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Malicious Slander

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

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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, The Resenter, No Hero to His Valet and Somebody Doesn't Love Raymond will always agree on slanders, and the envious person may even believe his own slanders. The 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.

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When spread intentionally, like in Insidious Rumor Mill, 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, and Propaganda Piece.

No Real Life examples — suffice to say that all propaganda 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. We should note that this trope is not exactly the same as malicious slander/libel/defamation in strictly legal terms; in the law of defamation, "malice" means (in most jurisdictions, including, most importantly,note  the United States) publishing/disseminating false information about another either knowing that the information is false (i.e., saying things you know are not true), or recklessly disregarding the possibility that it is false (i.e. saying things that might or might not be true but which you have no basis for saying, and if they happen to be true, it's an accident). The above standard, commonly known as "actual malice", comes from the 1964 Supreme Court case New York Times v. Sullivan note  and applies mostly to public figures, such as politicians and celebrities. It's why it is extremely hard for a celebrity to win a libel suit in America — one of the few successful suits was one filed by Carol Burnett against the National Enquirer for falsely claiming she had been drinking heavily with Henry Kissinger in 1976. While malice is important in suits against non-public figures, more weight is given to the falsity of the statement and the effect it has on the defamed's reputation. Simply repeating something you heard doesn't generally count, so in general terms, ordinary town gossip isn't going to get you very far in a slander/libel/defamation suit.note  However, mere gossip can be enough to be this trope. Please note, however, that TV Tropes is not legal advice and so still proceed with caution.


Examples:

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    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."

    Comic Books 
  • Howard the Duck's enemy Doctor Bong got his start this way. After his mother told him how powerful written word could be, he was able to use slanderous writing to make anyone look bad. (For instance, he was able to make his entire school believe a teacher was some immoral drug fiend, when in fact, said teacher had used an illegal stimulant once in his life.) Exactly how he made the jump from "sleazy teen paparazzi" to "Mad Scientist with a knack for genetics and sonic weapons" is a mystery.
  • 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.
    • Spidey's not the only one who has to deal with this. In Ms. Marvel (1977), Carol Danvers is hired by ol' J.J. as the editor of "Woman", and he expects her first issue to be an attack piece on Ms. Marvel, getting pretty irate when Carol doesn't do this (and not just because Carol is actually Ms. Marvel, since she doesn't actually know that).
  • Wonder Woman (1942): The Earth Two Huntress (Helena Wayne) has her very own crooked reporter who insists on twisting the facts and outright lying to try and make Huntress seem like an out of control murderer in a cape despite Helena's very strict no killing or even seriously maiming rule. At one point Dedra Borrower blatantly misquotes a medical examiner on television. She turns to the camera and tells her viewers There you have it. A man's death due to the unchecked violence of an unsanctioned vigilante.

    Comic Strips 
  • In one series of Bloom County strips, poor Opus was accused of committing "penguin lust" by Bill the Cat (who had become a televangelical scam artist who called himself "Fundamentally Oral Bill"). Despite never even telling anyone just what "penguin lust" was, Opus became a pariah because of it (so much that the public library revoked his card) and was eventually driven out of Bloom County - until, that is, everyone got bored of Bill and stopped listening. Of course, by then, finding Opus and telling him he could come back was a challenge.

    Fairy Tales 
  • 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 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.
  • 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 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 and the child's deaths.
  • 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 Mary's Child, the heroine's children are taken from her, and rumor says that she killed and ate them.
  • 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 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 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.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Bem Bom: Laura becomes the subject of a nasty rumor that she landed in the hospital from engaging in violent intercourse with a famous football player who she's never met in her life. The media have a field day at her expense and her band's reputation is undermined. The whole thing destroys her romantic relationship with Jota and nearly leads her to quit the band.
  • Big Eyes: Before the court date, Walter lies to the press about how Margaret needs psychiatric help and insists she's a bad mother for joining the Jehovah's Witnesses, implying that she's giving her daughter a poor upbringing because of it.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe: Jadis tells Tumnus, who is imprisoned next to Edmund, that he is here because Edmund betrayed him. While Edmund did provide Jadis the information that Tumnus helped Lucy, this was not betrayal as he said it very casually and had no idea this was sensitive information. It didn't matter anyway to Jadis as she used it to successfully break Tumnus's spirit.
  • Doubt: The plot 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 nun's 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.
  • 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.
  • First Girl I Loved: Sasha, under pressure from her mother, claims Anne forcefully kissed her (she actually had initiated it) when a photo surfaces. Her mother threatens to call the police if the photo isn't removed from their yearbook.
  • Fury (1936): 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.
  • Gold Through the Fire: A lot of false claims are made against Peter in court, saying he had forced his religion on others and harassed them.
  • 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.
  • The Hunt (2012): Lucas is wrongly accused of being a child molester which quickly ruins his reputation in the Close-Knit Community and sets off a nasty Pædo Hunt.
  • Little Nicky: Nicodemus (AKA Little Nicky) is framed for murdering a bunch of people in a five-star restaurant. The massacre wasn't even real. The film is so hideously doctored that a demon behind the times gets the reference:
    Nicky: What the heck?! That's just my face plastered in that scene from Scarface!
  • Seen in Mr. Deeds, when a sensationalist news anchor doctors footage of a rescue to make it look like the rescuer killed a woman's cats before raping her in the street. Why do this with a street full of witnesses (including the aforementioned woman) to testify otherwise? Because as far as news stories went the anchor reasoned "Hero is nice. Depraved and insane is better".

