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The villain has betrayed his team, or his country, or the entire human race. Now, he's been defeated... but there's just one complication. If the traitor's guilt is revealed, there will be consequences — perhaps his friends will seek revenge, or perhaps good people will also be dragged down, or perhaps the people's confidence in the whole system will be shaken.
One solution: cover the whole thing up. Perhaps the traitor can be punished discreetly
or persuaded to eliminate himself rather than be disgraced
, or perhaps the heroes just have to suck it up and accept that he's untouchable
, at least for now. Often, the question is rendered moot, as the villain's final struggle led to his death
. In such cases, it is not uncommon for them to be reported
as having died a hero
, often with the implication that they were killed stopping the very evil they had, in reality, unleashed. (Note that if the character really did die stopping it, it is Redemption Equals Death
, and while the heroes are likely to soften or hide his crimes, the motive will be different.)
Note this is also a useful plot device so "fictional" stories can pretend to have really happened
, it was just "covered up".
Subtrope of Internal Retcon
. Compare Never Speak Ill of the Dead
and The Power of Legacy
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- Ghost in the Shell: used frequently to avoid severe political consequences.
- The second Death Note movie ends with a coverup. Light's family is led to believe that he died trying to stop Kira.
- Inverted with the end of Code Geass. The few people who were in on it/worked it out are covering up the fact that Lelouch was actually creating world peace.
- Played straight in episodes 19 and 20 of R2. Upon being confronted with what they believe to be the evidence of Zero's betrayal of their cause, the Black Knights attempt to execute Lelouch as a traitor. So as not to tarnish Zero's image as the symbol of resistance, they cover it up by reporting that he died heroically in the battle for Tokyo. A curious example, in that the conspirators believe that they are covering up their victim's betrayal, the treachery they are covering up is their own, given the circumstances.
- Inverted in One Piece. After the supposedly-government-allied pirate Crocodile was exposed, the World Government didn't bother to cover it up. They did, however, cover up the fact that another pirate crew resolved the issue by giving credit to a Marine who had conveniently been tailing the heroes, because a rogue pirate beating a government-aligned pirate, traitor or not, would be a source of deep embarrassment. Smoker, said Marine, was less than happy about it.
- Played straight with Gecko Moria later on. Whatever his plans, they were never so public that the World Government couldn't deny it, and they were in fact more concerned about his image as a powerful pirate being tarnished when they had already lost two of their allied pirates already.
- At the end of Fullmetal Alchemist, the Fuhrer was credited as having been a major force against the generals supposedly orchestrating the "alchemic experiment". In fact, he had been one of the driving forces for its completion and had brought the generals into the scheme. However, he was far too popular with the people and the evidence against him was lacking.
- Patlabor: The Movie: The true source of the malfunctioning labors is whitewashed so the Japanese government will not be disgraced. The corporation that built the faulty labor robots has given the government massive support and money.
- In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's, Admiral Graham's plan to seal the Book of Darkness away with Hayate is largely overlooked outside of the upper echelons of the TSAB, and he merely resigns, only being officially accused of breaking into Bureau systems and interfering with the investigation. In Striker S Sound Stage X it is mentioned that many parts of the Jail Scaglietti incident are classified, presumably including Jail's origins and connection to the Bureau, which had created him.
- Un-Go - Only reason why is Shinjuurou called "Defeated Detective"
- This happened in Naruto with the planned coup by the Uchiha clan. Itachi killed them without exposing their treachery in order to keep their reputation from being tarnished, and to give Sasuke a target for his anger. It... didn't work out so well.
- In the later manga chapters of Elfen Lied, it is revealed that the Japanese government at last tumbled to the fact that something was not right with Chief Kakuzawa and his Diclonius Research Institute, and began a venture called Saseba to monitor his activities, eventually infiltrating and turning operatives inside the Institute. While part of this was done to stop Kakuzawa (and he needed stopping), the bigger part of the effort was to keep quiet that Japan had ever sponsored this madman. Given what Kouta relates in the very final chapter, their success in covering up is left unclear.
- The Invisible Man's decision to sell out humanity to aliens was covered up in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. "Covered up" means Hyde raped him to death.
- Teen Titans: Even though she was The Mole, the Titans gave Terra a hero's funeral and kept her betrayal of the team a secret after her death.
- Watchmen, even if it is a little more complicated...
