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Authentication by Newspaper

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This is more recursive than most examples.

"Remember to write us every day, and don't forget to include a photo of yourself holding up that day's newspaper."
Roseanne, Roseanne, "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.

    Comic Books 
  • One Donald Duck comic has his nephews foil a scam by noticing that the guy just changed the date by turning a 3 into an 8 with a marker.

  • In Building Doors Harry's barrister has him hold up that day's Daily Prophet while pictures of his relatives' abuse are taken.

    Films Live-Action 
  • When Tom is framing himself for murder in Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (It Makes Sense In Context—sort of) he holds up a newspaper at the scene of the murder, and is photographed planting his lighter, to prove that he planted the lighter after the murder was committed.
  • 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 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.
  • In Jingle All the Way, it's used to confirm that the toy the character was looking for was available that day.
  • Love Hard: When Kerry finds out that Natalie is crushing on a guy she met on a dating app who lives across the country, she tells her to ask him to send a picture holding the day's newspaper to confirm he is who he says he is. Josh does send a photo of himself holding a piece of paper with Natalie's name, but it's a subversion — Natalie really is being catfished, and the catfisher is good at Photoshop.
  • 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 Proof of Life, such a photograph is the titular evidence that the hostage isn't dead.
  • Near the end of S1m0ne, she is seen reading a headline about her own death.
  • Played with in Terminal Velocity (1994). Chris Morrow leaves photos of herself holding a sign saying, Ditch Brodie Did Not Kill Me, after using Brodie to fake her death in a skydiving accident to throw her pursuers off the trail.

  • Isard's Revenge: Wedge sends a message to the New Republic to prove that he's Not Quite Dead, and dates it by quoting a few of that day's stock prices.
  • In the sequel series of On the Run Kidnapped, the kidnappers do this, but in turn, make Meg realize that the date is her birthday and have her cry. The only sympathetic kidnapper, Mickey, later tries to remedy this by giving her a cupcake and a match (to act as a candle).
  • In the Shadowrun tie-in novel Wolf and Raven by Michael Stackpole, the protagonist is shown a video of a kidnap victim standing in front of a trideo (3D television) screen with a recent program on it. In an aversion of We Will Not Use Photoshop in the Future, the protagonist focuses his attention on the way her hair moves through the image as the fine details would reveal use of Chroma Key to fake the video.
  • 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The A-Team had an episode where a judge's daughter had been kidnapped, and her captors take a picture like this to prove she's alive and unharmed.
  • 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 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.
  • Castle:
    • The 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.
    • "Hunt" gives us the more standard version, with Alexis holding up a copy of a Paris newspaper as proof that she's alive.
  • In Charmed episode 4 season 1: Piper makes a photo of crime lord Tony Wong, while he is holding the newspaper that reports his death, to prove he at least outlived his own death report.
  • 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.
  • This is served with a massive dose of Fridge Logic in Dexter's second season. Bad guy Little Chino gives the cops a video of him holding a newspaper as if it were proof that he was somewhere else on the day a murder took place. (It has a timestamp from the camera on it, but those can be faked pretty easily too....)
  • A comedic version on Empty Nest. When Carol goes to her high school reunion and tries to prove to her disbelieving former classmates that she has a boyfriend, she shows them a picture of the two of them, with him holding a newspaper with the current date. They scoff at this, stating that she did the same thing during her school days.
  • Father Brown: In "The Daughter of Autolycus", the kidnappers of Flambeau's daughter send him a photograph of her holding that day's newspaper.
  • In Frequency, Frank takes a picture of himself with a newspaper in 1996 and buries it to be found by Raimy in 2016. The date on the paper convinces her that their communication across time is for real.
  • Happens in How I Met Your Mother in a way, where Ted tells Victoria her care package is already in the mail and he sent it a few days ago when in fact he hasn't made it yet. In said care package is the Big Applesauce Times from three days ago. (Which, of course, proves nothing.)
  • In an episode of The Incredible Hulk (1977) 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.
  • Jonathan Creek
    • Subverted in the 2008 special. There was a video showing a kidnapped woman and that morning's local newspaper. It turned out that the woman in charge of the newspaper was in on it and released a swarm of bees at the local council's meeting so she could make sure she knew what the front page story would be.
    • There's also a variation in an earlier episode where a woman gets an alibi due to a faked video of a stalker filming her while she flips through Thursday night's TV. It turns out that this was actually a videotape compiled out of splicing together recordings to make it look as though she was channel-hopping, and was recorded the night after.
    • Also used in the episode "Angel Hair" in which a group of men kidnap a woman and display a newspaper. This however backfires on the kidnappers. They want it to seem as though the woman is in on the kidnapping and is about to extort money out of her lover by pretending to be held hostage. Unfortunately their tactic of cutting off all her hair causes an inconsistency in the tape (which the recipient watches as it was being recorded live) considering they rig the set-up immediately after she had just participated in a catfight complete with hair-pulling. Coupled with the date that the newspaper provides, it seems impossible that the woman's hair grew back in so short a time.
  • Journeyman pulls off proof of age, but it is a time travel show. Dan takes Katie's wedding ring into the past, puts it in a toolbox with that day's newspaper, and buries it in what would become their backyard. Back in the present, Dan takes a sledgehammer to the patio to dig up the box:
    Katie: What are you doing?!
    Dan: Saving my marriage.
    Katie: Not really!
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.
  • In The Leftovers episode "Don't Be Ridiculous", Nora watches the video clips of volunteers who hold up newspapers to prove the day of recording.
  • Leverage uses this trope in "The First David Job". As part of their plan to sell a faked Michelangelo statue, they photograph their fake with a recent newspaper to prove to their victim that they actually have it.
  • NCIS: New Orleans: In "It Happened Last Night", a ransom message is sent showing a kidnap victim holding a copy of that day's newspaper.
  • 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.
  • Referenced in an episode of Stargate SG-1. Upon time-travelling back to ancient Egypt, Daniel grabs his camera claiming he wants to get proof the pyramids predate the Third Dynasty. Jack points out the obvious flaw in this plan by asking if he plans to include the local newspaper to "prove" the date.
  • 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.
  • The series premiere of Without a Trace had the team receiving a message from the kidnapper proving that the Victim of the Week was still alive—a picture of her tied up, holding the days newspaper in her hands.

