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Can't Stop the Signal

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"So I called that guy I know at NBC. And then I got to thinking — You know what I hate? I hate those lame action movies where the good guy calls just one person who ends up betraying him. So I called ABC, CBS, The Post, The Times, the local news channel, and the FBI."
Smith, Shoot 'em Up

A character breaks The Masquerade by sending the details they have uncovered to the press — often to multiple publications at once. Usually happens at the end of a work.


Occasionally this is the posthumous revenge of a Dead Man Writing. This can be used to subvert a Shoot the Shaggy Dog ending — the Main Characters achieved nothing and died in the attempt, but it's subsequently revealed that they managed to get the word out, and it might all be worth it in the end. It can also be played ambiguously, with the audience unsure of whether the information gets delivered or not (or whether or not it has any effect if it does).

Naturally, this is the modus operandi of the Intrepid Reporter, especially when they're Going for the Big Scoop. If the messenger is relying on other people making a Last Stand to give him a chance, it's Bring News Back.

Compare and contrast the villainous counterpart, Do Not Adjust Your Set. See also Information Wants to Be Free, You Cannot Kill An Idea and Irrevocable Message.


This is both an Ending Trope and frequently a Death Trope; spoilers follow.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • One episode of Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt has the duo attempting to recover every copy of an old porn tape Panty made that's ruining her upcoming movie career. They eventually succeed and Stocking is given the last copy, with Panty figuring she can't do any harm with it. However, when Stocking learns Panty had all her scenes from the film cut, she puts the video on the 'net as revenge.
  • Episode 22 of Kiddy Grade has Chevalier, who hijacked the Deucalion in the previous episode, broadcast all the illicit background dealings and incriminating evidence of corruption by the Nouvlesse to every single news channel in the galaxy as well as the ship's true purpose: to disable the warp gates with a quantum virus then warp out of the galaxy, leaving the commoners to their fate of dying off as trade and planetary economies collapse while planets under terraforming will revert back to inhospitable, killing their entire population who can't relocate since the warp gates are kaput. Needless to say, the commoners didn't take it well.
  • Akumetsu uses this continuously. And, when the government decides to stop him from broadcasting his final "movie" on hijacked TV signals, he puts it all over the internet.
  • The World Government of One Piece puts the planned execution of Portgas D. Ace on the equivalent of television and keeps it going even as the event is attacked by the Whitebeard Pirates. Sengoku, the leader of the Marines, orders the signal to be cut so people won't find out they made a deal with some of the pirates to kill Whitebeard for him. Then it turns out Buggy grabbed one of the cameras for the sake of showing off to bolster his reputation, and he keeps it rolling throughout the battle, most importantly Whitebeard shouting out that One Piece exists.
  • Don't Meddle with My Daughter!: Athena retired from being a superheroine, after suffering years of sexual harassment from her enemies; including one incident where she was gang raped. Her friend, Hanna, used her connections as commander of N.U.D.E.note  to cover it up and silenced any witnesses. But things are different in her daughter's day and age, thanks to the prevalence of the internet and social media. Athena fears what could happen to Clara's reputation as a heroine if she were to suffer the same humiliation she endured, especially if anyone were to broadcast it. So she comes out of retirement to keep it from happening.
  • In Valvrave the Liberator, the remaining Module 77 kids use it to expose the Magius to the world by showing the Dorssian Fuhrer's immortality. Double Subverted: Cain destroys the terminal, but ARUS President Anderson exposes them anyway. A global upheaval and hunt for the Magius erupts as a result.