- In Dirty Sympathy this is why Edgeworth won't extradite Klavier and Apollo back to the U.S. All their cases would be put into question, endangering innocents like Wocky Kitaki and Vera Misham. Their convictions could overturned, which could allow Kristoph his freedom since his initial conviction is dependent on a crime he didn't commit and Phoenix would lose his creditability and the progress he made.
- In Frozen Hearts, this is downplayed with regards to Prince Hans; who is confined, away from the public eye, while his parents weigh how to punish him for his crimes, as a result of not wanting word to get out before his punishment is decided. The King and Queen of the Southern Isles ultimately go public regarding his wrongdoing, though.
- In Angels & Demons, Ventresca immolates himself due to guilt over his misdeeds, but his official cause of death is that he died of injuries due to crash-landing on the ground.
- In The Rock, a threat by a much-decorated Marine General to use chemical weapons against San Francisco was covered up, helped by the fact that the General threatened to launch the gas if the FBI alerted the media.
- In xXx: State of the Union, the Secretary of Defence plotted to overthrow the government and kill the President, but was given a hero's funeral for rescuing the President because of just how massive an embarrassment that would have been. It certainly helped that the Secretary had every witness murdered, leaving only the people that would cover for him.
- Adcox in Backdraft.
- The Blue Max: General Count von Klugermann whitewashes or covers-ups Bruno Stachel's crimes because Germany needs a war hero since revolution is becoming more likely. Otto Heidemann is outraged at these cover-ups, but agrees to stay silent since the military and political leadership agree with Klugermann. Heidemann knows that very few officers will take his side if confronted with political pressure. , 
- The Dark Knight: In The Dark Knight Harvey Dent was horribly burned by the joker, who kidnapped him and put him in a room full of gasoline, and driven to near insanity because the Joker lied about where Rachel was and where Harvey was, so bruce manages to save Harvey, who gets half his face burned off because that half was doused in gasoline, while Rachel dies because the cops couldn't get there fast enough. While he is in the hospital, the Joker comes to him and manages to convince him to go after all the corrupt cops in the police force and even betray JIM GORDON AND BATMAN, the only good cops left, in order to avenge Rachel. Because he figures that he and Rachel each had a 50/50 chance of surviving, due to which one would be rescued by Batman, he gives all of the cops a 50/50 chance on whether they live or die as Two-Face. At the end, when he is holding a gun to Gordon's son, Batman tackles him and knocks him off a 20 foot height, killing him. But since if he was reported as a villain, all 150 criminals he convicted would go free, so Commissioner Gordon and Batman agree to tell the press that Batman killed the traitorous cops, so that Harvey can die a hero. As a result, the Dent Act is passed, allowing the police to clean up Gotham's streets, further making it impossible to report on the terrible things Harvey did.
- Telefon: Grigori Bortsov is sent to kill Nikolai Dalchimsky so the KGB will not have to reveal the fact it failed to shut down a network of sleeper agents. 
- Assassination: The mastermind behind the assassination attempts on the First Lady is a high-ranking White House official. His death is reported as a medical condition to avoid a scandal. 
- The ending of the Jet Li movie Hero indicates that the would-be assassin was killed as a traitor, but buried as a hero.
- L.A. Confidential: Once in the movie, twice in the book. Ed has to cover up Dudley's identity as the Big Bad, but his father did it back in the day by helping Dieterling frame Atherton for the murders his son committed.
- The ending of The Dark Knight. With Harvey Dent/Two-Face dead on the ground, Batman willingly allows the madman's crimes to be blamed on himself so Gotham won't lose an inspirational example.
- At the end of Tomorrow Never Dies, M orders the coverup of the death of media baron Elliot Carver as a "boating accident", a bit of karmic irony considering his mass-media manipulation based plan. (What had actually happened is that Bond killed Carver with his giant drill after foiling his attempt at War for Fun and Profit.)
- By the end of Iron Man, the government has concocted a story to cover up most of the final battle, including that Treacherous Advisor Obidiah Stane disappeared in a plane crash whose wreckage was never found. It's doubtful that their Treachery Cover Up story ever got a chance to play out, though, since Tony completely breaks their script at the press conference and outs himself as Iron Man.
