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Malicious Slander

A lie can run halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on.

Rumor, gossip, tale-bearing. Ever present whenever people talk, and sometimes truly vile. And when they are malicious tales about The Hero, they are an unbounded source of problems for him.

Except in unusual cases, we already know in advance that the tales are false, usually by seeing the true events, or seeing his POV during them so we know his true motives, so that the Infallible Babble effect is undermined. We just get to see the character wrestle with, and suffer under, them.

Sometimes the original slanderer can be identified (and sometimes punished), but often enough the hero has to deal with a cloud of unidentifiable nastiness. Who is acting out of malice, and who out of carelessness or indifference to the truth — or even desire to warn — may be ambiguous. It makes being arrested look easy: there, you can get through the trial and be acquitted. And often crucial people are really gullible.

The Hero with Bad Publicity often lives in a cloud of this. Wounded Gazelle Gambit is one way of launching them. Gossipy Hens are always launching or spreading them — with or without malice. The Green-Eyed Monster often inspires slander, and the envious person may even believe his own slanders. Deadly Decadent Court is rife with it, but even there, the Evil Chancellor is particularly prone to it. In many situations, this helps fuel Divided We Fall. Gossip Evolution doesn't exactly help the situation for any of these. The Propaganda Machine often churns it out. Children are often the butts of the subtrope Loser Son of Loser Dad. Torches and Pitchforks are often stirred up with malicious slander.

When spread intentionally, the slanderer often acts with Chessmaster-like precision. Frequently he will tell the entire truth with only a few crucial omissions, or alter the import of facts by subtle misrepresentations — knowing that Gossip Evolution will turn the hints into full-blown lies.

Compare Shrouded in Myth for another problem the hero can have with rumors.

See also Bearer of Bad News, who may be accused of this.

No Real Life examples - suffice to say that all propoganda contains elements of this, but to what extent is highly debatable. Too much chance of Flame Bait — besides which, we don't want this to be a Self-Demonstrating Article.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! R entirely revolves around some protegee of Pegasus trying to avenge (and revive) his master after being told that Yugi murdered him.
    • Ironically enough, in the manga, Pegasus WAS murdered...just not by Yugi. The murderer, funnily enough, doesn't even appear in the series.
  • In Monster, after Tenma rejects her {again}, Eva follows him through the hospital shouting that she will tell everyone all about how he murdered her father.
    • It doesn't help that the police already suspect him.
  • The main plot of Shina Dark is that the demon king Exoda awakens after a lengthy slumber to find his secluded island full of young girls claiming to be "sacrifices" - because someone came up with the idea that the demon king demands a thousand women to be his concubines. Exoda is not happy to find the slanderous text going into detail about what he supposedly do to the girls, roughly ten each night. He is outright disturbed to find a prepubescent child among the crowd. At one point he laments that people come up with new slander every time he goes into slumber, which suggest this is only the latest in a long line of indignities.
  • This is the backstory of One Piece's Nico Robin in a nutshell. After becoming the only survivor of an incident where the World Government decimated her home island, said Government spread these about her to convince people to turn her in to them. Among these were that Robin was some kind of "Demon Child" and that she sank several battleships during the incident (those ships were sank, but by a giant who had defected from the Marines, not Robin.).

    Ballads 
  • In the Child Ballad Sir Aldingar, when the queen rebuffs the title knight, he puts a leper in her bed and accuses her of adultery to the king.
  • In The Lord of Lorn and the False Steward, when the young lord improbably shows up again the service of the duke, the steward posing as him tries slander. It doesn't dislodge him.
    "Will you beleeue me, lady faire,
    When the truth I doe tell yee?
    Att Aberdonie, beyond the sea,
    His father he robbed a hundred three."

    Comics 
  • A sizable chunk of the drek Spider-Man deals with can be blamed on J. Jonah Jameson's blatant libel in the Daily Bugle. He actually once took them to court over it, but unfortunately his overenthusiastic lawyer then included Peter Parker in the suit.