    Comic Books 
  • A subversion in Milestone Comics' Hardware. This is the first thing the protagonist tries, anonymously sending the media all the evidence he's gathered on Alva's wrongdoing. And the media pointedly ignores it.
  • The Spider-Man What If? issue "What If Gwen Stacy Had Lived?" (v1 #24) concludes with a reversal of this trope, in that it's the villain who sends information to the press rather than the hero. The Green Goblin posts evidence of Spider-Man's Secret Identity to the hero's "second-greatest enemy": J. Jonah Jameson.
  • The original Watchmen plays this slightly differently to the film (see below) — Rorschach puts his diary in a mailbox before the Dénouement, and we only discover its destination at the very end. Whether the world finds out (let alone whether they should) is left ambiguous, and the reader is asked to decide.
  • Doctor Strange: The Oath involves Strange's efforts to recover a magical potion which was stolen from him by a pharmaceuticals company intent upon Withholding the Cure. The CEO winds up dead in a way which looks like suicide by the end of it, and it looks like no one will know what they've done, but one of Strange's allies finds his "we have to kill 'em all" memo to the board of directors and proceed to fax it far and wide.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Serenity, the Trope Namer — the heroes use the late Mr. Universe's equipment to broadcast the truth about Miranda and "Pax" to the four corners of the 'verse.
    Mr. Universe: Mal. Guy killed me, Mal. He killed me with a sword. How weird is that? I got a short span here. They destroyed my equipment, but I have a backup unit. Bottom of the complex. Right over the generator. Hard to get to. I know they missed it. They can't stop the signal, Mal. They can never stop the signal.
  • The second half of Blue Thunder involves getting a video tape to a TV broadcasting station, despite various attempts by the conspirators to intercept it.
  • The entire plot of The Book of Eli is his attempt to deliver the Bible to someone capable of disseminating it.
  • The Bourne Ultimatum ends with this, exposing the program. A Subverted Trope according to The Bourne Legacy, as the attempt was in fact stopped. In that film, the government is killing off everyone connected to the program. Professional Killer Aaron tells scientist Marta that if she doesn't want to go into hiding, her only chance for survival is to go public.
    Aaron: But you better ask yourself this: Could you ever say it loud enough, fast enough, that they'd leave you alone?
  • The story of Sonmi-451 from Cloud Atlas.
  • Green Zone — Paul Greengrass likes this one.
  • In Chain Reaction, the good guy releases to the world the details of the machine allowing production of functionally unlimited energy by faxing it to news offices everywhere.
  • In The Constant Gardener, when Justin sends a letter to his friend containing details of a pharmacy company's unscrupulous testing methods for their medicines, knowing he's about to be murdered for knowing too much. His friend reads it out as his eulogy.
  • The Core: The Rat sends the details of the government earthquake-weapon research and the save-the-planet mission that cost the lives of most of the heroes to all the world's news outlets. Noteworthy that the team hired him explicitly to stop the signal in the first place and prevent word from getting out to avoid mass panic.
  • Edge of Darkness sees Elle Craven's whistleblowing video sent to the press by her father, who knows he's dying of thalium poisoning courtesy of her employers.
  • A very different version of this particular trope: two people in the Apocalypse film series movie Revelation who have taken the Mark of the Beast try to stop the anti-Day Of Wonders virus program from uploading by pulling out the disk from the computer and even shooting the computer it's uploading on, all to no avail as it miraculously continues to boot up. Unfortunately, this plan only delays the Day Of Wonders program from being released worldwide, as it shows up in full use in the following movie Tribulation.
  • The climax of The Net.
  • This is how Parts: The Clonus Horror ends; the Retired Badass Intrepid Reporter Jake Noble is murdered, but manages to get a tape exposing the Clonus project to the media.
  • Smith from Shoot 'em Up does this because he's aware of how this goes in movies — see the page quote. Unfortunately, it's an Averted Trope—the villains have too much power and keep the news from getting out. Which is all right for Smith...
  • They Live! inverts the trope; the villains are the ones sending the signal (which maintains their Masquerade as humans like us), and the heroes wind up stopping it in the end.
  • The Shawshank Redemption has a small-town variation on this. As he escapes and takes all of the secret kickback money out of false bank accounts, Andy drops a package of hard proof of the warden's crimes into the outgoing mail. That gets sent to the local newspaper; in the next scene, the front page article indicting the prison warden is shown on the Warden's desk, just as the cops are trying to beat down his office door.
  • Subverted at the end of Three Days of the Condor. Turner reveals to CIA chief Higgins that he's had told everything to the New York Times. But as Turner walks away...
    Higgins: Hey, Turner! How do you know they'll print it? How do you know...
  • In The Movie of Watchmen, Rorschach sends his diary to Not The Weekly World News before the big showdown. At the end a writer is sent to dig through the "crank file" for a story, but it's ambiguous as to whether the journal was chosen or not.
  • The U.S version of State of Play ends with a credits montage of Cal and Della's story on Point Corp going to print.
  • Man of Steel, Lois Lane is told by Perry that he refuses to publish her article about a mysterious man of alien origin with superpowers wandering the country incognito. Lois Lane gives the article to an alternative media site's owner instead, who puts it online.
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier: All of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s information is unencrypted and leaked online, thus stealing all advantage HYDRA might gain. Apparently, it started trending.
  • In the final act of Rogue One, Jyn Erso and her companions travel to an Imperial base on the planet Scarif in order to steal the Death Star schematics and relay them to the Rebel fleet above. All of her companions except Cassian die in the ensuing battle, but during the conflict Jyn reaches a computer on the top of the Citadel Tower and transmits the schematics to the Rebel flagship. Once receiving the blueprints, the Rebels copy the data and rush to get as far away from the planet as possible, with the Empire in close pursuit. Jyn and Cassian are eventually killed by the Death Star's superlaser firing on its own base as a failed last resort.
  • At the end of Radio Free Albemuth as a political prisoner, the main character hears over a radio that the resistance-song has been released, justifying his sacrifice in getting it to the public.
  • The Nice Guys ultimately fail to prevent Amelia's murder, but they do find her and discover the whistleblowing significance of the porno movie they had thought was just a lead. The rest of the film is about their attempt to keep the last surviving copy out of the hands of Amelia's killers.
  • Attempted in Good Guys Wear Black (1978), only for the Big Bad to reveal that the only witness who can verify the story has just been admitted to a mental hospital. Chuck Norris then decides to settle the matter via more direct means.
  • The final words in Deadline USA (1952), one of Humphrey Bogart's finest later films. He's speaking to a gangster he's about to bring down in the final issue of his paper just before it's bought out and closed down.
    That's the press, baby. The press! And there's nothing you can do about it. Nothing!