- In the film The Art of War, Wesley Snipes's character is set up for the murder of the Chinese ambassador in the middle of US-China trade talks. After finding out that a UN Liason/Covert Mission Control who was involved in the talks is the mastermind, he reveals the truth to the Triads. She is murdered by a member of the Triads and is lauded as a hero, who gave her life to ensure the success of US-China trade relations. Of course, this also serves as a big "fuck you" to her, as she was secretly working on sabotaging the talks.
- The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance ended on an inversion. The reporters chose to cover up the fact the protagonist, a famous Senator and Vice-Presidential prospect, confessed that he did not kill the eponymous outlaw which made him a legendary figure.
- In Seven Days in May, the President decided that what had happened must never become public knowledge, in order to preserve the idea that a Military Coup against the United States government is simply unthinkable.
- John Ringo: used in the Paladin of Shadows Series. Information on a rape/sex slave ring used by politicians from multiple nations is entrusted to the Kildar since public exposure will topple several governments.
- James Bond
- The death of Le Chiffre in Casino Royale is published as a suicide to focus attention on his trade union. Destroying the communist supported labor union and the French communist party is more important than confronting the Soviet Union. The Soviet assassin who kills Le Chiffre says that the publication of his gambling and embezzlement has undermined communist prestige in the NATO nations.
- When Drax's habit of cheating at cards is found out in Moonraker, James Bond is put against him to teach him a lesson instead of causing a scandal out of it, as it could jeopardize the Moonraker project.
- Clive Cussler: Many of the villains have massive influence and wealth; the Vigilante Man only stops them.
- This happens in the Discworld novel Pyramids. Teppic, the current Pharaoh of Djelibeybi, always believed his was a noble lineage. However, in a prophetic dream, when he meets the founder of the nation, he finds the founder was a camel thief who was running away from guards. Suffice it to say, he never tells anyone this, even Ptraci who eventually becomes Pharaoh in his stead
- U.S.S. Seawolf: The president of the United States prevents his son, Linus Clark from being court martialed for negligence. Despite the official story, many in the military know the truth and lose all trust in the current administration.
- Jack Ryan:
- The Hunt for Red October: The defection of the Red October is covered up so the American military maintains a strategic advantage.
- The Cardinal of the Kremlin: The defection of Nikolay Borissovich Gerasimov is covered up by the American and Soviet governments to avoid political problems with an arms control treaty. Several Soviet characters state that the court-martial of 'Cardinal' might not be possible since he is a war hero.
- Prince Serg in Lois McMaster Bujold's Shards of Honor.
- In H. Beam Piper's story "The Mercenaries", the leader of a freelance scientific research team executes a traitor in their midst. The death is passed off as a suicide to protect the team (and incidentally assures that the deceased will be remembered for his genuine scientific contributions). It's understood that the real story will be read between the lines... thereby protecting the team's reputation for trustworthiness and ability to take out its own trash.
- David Weber frequently uses this trope.
- Path of the Fury (In Fury Born): Alicia Dierdre DeVries of the Imperial Cadre “drop commando” unit resigns after Wadislaw Watts is allowed to escape a court martial in exchange for his assistance in destroying a Rishathan espionage network. Nobody in the imperial government wants a court martial since it will humiliate the Cadre. Later averted when the Terran Emperor tells DeVries that Fleet Admiral Subrahmanyan Treadwell, Vice Admiral Amos Brinkman, and the rest of the secessionist conspirators will be court-martialed.
- Honor Harrington
- Many of the genetic slavery incidents are ignored or whitewashed due to political considerations. The high-level criminals escape while the low-level criminals are convicted.
- Several of the people in the High Ridge government escape a trial since the Grantville government cannot afford to risk accusations of a political vendetta, allowing Baron High Ridge himself and Reginald Houseman to avoid significant penalties for their malfeasance. We learn in A Rising Thunder that High Ridge was convicted and sentenced to prison for bribery, vote-buying, perjury, extortion and obstruction of justice.
- The "North Hollow files", which Pavel Young's family has used to control members of Parliament, are ordered destroyed rather than published since publication would result in political chaos and 33% of the information is a forgery.
- After Arnold Giancola and Yves Grosclaude are killed in air car accidents, Eloise Pritchart refuses to cover up the public revelation of diplomatic forgery in the long term. Nevertheless, she orders a short-term cover up until reliable evidence can be obtained. The primary problems are obtaining legal evidence and avoiding accusations of the government arranging convenient accidents for the main suspects.