    Fairy Tales 
  • In The Girl Without Hands, the Devil intercepts the letter telling the king of the birth of his son, and changes it to say that it was a monster (in The Brothers Grimm's first edition, it had been the king's mother who did it). Doesn't work, actually; the king says she is to be treated kindly, and so he intercepts again to order her death and the child's.
  • In The Six Swans, the king's mother kidnaps the heroine's newborn children and tells the king she killed them until he agrees to her execution.
  • In The One-Handed Girl,
    • the heroine's sister-in-law tells her brother that the heroine had refused to sell her a pumpkin, which she sold to others, when in fact the heroine had given her one as a gift and had then run out.
    • the heroine's brother tells the king and queen that her hand had been chopped off because she was a witch, getting her driven off.
  • In Mary's Child, the heroine's children are taken from her, and rumor says that she killed and ate them.
  • In The Three Little Birds, when the heroine's sisters steal her children and tell the king that she gave birth to animals, he puts up with it twice and the third time throws his wife in prison.
  • In The Dancing Water, the Singing Apple, and the Speaking Bird, when the heroine gives birth to three Wonder Children, her sisters steal them and tell her husband that she gave birth to three puppies. He puts her in a treadmill as punishment for not having the children as she claimed she would.
  • In Dapplegrim, the king orders the hero to perform many tasks because his fellow servants falsely claimed he said he could do them.
  • In Ferdinand the Faithful, after being slandered, Ferdinand must get a bride for the king and then all the things she demands before she will marry him.
  • In "The Grateful Beasts", Ferko's brothers tell the king that he is a magician, and the king orders Ferko to perform three tasks in atonement; his own daughter the princess argues with him until he imprisons her in a tower.
  • In Esben and the Witch, an enemy of Esben and his brothers is always telling the king that they claimed to be able to do this or that, and then the king orders them to do it.

    Fan Fiction 

    Film 
  • The film Gossip centers around three roommates who knowingly start a malicious rumor about a classmate in order to track how it spreads and changes for a Communications class.
  • In Fury, the main character is arrested because "he seems to know suspiciously too much about a kidnapping". The rumor quickly morphs into him being the kidnapper, and before you know it an Angry Mob storms the prison, sets fire to it and he barely escapes being burned alive.
  • In Enemy of the State, the bad guys' plot involves slandering Will Smith's character by planting a false story about him having an affair and being involved with organized crime in the news.The story causes his massively-gullible bosses to fire him and his wife (who up to that point had been a good, caring person despite her own affair in the past) to throw him out of the house.
  • The Running Man has the main character subjected to this.
  • The entire plot of the film Doubt revolves around a priest accused of misconduct with a young boy. No hard evidence is discovered to either prove or disprove the charge, fueled entirely by rumors, suspicions and one nuns conviction of their truth. The priest himself makes a sermon condemning gossip and rumor-mongering, pointing out that even if the rumor is proved to be false it can never be unsaid. Eventually, the implication is that he was guilty, as he agrees to a transfer and coverup once the nun leading the attack reveals that she managed to track down a nun from his last posting who could corroborate the story...except she later reveals that she had never managed to find the old nun at all.

    Legends 
  • Genevieve of Brabant, the wife of palatine count Siegfried of Treves, was accused of adultery by a rebuffed would-be lover and had to live in the woods with her son (She had actually been put in death row, but the executioner took pity on her and let her go.) Fortunately, she had magical help from a magical roe deer, who helped Fallen Princess Genevieve get food while residing in a cavern. When her husband finds out about the deceit, he goes to search for Genevieve and their kid, and thanks to the roe he finds them and asks for forgiveness.
    • It's apparently based on the real life story of Marie of Brabant, only that Marie wasn't as lucky as Genevieve and did end up executed.