    Puppet Shows 
  • 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.


    Video Games 
  • In Spycraft: The Great Game the protagonist may fake this by using proper newspaper and the photo-editing software to coerce an enemy agent to disclose some information (the edited picture corroborates the story that the lover of the interrogated agent has been already captured).

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Big Mouth: In "How to Have an Orgasm," Andrew takes a dick pic with a newspaper to prove that the picture is recent. Maury responds that it looks like he's holding his dick hostage.
  • Parodied in an episode of Hey Arnold! where Timberly's stuffed dinosaur Wally has falsely been stolen. She finds a ransom note that shows the toy beside a newspaper with that day's date.
  • Phineas and Ferb had an episode where the two title characters accidently get turned into babies (don't ask long story) and Candace tries to get Phineas to hold a newspaper with a the current date after their mom mistakes the first one she sent for an old baby picture Candace dug up. Being babies, they tear up the newspaper before she take the picture.
  • In an episode of The Simpsons, Homer gets kidnapped by Ukrainian criminals, and forced to hold up a newspaper.
    Homer: What will you guys use when there aren't newspapers anymore?
    Criminal: Perhaps we'll be living in a world where they'll be no need to kidnap.
    Homer: Oh, well, way to make me feel obsolete.
  • In Titan Maximum, Gibbs seduces Jodi and at one point holds up a recent newspaper, with his latest terrorist attack on the front page. When he broadcasts a tape of the event on interplanetary television, the newspaper proves it wasn't from when Jodi and Gibbs dated before he turned traitor.
  • On April Fools' Day 2012, [adult swim] made sure viewers know that they didn't just replace their block a taped airing of Toonami by referring to things that all happened between Toonami's cancellation and this pseudo-revival. TOM-3 acknowledged the Fake-Out Opening suggesting a fourth year ofan April Fool's Day marathon of Tommy Wiseau's The Room (2003) by quoting it and turning it off, one of the bumps for Tenchi Muyo! said Tenchi had "99 Problems and these bitches are all of them", and the video game review was of Mass Effect 3. Bleach was the only active [adult swim] show aired that night, but new bumps were made for it as well, despite being dubbed after Toonami's cancellation. It was even the new episode advertised and TOM-3 did an ad for the next week's episode, to boot!

    Real Life 
  • 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 dedicated to rock chicks that nobody had heard of) 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 guarantee 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.
  • When Ilan Halimi was kidnapped by the Fofana gang in 2006, his family was sent a video of him holding the current Le Parisien issue.