- After Operation Hassan causes chaos in the Manticorian and Grayson governments in Ashes of Victory, only the Masadan and Grayson ( Samuel Mueller) conspirators are convicted. Haven is not accused because the only credible witness is killed to ensure secrecy.
- Samuel Mueller is not held responsible for his collaboration with William Allen Hillman Fitzclarence because of weak evidence. Later he becomes the leader of the political opposition and any accusation against him would only allow Mueller to accuse the Grayson government of a political vendetta.
- After it is revealed that Havenite agents assassinated Roger III Winton, Elizabeth Adrienne Samantha Annette Winton is forced to cover up the assassination since a trial would result in massive witch-hunts, an anti-Haven “Red Scare” or a declaration of war. One of the conspirators has standards and confesses her role. She participated out of well-intentioned idealism; she is not a traitor to the state.
- At the end of Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40,000 Gaunts Ghosts novel Blood Pact, Gaunt is assured that Rime's death at Rawne's hands is being passed off as an honorable death in battle. He's glad not to have the Inquisition breathing down his neck for killing an Inquisitor.
- The final fate of the Camerlengo in Angels & Demons.
- In Star Trek: Mere Anarchy, the capital of planet Mestiko is named vosTraal in honour of a native leader, Traal. According to the history books, Traal sacrificed himself to save the planet. What those books leave out is that this was in fact a Heel-Face Turn and he was originally a traitor, allied with the Klingons. Only when he realized that the Klingons cared nothing for his people and would gladly sacrifice his tribe did he turn on them. In order to keep the troubled planet united, this is obscured from history in favour of an entirely heroic portrait.
- Twisted a bit in the Elenium. The person who's been blackmailed into trying to murder Sparhawk for half a book takes poison before confessing, and expects to be outed as a traitor. Instead, Sparhawk and Kurik arrange matters so everyone will think one of the besieging army shot him.
- A lot of things that Jack Reacher gets involved in wind up with him killing the bad guy and walking away in the sunset with someone else getting credit for what he did, or no explanation at all.
- The Fourth Protocol. The Chessmaster head of British Intelligence covers up a False Flag Operation involving a government minister because it makes more sense to Feed the Mole. On discovering a Soviet plan to detonate a nuclear bomb on British soil, he covers that up as well in an unspoken agreement with his KGB opposite number (in exchange for information to end the plot), because exposure of the plan could heat up the Cold War and invite Soviet retaliation.
- This is deconstructed in Serpico. The protagonist is regularly told that the NYPD can and should "clean its own laundry", but its method of doing so is just to transfer a Dirty Cop to another unit, where he often continues his activities with other corrupt police in that unit. It's only when Serpico goes public that something is done.
- In House Divided, a rogue operation reveals that the general in charge of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has been murdering enemies, both domestic and foreign, for years. The administration covers this up and makes an excuse for his resignation, helped when the wounded villain is found to have terminal cancer.
- The Horus Heresy of Warhammer 40,000 is unknown to the vast majority of the Imperium's population-including the fact that fully half of the Adeptus Astartes Legions went rogue and joined Chaos. The fact that the main basis for Imperial canon was written by one of the traitor Legions' primarchs is not only ignored, but anyone who says as much is asking for Inquisitorial attention.
- That depends on the edition and writer, mind. It's also noted, in-universe even, that Imperial doctrine is repeatedly contradictory, and the only people who accept it without questioning any part of it are the particularly pious and ogryns.
- Half of the Dark Angels chapter turned after the Heresy. The remaining loyalist Dark Angels are so utterly ashamed and obsessive over their Fallen "brethren" that they will go to incredible lengths to keep the existence of the Fallen hidden from Imperial authorities while secretly hunting them down personally, including abandoning allies and entire battlefields to go chasing after rumours of sighted Fallen. In an ironic twist, it is implied that the Inquisition, the Grey Knights and presumably other Imperial branches of authority and government are already aware of the Fallen and don't care, rendering their whole mission utterly pointless, and in fact, the numerous atrocities they commit in it's name and their unreliable nature are alienating the rest of the Imperium. Whoops.
- Happens in Suikoden I; Sanchez is exposed at a vital point for the rebellion, and the game's strategist orders that his treachery be concealed (with the rest of the cast forcing him to play his role) because the knowledge of a high-ranking traitor would undermine confidence. Even after the game's end, he is eventually secretly 'pardoned' (but exiled to a single city and never genuinely forgiven) because the revelation that one of the heroes of the revolution was a traitor would be dangerous for the stability of the new republic. However, the fact that he's a high ranking character with no Star of Destiny who constantly offers the main character alcohol should have been a give away if you were paying attention from the beginning.