    Live-Action TV 
  • Downton Abbey has this as the driving force behind some of the conflicts, especially when O'Brien and Thomas Barrow are involved.
  • Game of Thrones: Tyrion Lannister is often on the wrong end of it. Littlefinger claims that the dagger found on Bran's would-be assassin belonged to Tyrion, starting a conflict that eventually snowballs into the War of the Five Kings.
  • 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 … 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.
  • The Society: Campbell, Harry, Lexie and the Guard all make up a story that Allie plotted to steal the election, which results in them arresting her on this supposed charge. Harry and Lexie are placed in charge as co-mayors, with Campbell running things behind the scenes.
  • In Wolf Hall, this is how Anne Boleyn gets disgraced, mainly at the hands of her sister-in-law Lady Jane Rochford—she accuses her husband of having an incestuous affair with Anne, and Thomas Cromwell works up a rationalization to make it plausible for the court.
  • The infamous Wonder Woman (2011 pilot) has it to where Wonder Woman has a press conference to accuse a rival businesswoman of illegally selling steroids with bad side effects, then openly admits she has no proof to back up this claim. Made even worse is the fact she admitted to committing a crime to stop a crime she can't even prove was committed. But thanks to her 100% Adoration Rating she gets away with this without any legal troubles.

    Myths & Religion 
  • 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 on 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.
  • The Devil roughly translates into "The Slanderer", as opposed to Satan, which is merely "one who opposes".
  • 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 led him to become 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 the Book of Nehemiah, when the wall surrounding Jerusalem was near completion, Sanballat and Geshem try to lure Nehemiah away from his work to have "a little chat", and Nehemiah keeps telling them that he's busy and can't answer their summons. They get to the point of deciding to spread some of this about Nehemiah, that he was planning a rebellion against the king by declaring himself to be king and that he has set up prophets to make the proclamation. Nehemiah responds that he isn't and that they're just making stuff up about him to discourage him and his workers.

    Radio 
  • Our Miss Brooks: In "April Fools' Day", Miss Enright writes to a romance columnist using Miss Brooks' initials. She plans to use it to humiliate Miss Brooks in front of Mr. Conklin and his dinner guests.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Psionics: The Next Stage in Human Evolution
    • This tends to happen to espers who turn down or resist a recruitment offer. Did you refuse an offer from The Shop and manage to escape from their agents? In the process, did some of their stray bullets hit passers-by? Now your face, name, and whereabouts are plastered all over the news and you’re wanted by the FBI in connection with a terrorist attack.
    • Every conspiracy will maliciously slander espers from other conspiracies.
    • Eschaton paints all espers as demon-possessed abominations. Their own espers are no exception.

    Theater 
  • Used as the main plot device in The Children's Hour. At a 1930s all-girls school, a bratty girl mad at her teachers conjures 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.
  • In Hamlet, Hamlet says to Ophelia "Be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape calumny." And Hamlet tests the ghost's words; he appears to fear that the ghost slandered his uncle and mother.
    • Rule of Symbolism: The older king Hamlet was poisoned by Claudius Through the ear! That could very well symbolize the power of malicious slander. In that respect, the trope guides the entire play, because each character is taught to mistrust one another (apart from Horatio, that is).
  • 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.
  • Iago does this to Desdemona in Othello.
  • This happens to Elphaba in Act 2 of Wicked when the Wizard gets 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.

    Visual Novels 
  • Invoked in Double Homework by Dennis’s dad. He threatens to plant evidence to make it look like the protagonist caused the second avalanche if he doesn’t tell him what really happened to Dennis.
  • Mystic Messenger: Echo Girl tries to pull this on Jumin and Zen for turning down her romantic advances in one of the routes. Her claim that Zen sexually harassed her nearly tanks his career, although the other rumor (that Jumin is gay) gets shrugged off.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • In The Doctors of the Cat Family Jonathan Cat, a businessman, is falsely accused of abusing his wife and getting wealthy through stealing by people who are jealous of his wealth and don't understand how business works.
  • 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. At 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 (as part of a gambit to place her as a mole in another group), so it's hard to deny.
    The gossip mill at Whateley, which was really less like a mill and more like a large factory complete with loading docks and rail lines for optimal transmission of goods, was saying that I had kicked Chou out of Team Kimba, and the rest of the team was going along with that. Oh, there were other rumors. That Chou had gotten seriously hurt in Boston and had quit the team like a big crybaby. That Chou had decided she was tired of getting in trouble with Carson just for being on our team and getting dragged into team shenanigans. That the team voted her out in a Survivor-esque tribunal, with a clear majority wanting her gone. And my personal least favorite: Chou had gotten tired of being my personal geisha love-pillow and had bailed. I managed not to cringe when I heard that one.

    Western Animation 
  • In Central Park, in an effort to sabotage Central Park so she can buy it, she slanders the park manager, Owen, so he can be fired and replaced.
    • In Season 1 "Hot Oven", Bitsy releases a smear letter in the newspaper about Central Park falling apart and they need a new management for the park to improve. She brings up the time when the park was full of trash and graffiti from previous episodes, which she was responsible for in an attempt to sabotage the park. Owen does not take this well.
    • In Season 1 "A Fish Called Snakehead", after Dick Flake caught the snakehead for Bitsy so she could improve her public image, she also uses this opportunity to slander Owen's management skills and tells the media that someone like her is needed to take care of the park. This leaves Owen upset after everyone leaves.
  • 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 & Friends:
    • It 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.

 
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Alternative Title(s): Malicious Libel

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C&C: Tiberian Dawn

After finishing a GDI mission where you saved a town from being wiped out by the Brotherhood of Nod, a cinematic plays featuring a reporter in front of a scene of destruction, falsely claiming that the aforementioned town was wiped out by GDI forces. It then cuts to a green-screen in a studio, where Kane begins to give orders on the distribution of the propaganda video, before noticing the camera and shooting it.

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