  • Isaac Asimov's short story "The Dead Past". A man discovers the secret of chronoscopy (a machine that can view the past), which has been placed under government control. He releases the information to several publicity outlets so it will become public, then learns why the government suppressed it. It can look at any place at any sufficiently recent time... which means there is no privacy, since there are no limitations on how close to the present it can look. The government knew about this before (it was their motivation for their draconian rules, the intent being to keep it out of the public's hands and unused), but once the protagonists invent a cheap and simple way to duplicate the technology and spread it widely, everyone can look at anyone at any time. The government even admits that their own agents have used it for indiscreet purposes.
  • Frank Herbert's short story "Committee Of The Whole". A man uses the broadcast of a U.S. Senate hearing to describe a cheap, easily-built laser that could cut the Earth in half like a ripe tomato. He then spends several pages trying to justify distributing information that could allow any madman to destroy the planet. He later admits he had distributed the information far and wide earlier.
  • The Gap Cycle Stephen R. Donalson uses this in the climax, giving humanity its best defense against the Amnion.
  • Sherlock Holmes does this before he ends Moriarty once and for all.
  • The old Interactive Fiction adaptation of/sequel to Fahrenheit451 ended with Montag publicly broadcasting the contents of a lot of the banned books.
  • Robert Harris' Fatherland ends with an ambiguous use of this; what we see is what the main character hopes / believes is happening, not necessarily what is. The film of the book plays it straight.
  • In Greg Iles' The Footprints of God, the main character exposed the AI project he's working on after he recovered from a coma.
  • At the end of Firestarter, Charlie gives her story to the one major publication she can trust not to be controlled by the government... Rolling Stone magazine.
  • Serpico makes futile attempts to get his various police superiors and the Mayor's office to do something about police corruption, but it's only when he and his colleagues go to the New York Times that a proper inquiry is held, not only into corruption but how it's allowed to flourish. This only makes Serpico a greater target, however.
  • The Yiddish Policemen’s Union ends with the protagonists calling a journalist to reveal the Government Conspiracy, despite having already been bought off.
  • The Avatar novelization reveals that the Na'vi and scientists sent a message to Earth (either by Subspace Ansible or radio, but either way it would beat the RDA Sleeper Ships there) about the RDA's actions on Pandora to incite public opinion against the Mega-Corp trying to retaliate against their eviction.
  • In Ancillary Justice, Breq's plan for revenge against Anaander Mianaai is to reveal his secret actions to herself, leaving her unable to deny the split in the Hive Mind that composes her. This succeeds, plunging the Anaander Mianaai into civil war against the other parts of herself.
  • Villainous example at the climax of Words of Radiance. The humans win the Battle Of Narak, crushing the Voidbringers. But it's already too late. The Voidbringers have had time to release a magical signal that will transform all the parshmen into Voidbringers, and there are parshmen everywhere. The enemy may have lost twenty or thirty thousand Voidbringers at Narak, but he'll soon have twenty or thirty million to replace them.
  • In the first book of the Nexus trilogy the protagonist Kade and his friends have invented Nexus 5 - a way to cheaply and efficienty boost one's mind and body by injecting nanomachines and running software on them. This has the potential of having enormous consequences for the whole of humanity - in both good and bad ways. Concerned that humanity might choose the bad over the good if given Nexus and left to its own devices, and suddenly finding themselves on the run from a number of conservative government entities who want to shut down the "outbreak" before it starts, the protagonists spend most of the first book closely guarding the source code to their creation. At the end Kade finally realises humanity deserves to choose its own path, and releases the source code on the Internet. The NSA almost looks like it's about to end it... but there's always someone who's continuing the chain, resulting in the code ultimately spreading far and wide and changing the balance of power forever.
  • John Rain
    • A Clean Kill In Tokyo. Rain finds himself up against this problem with the MacGuffin, a computer disk with a list of Japanese officials involved in corruption. Due to the nature of the Japanese media, no-one will touch such a potentially divisive story, so Rain gives the disk to a US journalist who can publish the story overseas, allowing the Japanese media to comment on it. Unfortunately the journalist is then murdered, putting them back to square one.
    • The Detachment. Rain discovers a Government Conspiracy to launch a False Flag Operation in the United States and asks his friend in the CIA why he can't just leak it to the newspapers. He points out that the New York Times has changed a lot since the Watergate days, and that they sat on a story of illegal domestic surveillance until after the election. So when they finally uncover undeniable proof of the conspiracy, they release it on Wikileaks instead.