    Literature 
  • The Chivalric Romances Sir Triamour and Erl of Toulouse (among others) revolve about an innocent wife accused of adultery and delivered by a knightly champion.
  • In The Bible, Potiphar's wife accuses Joseph of raping her after he refuses to sleep with her. This continues the chain of events that lead him to becoming Pharaoh's advisor.
    • Also, Jesus warns His followers that they will be subjected to slander, among other forms of persecution. He also tells them to count it as a blessing.
  • In Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, a rebuffed lover kills a member of the family where Constance is staying, and accuses Constance, and is struck dead. The king therefore exonerates and marries her. His mother, annoyed, sent him a letter telling she had given birth to a monster (when that doesn't work, she has Constance and her son exposed in a boat).
  • In the Chivalric Romances Emare and Florence of Rome, the heroine is accused of having given birth to monsters, and exiled.
  • In Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, the stories about Darcy are one of the things that turns Elizabeth against him. Only after she learns the truth does it occur to her that Wickham claimed to be reluctant to blacken Darcy's name out of respect for his father, but in fact, he spread the story whenever he had the chance. She also notes that he was careful to ask people whether they actually knew Darcy before starting his story.
  • In Agatha Christie's short story collection The Labours of Hercules, one of the cases Hercule Poirot gets to solve deals with this. Poirot is approached by the doctor of a small village, whose wife died a year before. The villagers are all gossiping that the doctor did away with her. It turns out that she was indeed murdered, but not by her husband.
    • Christie also did a version of this plot where Miss Marple's niece Mabel is rumored to have poisoned her husband with arsenic. As in the above example, the husband was murdered, but not by Mabel.
  • In Dorothy L Sayers' Unnatural Death, a doctor recounts to Lord Peter Wimsey how his suspicions about an old woman's death had been translated into wild accusations by the rumor mill, forcing him to leave town.
  • In Deryni Rising, Charissa spreads lies and scary gossip about Alaric Morgan as part of her plan to undermine him. She's assisted by her lover, the traitorous Lord Ian Howell, who tells her, "I'd assumed it was an exercise in maliceónot that you need the practice." Since Morgan is already a known Deryni, her efforts merely add to his bad reputation.
  • In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry is the butt of swarming rumors that he is behind the problem.
    • Later books deal with the same issue, but these can normally be traced back to one of three sources: the Ministry (under Fudge, working to discredit him by leaning on news sources), Rita Skeeter (a mudslinging, sensationalist "reporter"), and Death Eaters.
    • In The Goblet of Fire, Frank Bryce is named a suspect in the murders of the Riddle family since he had access to their house. That's it. When the townsfolk catch wind of it, it takes them all of one night to believe that he's a ruthless murderer. Even when the police let him go due to lack of evidence, the townsfolk never stop believing his guilt, and he is made a pariah for life.
    • Taken Up to Eleven in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, wherein the Ministry of Magic and The Daily Prophet both do basically everything they possibly can to make people believe that Harry is either lying or insane.
  • The later books in A Series of Unfortunate Events have this as a major plot point — the Baudelaire orphans have been accused of murder by the villain (of murdering the villain, in fact).
  • Prunella Hooper is the source of a vile rumour in Aunt Dimity: Detective: namely, that Kit Smith, the Harrises' stable master had encouraged their adolescent daughter Nell's crush. The worst version had him being caught in the act of abusing her. Naturally, when Prunella is found dead, the police concentrate on Kit as a prime suspect. In fact, Nell is a remarkably self-possessed and mature young woman (like her brother, she finished her university studies early), and though she did set her cap for him from the age of fifteen, he actively resists the idea for several years.
  • In Graham McNeill's Warhammer 40,000 Horus Heresy novel False Gods, Horus opts for the "misleading truth". He tells Russ that Magnus has engaged in sorcery forbidden by the Emperor and eggs him on until Russ does not think it necessary to capture Magnus alive — but his actual motive was that Magnus's loyalty to the Emperor would interfere with his own plans.
    • In James Swallow's The Flight of the Eisenstein, Grulgor, bitterly envious, accuses Garro (behind his back) of thinking himself above the rest of them because he came from Terra, and that is why he will not join a lodge. In fact, Garro objects to the secrecy of it.
    • Later in The Flight, Dorn accuses Garro of having made up his story and says he should have him flogged and spaced for telling it.
  • In Sandy Mitchell's Ciaphas Cain novel The Traitor's Hand, Tomas Beije seems to convince himself of his own slander against Cain. The first hint of just how far he's taking an admittedly less-than-friendly rivalry comes when he tries to send a message back calling Cain's competence into question- just his competence, he swears, read nothing into his choice of Thought For The Day: "The traitor's hand lies closer than you think." But he's not drawing any conclusions. Really.