- Happens at one part during Metal Gear Solid 3, and staying true to the series premise, is much more twisted than usual: (extra big spoiler) to get a spy close to Big Bad Volgin, the Boss is given the mission to pose as a defector and gaining Volgins trust by bringing him two "stolen" nuclear bombs as a gift. But apparently nobody had thought that Volgin would use them against a KGB facility. To cover up that the US government practically gave the nukes to Volgin, Naked Snake is given the mission to kill her, so that nobody will ever suspect that her defection was fake. Being loyal to her country to the end, she accepts death by the hands of her former pupil and best friend. Snake learns about it only after he had killed her.
- In Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World, the heroes of the first game keep the truth about Mithos, Martel, and the Church secret, because frankly, the world doesn't need that kind of disillusionment.
- In the original game, Lloyd and the party remain quiet about Governor General Dorr collaborating with the Desians by enabling the people of Palmacosta to be taken to the ranch so that he can get his wife turned back to normal, so that the city can get through the crisis while trusting its leadership. Lloyd gets a significant across-the-board drop in the party's Relationship Values if you decide to say that you're not OK with this. Palmacosta ultimately gets destroyed at the end of Disc One.
- In Sacrifice, if you side with James, the hero covers up the fact that the prophet Mithras was the omnicidical demon Marduk in another form.
- Happens a lot in the Resident Evil universe post destruction of Raccoon City, mostly due to Umbrella covering their asses after the disaster. They're caught by Resident Evil 4 though.
- Starcraft I Alexei Stukov's death counts as this, after being killed by Samir Duran with orders from Admiral Du Galle, Stukov's death was told to the public as "a hero's death during the final valiant assault on Char".
- In The Order of the Stick, the circumstances of Lord Shojo's death at Miko's hands are concealed from the people of Azure City in order to prevent morale from being more seriously damaged than it already is. This may well contribute to the We ARE Struggling Together situation later on as rumors circulate about the circumstances of his death.
- Donovan Deegan hid from his wife the fact that their friend Karnak had tried to Murder the Hypotenuse (namely, him) just before his Heroic Sacrifice.
- Inverted very early on in Girl Genius. Silas Merlot, in a fit of temper, reveals that Dr. Beetle has been hiding a Hive Engine (a piece of poorly-understood technology containing highly dangerous organisms which can turn their victims into Sycophantic Servants) for his own research, which Baron Wulfenbach has expressly forbidden, because of the danger. Fearing the Baron's harsh punishments, Beetle panics and tries to bomb the Baron, but the gambit backfires and obliterates Beetle instead. Merlot gets about halfway through the first sentence of trying to conspire with the Baron to hide Beetle's death when the Baron declares his undying hatred for traitors, and he holds Merlot and his theatrics directly responsible for what just happened. He then declares that Merlot's punishment is that he is now in charge of Beetleburg...after the much-beloved Dr. Beetle is given a hero's funeral and the full details of his death, Merlot's involvement included, have been released to the public.
- In Worm, the public is not informed that Armsmaster is actually under house arrest for violating the truce during the Leviathan attack.
- The trope also gets played with: Alexandria's true crimes are are covered up with a different set of crimes, because she was a renowned hero, and the government wanted to avoid people being dispirited by her death, but couldn't afford to expose her true actions.
- Done in The Simpsons concerning Jebidiah Springfield (posthumously).
- When the Nazis suspected Erwin Rommel knew about a plot to assassinate Hitler, they offered to ignore it if he would commit suicide, or according to other sources, be shot privately. This was because he was such a hero the Nazis feared public accusations would be harmful to morale. Faced with the potential consequences for his family, he agreed, either killing himself by poison or being quietly shot by the SS.
- Anthony Blunt, one of the Cambridge Five (a group of KGB moles in Britain's intelligence services) wasn't charged after he agreed a plea bargain and named agents he'd recruited. He was in charge of the Queen's portraits and got a knighthood. Subverted as he was then outed in 1979 and stripped of said knighthood.
- Wikileaks put defiance of this trope as their mission statement. An Archive Binge through it is one of the faster way to lose faith on fellow humans.