostage or kidnap victim, and is being used to prove that they were still alive as of the newspaper's print date.
While it can be done to try to prove a photo is old
rather than recent, it's not nearly as reliable, especially if the photo is in black-and-white rather than color. Newspapers yellow over time unless carefully stored and handled, but they don't simply disappear; it's easy enough to get a paper from last week or ten years ago, if you want to include it in a photo you take today.
Might be a Discredited Trope
nowadays with the power of Photoshop and computers.
See Newspaper Dating
for a slightly more science-fictional use of dates on newspapers.
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- In the Anime adaption of Death Note, Sayu's kidnappers send the Kira task force a picture of Sayu to show that she's still alive. To prove that it was taken recently, they have a TV set up behind her with a local program on. Light is able to look up the station online and watch the current program, which matches what's shown in the kidnapper's photo.
- One Donald Duck comic has his nephews foil a scam by noticing that the guy just turned the date from a 3 to an 8 with a marker.
Films — Live-Action
- In Call Northside 777 (1948), a reporter played by Jimmy Stewart proves a man's innocence by blowing up a wire service photo to show the date on a newspaper being held up by a paperboy in the background. (Though they didn't actually need to go that far — as long as they could see the headline they could tell what date it was from the paper's archives.) This may be the earliest example of this trope and possibly another one.
- In Finding Kelly, this trope is not only used, but also explained, near the end after Kelly is finally found.
- In Proof of Life, such a photograph is the titular evidence that the hostage isn't dead.
- In Midnight Run, a bounty hunter takes a picture of his latest target with that day's newspaper. He shows it to the gangsters he's selling the target to before upping his price. The plan backfires because he didn't think to remove towels with the name of the hotel on them before he took the picture.
- In Jingle All the Way, it's used to confirm that the toy the character was looking for was available that day.
- In a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment in Hot Fuzz, after accusing Timothy Dalton's character of being a murderer, Nicholas Angel is foiled by camera footage that shows Dalton in his store when the murder was committed. After a few seconds of Angel's disappointed look, the camera cuts back to Dalton, and in the background, the security monitor is showing him very obviously holding up a recent newspaper, almost as though he knew someone would be checking the footage.
- Near the end of S1m0ne, she is seen reading a headline about her own death.
- The main character in Beyond a Reasonable Doubt does this to prove he didn't really murder a girl he framed himself for murdering to expose a corrupt district attorney who's trying to prosecute him for murdering the girl. ...It's a long story.
- A videotape version is used in Tom Clancy's novel The Sum of All Fears. In order to prove when the tape was made, the filmmaker set up a TV with a news program on in the corner of the room. Another variation from the formula is that the tape wasn't intended as evidence that the kidnap victims were alive, but as evidence that they were dead, as it had been made for the benefit of the person who'd ordered the hit.
- The newspaper doesn't actually prove anything, since getting a newspaper from years ago, putting it in a box, and burying it under your patio, without a trace, is merely very very difficult, not impossible. The ring is actually better proof, since she has seen her ring recently, and knows the patio hasn't been disturbed since it left her possession.
- Parodied (of course) in a Saturday Night Live sketch following the invasion of Iraq that had Saddam Hussein sending out a video to prove to the Iraqis that he was still alive. As authentication, he held up a calendar with the day marked.
- In another episode, ostensibly from 1999, John Goodman tried to do this to prove the episode wasn't an eight-year-old rerun. The audience member who'd challenged him on this point wasn't convinced.
- The Daily Show and The Colbert Report will often jokingly lampshade the fact that they are recorded several hours before their 11:00 and 11:30 time slots by making vague remarks about the result of something major that was to take place that day, such as a vote or a sporting event. On the rare occasions they have done a live show (for elections), they did attempt to actually "prove" it.
- A variant in Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip: The show-within-the-show is shown live on the East Coast, but tape-delayed for the West Coast. In one episode, they need to insert a live apology for the West Coast, and prove that it's live. They do so by having the actor give an up-to-the-second sports score.
- In the White Collar episode "Front Man", a kidnapper has his victim record her proof-of-life video while holding a newspaper in order to make it more convincing.
- In an episode of The Incredible Hulk a restaurant David works at is vandalized by a reporter cooking up a story to make it look like there are serious health code violations and may have to shut down. The previous morning they just happened to have taken a picture of their cook with the day's newspaper, which shows that their kitchen was clean.
- The Castle episode "Poof, You're Dead" has an accidental variant; Beckett notices that a set of wheelchair tracks at the victim's workshop run over a newspaper dated the day he died, implying that whoever was in the wheelchair must have something to do with the murder.
- On The Big Bang Theory, when Leonard is getting ready to go to the Bakersfield ComicCon, he takes a picture of him and Penny with the day's paper, to prove she actually exists to the other ner...attendees he will be meeting.
- In Black Books, Manny tells Bernard that his ex-girlfriend is still alive and Fran knows her. Fran confesses, knowing the jig is up, but Bernard refuses to believe it, so Fran shows him pieces of evidence that eventually escalates to a photo of her holding yesterday's newspaper and wearing an "I Love Life" shirt.
- 4chan has "Timestamp or GTFO!!", which is like this but with a hand-written date instead of the newspaper. Of course, people can handwrite any date they want.
- This is used to foil an attempted scam in a post of Not Always Right.
- Parodied in an old sketch of Les Guignols de l'info. The hostage ("played" by the puppet for Christopher Lambert) is registering such a video proving he's well, before realizing the facetious hostage-taker has given him a porn magazine instead of a newspaper. Complaining about the childishness of the joke, said hostage leaves in a huff.
- A few months after Tony Blair became Prime Minister, it was announced that Humphrey, a cat who permanently resided in 10 Downing Street, had retired. Persistent stories of a rift between his wife and Humphrey lead to rumors that Humphrey had been put down. They ended up presenting parliament with one of these photos to prove he was still alive.
- In 2006, Fidel Castro went into a hospital for intestinal surgery. To prove he'd come through it alive, he sent a picture of himself holding a newspaper to the press.
- This comes up quite a bit in online weight loss challenges. There are a few sites that give prizes for the biggest body transformation (either losing fat or building muscle) in a given time frame (like 12 weeks for example.) They'll have contestants take photos with newspapers to show they are working within the time frame as opposed to say, slowly losing weight over a year and then dragging out an old photo to send into the contest.
- Sometime in mid-2011, a website placed up a story about how Hayley Williams of Paramore was to appear on a magazine (called G-String, a supposed dirty magazine that nobody had heard of dedicated to rock chicks) cover topless. However, it was proven to be fake by a number of things, including the fact that a real topless pic had became well known online and people were comparing the two images, and a thong is very prominent despite her refusal to talk about her underwear choices. But the thing that proved it false was, the hoaxer placed a date on it to make it look legit... except that it claimed it was a year old, making it, if it was real, far too old to have not been discovered before had it been real. It did get some praise however for being a very realistic photoshop image and did look real.
- The text "The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks" was attached to the very first bitcoins. Both to guarentee no coins existed before that date and as a snarky remark about the current banking system.
- On a related note, Napoleon's master spy Schulmeister managed to convince the Austrian General Baron Mack in 1805 that his military position was much better than it was and that Napoleon was facing discontent and unrest in France by having fake issues of French newspapers printed and handing them over to him. Partly due to this, Mack soon found himself in a position where he was forced to capitulate in Ulm with his army.
- Inverted in one kidnapping case where the newspaper was real but the hostage was long dead, his body preserved in a freezer and brought out for the necessary pictures.