  • In Lois McMaster Bujold's A Civil Campaign, Miles is surrounded by rumors that he killed Ekaterin's husband in order to woo her.
  • In Terry Pratchett's The Truth, William de Worde hears an endless stream of unfounded rumors, culminating in his demand that his fellow boarder who is always saying "You know what they say," actually tell him what they say and who they are, anyway, before revealing that he works for the newspaper — which is after the truth.
    • The second of the page quotes (that one with the boots) is a recurring line in the book. It's also his father's favorite saying. William de Worde, eventually, turns it around:
      The truth has got its boots on. It's going to start kicking.
    • In Wyrd Sisters, Felmet commissions a play to slander the witches and make it so that people recognize him as king. Naturally, the witches can't be having with that.
  • In Patrick Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind, Chronicler attempts to get Kvothe to tell him his story, and Kvothe is indifferent to his Shrouded in Myth status. It's when Chronicler repeats some of the slanders that Kvothe is moved — and persuaded.
  • Basically what the whole plot revolves around in Ian Mcewan's Atonement.
  • In Simon Spurrier's Night Lords novel Lord of the Night, large chunks of the Back Story are about Malicious Slander. Whether the Emperor slandered the Night Haunter, or the Night Haunter slandered the Emperor to Sahaal is unclear. Especially since the person claiming the latter is unreliable, and the claim is convenient to him, but it would explain a great deal.
  • In Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files novel Turn Coat, the White Council claims that Morgan, who died heroically stopping a traitor, was in cahoots with him. Harry disapproves — and also thinks that it might not do what they wanted.
    • In Grave Peril, Justine threatens to claim that Harry and his friends were plotting to kill Bianca if Harry won't protect Thomas. Unusually, this only underscores how desperate Justine is.
  • In Edgar Rice Burroughs's A Princess of Mars, Sarkoja, who also bears true but malicious tales.
    "Sarkoja told Sola that you had become a true Thark," she said, "and that I would now see no more of you than of any of the other warriors."
    "Sarkoja is a liar of the first magnitude," I replied, "notwithstanding the proud claim of the Tharks to absolute verity."
    • In Chessman of Mars, E-Thas repeats the tales that accuse the jeddak O-Tar of being afraid to go into rooms reputed to be haunted, and quickly assures him that it's all "foul slander".
  • In Gav Thorpe's Warhammer 40,000 short story "Renegades" after the company goes renegade, Rykhel takes a saviour pod in hopes that he can Bring News Back; he tells the captain, Gessart, that he can not be party to this evil. They had gone renegade to escape the danger approaching that planet, and Rykhel is going right back into its path. Nevertheless, when Gessart tells his company that they are truly renegades and can not return, he claims that Rykhel deserted in fear of the punishment they would receive if caught.
  • In Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities, having put the most malicious interpretation on her actions possible, Madame Defarge plots to slander Lucie, her father, and her young daughter, denouncing them for conspiracy.
  • In Patricia C. Wrede's Thirteenth Child, Eff's uncles, aunts, and cousins are continually interpreting her acts in the worst possible light and spreading the tale.
  • In G. K. Chesterton's Father Brown story "The Scandal of Father Brown", the scandal comes from a journalist's slander — all predicated on "you are so incurably romantic that your whole case was founded on the idea that a man looking like a young god couldn't be called Potter."
  • In Piers Anthony's Spell for Chameleon, Evil Magician Trent declares that he had turned people to fish — but only with water; despite the stories he had not left them flapping about on land. He then points out that if he had won the war and the current king had lost it, they would be telling horrible stories about that king.
  • In John C. Wright's The Orphans of Chaos, Miss Daw explains that being Made a Slave in Hera's household was not bad; when you remember the myths, remember also that the Muses — Zeus's bastard children — inspired them.
  • In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian novel The Hour of the Dragon, The Plague is blamed on the king because of this. When he dies and a great storm immediately blows away the plague, everyone takes it a sign of divine favor.
  • In Josepha Sherman's The Shining Falcon, a man slanders Maria's father to the prince, which is why she and her family have to flee.
  • In The Railway Series, Diesel spreads slander to try and get rid of Duck. The Fat Controller sees through it, however, and manages to expose Diesel when he tries to do the same to Henry.
  • The Baby-Sitters Club had to deal with this in one book when a diamond ring disappeared from a house where Stacey was babysitting, the couple in question assumed Stacey had taken the ring, and threatened to tell all of their other clients about what had happened. The club's business drops to practically nothing, and Stacey feels that even though she didn't take the ring, it's her fault none of the other girls have jobs. Although it turns out that the couple had never gotten around to telling everyone about the ring; the club was just going through a natural slow period, and they were paranoid enough to attribute it to the non-existent rumor.
  • Helen runs into this a lot in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, up to and including accusations that she's had her son out of wedlock.