  • Invoked in The Dresden Files: magical rituals can be performed by anyone, and magical summoning rituals can be particularly bad if they summon Things Man Was Not Meant to Know. However, the likelihood of a ritual working is inversely proportional to the number of times it is attempted: the more people try to summon a devil, the less likely it is for the devil to show up, to the point that you can reduce the chance to zero if you disseminate the information enough. So the White Council's standard practice when they find a particularly bad ritual spell is to tell everyone about it by publishing a book, almost immediately invalidating the ritualnote . They were also responsible for sharing Dr. Van Helsing's research on vampires in the form of Bram Stoker's Dracula, to allow ordinary mortals to fight back against and almost completely destroy the Black Court of vampires, aka the ones that were complete monsters with no moral compass or desire to remain hidden.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Attempted in the season finale of Alphas when Dr. Rosen broadcasts testimony of the existence of alphas and the government's response. They eventually cut him off, but not until it's far too late.
  • Averted, barely, in Highlander: The Series only because Duncan uses the Quickening to fry Paris' power grid — and the computer holding the disk which holds information about Immortals and Watchers. Sure was lucky that the Big Bad of the season who had been using the that disk in an attempt to blackmail Duncan chose the observation deck of the Eiffel Tower as the site of their showdown, providing a convenient antenna to transmit the lightning from the Quickening.note 
  • Push Nevada (Ben Affleck's gimmick show where a viewer could win the money stolen from an In-Universe casino) — the protagonist sends his evidence to every email address he can find.
  • Played with in the second season of Sherlock. Whoever said the unstoppable signal had to speak the truth?
  • The second season finale of Babylon 5 with Inter Stellar News getting a copy of Warren Keffer's gun camera footage after his fighter is destroyed, revealing to the galaxy the existence of the Shadows. Unfortunately, the heroes had been trying to suppress that information, so as to avoid tipping their enemies off to the fact that they were aware of their plans.
  • Nikita often threatens this, but she never actually does it. The problem is that the actions that Division carried out could never be released to the world due to all of the problems it would cause.
  • In The Expanse:
    • Episode 2: A Martian ship is about to grab the Canterbury's life pod and Holden thinks that the people who destroyed their ship are coming to finish them off so he sends a broad-spectrum message accusing Mars of destroying the Canterbury. It causes riots to break out throughout the Belt. Subverted immediately afterwards because Holden turns out to be completely wrong; the whole thing was a False Flag Operation, and finding out who was really responsible takes them the rest of Season 1.
    • Episode 5: A flashback shows a Belter protest earlier that was brutally taken down by the UNN, destroying an entire station inhabited not only by protesting miners but their children as well. After numerous offers to surrender were ignored one of the protest leaders sent a transmission showing his oxygen-deprived daughter and explaining that they were just trying to improve their kids' lives, which cuts off as the station is destroyed. Apparently it was so effective that the assault's leader defected to the OPA.
  • Defied in V (1983). Intrepid Reporter Mike Donovan gets proof on video that the Visitors aren't friendly Human Aliens who come in peace, but mice-swallowing reptilians planning to Take Over the World. He gets the tape to the broadcast studio, and just as they're about to tell the world, all the stations cut out for a 'special announcement' that the Visitors have taken 'temporary' control of the media for our own good. In the follow-up series, La Résistance rip off a Visitor's face on live television. The Visitors claim it's a fake and show the 'real' broadcast the next day with the same audience managed at gunpoint to applaud on cue.
  • Subverted in the British mini-series For The Greater Good. A politician's secretary leaks a Cabinet document to a newspaper, but not only do their lawyers advise them not to use it because they could be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act, they actually send the papers back to the Cabinet office. The whistleblower is justly infuriated because this risks exposing her. She then has to try and find a sympathetic politician who can raise the matter in Parliament, allowing the press to legally comment on it.
  • In the Andromeda episode "Bunker Hill", a slave uprising on Earth against the Drago-Kazof Nietscheans is crushed because the Andromeda Ascendant couldn't get there in time to provide air support, but the rebels get off a video message about the uprising that sparks similar uprisings all across the Drago-Kazof empire.
  • In Chernobyl, Legasov's suicide two years after the titular disaster and the tapes he recorded spark an investigation into the events, finally forcing the Soviet government to reveal exactly what happened and the scale of the disaster. In Legasov's case, he was already dying from radiation exposure and has been made a virtual Unperson by the KGB, so this may also count as a Thanatos Gambit.
  • Several Crusade episode involve a government trying to keep something hidden. In one episode, a planet is demanding that the Excalibur hand over a refugee, promising him safe passage to the surface. The shuttle explodes mid-flight. They learn that the government has been purging great cultural works, and the man gave his life to save as many of them as he could, leaving the recordings aboard the Excalibur. In another, a pre-hyperspace civilization's government is deliberately spreading conspiracy theories in order to blame aliens for any problems caused by the government's incompetence. Gideon, pissed that the government has chosen humans as the culprit, reveals the truth to the planet's people.

    Video Games 
  • This is the Yatagarasu's entire schtick in Ace Attorney Investigations. The Yatagarasu steals evidence of corruption from businesses and political offices, then sends it to the media to expose the truth. They do this because they've lost faith in the legal system, and it's the only way they can bring some measure of justice to people above the law.
  • Some of the endings in Alpha Protocol involve Michael Thorton carrying this out against Halbech and Alpha Protocol.
  • This is what drives one of Starcraft II's branches, the Revolution/Matt Horner missions. They manage to bring the truth to the Dominion's civilians, thus starting a revolution.
  • Post-Dragon Age II lore includes Wynne's use of this trope; she uses a magical broadcasting device in one of the Circles of Magi to get out the word that it is possible to reverse the Rite of Tranquility and restore a mage who has been rendered both unable to cast spells and effectively lobotomized.
  • In Mass Effect 3, this is the Refuse ending. The galaxy is being swarmed by a techno-horror Horde of Alien Locusts led by Eldritch Abominations that destroy every advanced civilization in a cyclical manner. The Player Character has the option to obliterate or rewire them, but all of the possible choices involve great sacrifice and loss. Or the Player Character can simply refuse to accept any of their choices - and then the bad guys win, all technologically advanced life is destroyed, but not before one of the True Companions executes her plan to Fling a Light into the Future. She does so not on a single planet, but on many planets that harbor intelligent (or potentially intelligent) life, with smart programs to aid decryption by any who find it and incredible volumes of data that would propel a society almost instantly to a space-faring one. This ensures the next invasion is the last one.