    Live Action TV 
  • Little House on the Prairie: Mrs. Oleson's favorite activity was spreading gossip, and more than once, it crossed the line into malicious gossip big time Ö especially when her targets were Charles Ingalls and his family, particularly adopted son Albert. Prime examples included a story she printed in the town's newspaper that claimed Charles had snuck around and fathered Albert out of wedlock and, a few seasons later, spun a rumor where Albert got a local girl pregnant.
  • In the BBC show Sherlock, the episode The Reichenbach Fall revolves around Moriarty gradually destroying Sherlock's credibility, eventually leading the police to suspect that he made every case up just so he would look good when he "solved" them, and ending heartbreakingly with Sherlock's apparent suicide. Quite the depressing episode.
  • Downton Abbey has this as the driving force behind some of the conflicts, especially when O'Brien and Thomas Barrow are involved.
  • Scandal: The fear of the heroine's clients.

    Mythology And Religion 
  • The Devil roughly translates into "The Slanderer", as opposed to Satan, which is merely "one who opposes".

    Theater 
  • In the musical 13, after Evan plays matchmaker for Brett and Kendra, Brett's jealous ex-girlfriend spreads a rumor that Kendra is cheating on Brett with Evan.
  • Iago does this to Desdemona in Othello.
  • In Hamlet, Hamlet says the page quote to Ophelia. And Hamlet tests the ghost's words; he appears to fear that the ghost slandered his uncle and mother.
  • This happens to Elphaba in Act 2 of Wicked when the Wizard get's his press-machine up to full steam to demonise her as an enemy of the state.
  • In Aleksandr Griboyedov's Woe from Wit, Sofia (the female lead) spreads a classic piece of Malicious Slander during a ball by hinting that Chatsky, the main character, has gone insane. It's a critical part of the denouement.
  • In Richard Wagner's version of Lohengrin, female lead Elsa is falsely accused of killing her little brother Gottfried, the child-Duke of Brabant (who had actually been turned into a swan by the Evil Sorceress Ortrud. Then the eponymous Knight in Shining Armor comes to her rescue.
  • Used as the main plot device in The Childrens Hour. At a 1930s all-girls school, a bratty girl mad at her teachers conquers up a lie about them being lesbian lovers. Considering one of them was engaged, and this was the early thirties, it single-handedly ruined their lives.
  • Accusations of witchcraft in The Crucible drive the plot, causing the deaths of many innocent people.

    Video Games 
  • In inFAMOUS the "Voice of Truth" does this to Cole at the behest of the Big Bad in order to toughen him up. Whether it sticks depends on what you choose to do.
  • At the beginning of the arson cases segment in L.A. Noire Cole's partner sets him up protect his superiors from a scandal, using the fact he had an affair with a German woman (a refugee from Nazi Germany) to brand him a traitor who ran out on his wife (she threw him out. This is lampshaded by the description of the default outfit for the arson cases;
    "Don't believe everything you read in the papers."
  • In Final Fantasy VII the news calls AVALANCHE a terrorist group.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • In the Whateley Universe, Phase is a Goodkind. That means his family is the most famous, most important group of mutant haters on the planet. Phase is a mutant at Superhero School Whateley Academy. Pretty much everybody there assumes he's still a mutant-hating monster. In the beginning of "Ayla and the Mad Scientist", people are gossiping about him supposedly kicking Bladedancer out of Team Kimba, and all the horrible reasons that might be behind it. To make matters worse, Bladedancer asked to be tossed out of Team Kimba, so it's hard to deny.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Goof Troop episode "Talent to the Max", an evil magic hat uses this against PJ. PJ wanted to tell Max that the hat was evil, and clearly the hat couldn't allow that, so it told Max that he was trying to steal his act and briefly possessed him to "prove" it. PJ denied the accusations when Max "saw" him upstage him, but Max got very mad at PJ for "trying to steal his act." PJ is one of the two least selfish and most loyal characters in the cast, and a Bad Liar. Max still believes the lies.
  • Thomas the Tank Engine adapts The Railway Series Reconstruction "Dirty Work", in which Diesel creates Malicious Slander about the tender engines to frame Duck.
    • Also performed, albeit inadvertently, in "Thomas And The New Engine", after Thomas sees a new diesel-esque steam engine, Neville, hanging around with troublemakers 'Arry and Bert (in reality being bullied by them) he assumes he is another troublemaking diesel, this is passed around the other engines until the story is blown into Neville being a steamie-biffing racist. After finding out Neville is in fact a Nice Guy, Thomas immediately rectifies his mistake and befriends him.

    TV Tropes Wiki 


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