    Web Comics 
  • In Schlock Mercenary, when the crew finds out about the Wormgate Corporation's Ancient Conspiracy to suppress the teraport drive, Kevyn turns the invention open-source and submits the schematics to literally everybody. He ends up sparking a galaxy-wide revolution, as practically everybody who had been prevented from fighting each other due to the Wormgate Network can suddenly go shoot each other whenever they want. Or, to put it in perspective for him:
    Kevyn: I just spammed something like two thirds of galactic society.
  • Sam & Fuzzy has Sam do this to expose vampires to the world as the first step of his plan to strip The Comittee of their power by exposing the various supernatural species living in The Underground. Normally, the Committees enforcers, the Erasers, checks all forms of media and censor or filter out security breaks, but there is a treshold beyond which even they cant cover up the truth. In the vampires case, Sam managed to reveal their existance to dozens of national news crews at once, making it impossible to shut down all of them, as the level of blackout required would just prove that someone is trying to cover things up.

    Web Original 
  • Part of the modus operandi of supervillain Brigand in the Whateley Universe. First, he runs a huge Mission: Impossible style con on some Corrupt Corporate Executive types to steal money from them and make them reveal the really bad stuff they have been doing. Then he makes sure the media get all the details, while he makes his big escape.

    Real Life 
  • The Internet in general. Since it's so integrated into our lives and anyone can post pretty much anything, news travels faster than The Flash. Also, since the Internet is so touchy about censorship, any attempt to stop the signal results in it spreading even faster. See the Streisand Effect and Forbidden Fruit entries.
  • Samizdat is an example as well. Despite the communist countries having some of the most formidable State Sec organizations, news, literature and music were still distributed through friends of friends of acquaintances. Musical disks were often recorded on bootleg disks made of spare X-ray images (hence "music on bones"), and the worst enemy of the Culture Police was the photocopier.
  • Now, the very idea of stopping books, raw images, or music is ludicrous, with the ability to carry thousands on a Micro SD chip the size of a thumbnail.

Alternative Title(s): The World Must Know The Truth


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