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Newspaper-Thin Disguise

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"News just in: I'm watching your every move."
"Now you need never be concerned about destroying your own copy. You can have your paper-with-eye-holes and read it."
— A Subscription to the Gazette and a Whetted Pair of Scissors, Fallen London

Alice enters the crowded cafe, looking all about her to make sure that she's not being tailed by Bob. Good... seems like she's finally safe. The only people on the premises are an elderly woman, a bunch of businessmen she doesn't recognize, and some fellow whose face she can't see because it's hidden behind the newspaper he's reading. Thank God she's safe.

Alice sits down, assured of her safety. The man lowers his newspaper — Gasp!! It was Bob all along, cleverly using the newspaper to hide his face!

This is a trope for when someone attempts to hide by covering their face with a newspaper, magazine, book or other printed work. Often combined with a musical sting when the paper is lowered to let the audience know that this man is a villain. This has a surprisingly high rate of success. This is mostly a Dead Horse Trope and, as such, is very often parodied or used as a quick visual gag.

Two of the most common types of parody are having the character's face on the cover or front page of whatever he's reading, or else having eye holes cut out of the paper. As well, the person pretending to read may be "outed" if their book or magazine is upside-down.

Compare Highly-Visible Ninja, Highly-Conspicuous Uniform and, of course, Paper-Thin Disguise. Subtrope of Looking Busy. See also Book and Switch, when someone uses a newspaper or other book to conceal less savory reading material.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Ryo of City Hunter uses this from time to time to check out potential clients. And any hot babes walking past, though there is considerable overlap between the categories.
  • In Full Metal Panic!, Sousuke has a habit of watching out for Kaname behind an old newspaper with a hole cut out; like a lot of things he does, it really makes Sousuke look like a pervert. Eventually Kaname gets so annoyed she walks up and rips the newspaper from his hands, pointing out that it's several years out of date.
  • Hanayamata: Included in the montage of Naru's distressed father endeavors is him peeking through a hole in a newspaper at Naru fiddling with her cellphone in the living room. He is normally a background character and gets to start episode 6 of anime with narration of his puzzled worries over inexplicable recent change in behavior he sees (his schoolgirl heroine daughter is in the process of "graduating" from Shrinking Violet actually).
  • The second Project A-Ko OVA features a whole flock of spies with identical trenchcoats and newspapers all warily watching each other and their surroundings. A huge brawl breaks out when they all drop their papers.
  • In Season 2 Episode 1 of SPY×FAMILY, while spying on Loid and Yor at a jazz club during their date, Anya and Franky use fliers with eye cut-outs to hide their faces.

    Comic Book 


    Films — Animation 
  • The buffoonish burglars in Disney's animated 101 Dalmatians make their entrance this way, sitting in their truck and hiding behind their newspapers until Anita and Roger have walked by.
  • Used for a Visual Gag in The Adventures of Tintin (2011). Early in the movie, the Thom(p)sons are peering out of holes they cut into a newspaper during a stakeout in the marketplace. Each one has cut his holes in an ad on the paper that feature an item that not only lines up with where their mustaches would be, but matches the shape of said individual mustache (a broom for Thompson and a toilet plunger for Thomson).
  • Happens twice in the opening sequence of Bolt, first with Penny, then with Bolt himself. Bolt is a dog. Then again, it happened in the Show Within a Show.
  • A variant happens in The Emperor's New Groove where Yzma and Kuzco, having unknowingly entered the same diner, are both accidentally hiding from each other behind their menus that they're legitimately perusing. This leads to a sequence where one of them puts the menu down, then picks it back up as the other puts theirs down, and so on.
  • Lucky does this in The Nut Job when he and Fingers are casing the bank. He even has a little hole cut out in the newspaper for him to take pictures through.
  • Wallace & Gromit: One of Gromit's favorite tricks. On one occasion, the headline of the newspaper he's hiding behind is "Dog reads newspaper".

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery: During the opening credits when everyone is chasing Austin, he hides out by concealing his face behind a copy of Fab! magazine with a distorted view of his face on it. This itself is a parodying of the opening scene in A Hard Day's Night when Paul McCartney (also wearing a fake beard) was hiding from their fans.
  • Parodied in The Big Lebowski with the detective DaFino. As The Dude discovers his Volkswagen parked outside his house he walks angry towards it and we can see DaFino reaching for a newspaper and very badly pretend to read it.
  • Billion Dollar Brain. Michael Caine's character and his minder are both shown doing this, while setting on a bench with several old ladies between them.
  • A plainclothes secret policeman (presumably) in Brazil does this.
  • Death Wish has a variation when Paul Kersey lures a couple of hoodlums into mugging him, by pretending to be engrossed in his newspaper when all the other occupants of the subway car have wisely got off. When one of them slashes his paper with a Sinister Switchblade, Kersey uses what's left to conceal drawing his gun from his pocket.
  • In Doctor in Distress (1963), Dr. Sparrow mistakes a man in Mum's Diner for Sir Lancelot hiding behind a newspaper. After some embarrassment, he moves over to the next table where he sees Sir Lancelot actually hiding behind a newspaper.
  • Fatal Instinct. Max Shady (the escaped ex-con stalking Ned Ravine) does this several times. At least once his picture was on the front of the newspaper.
  • The Great Escape:
    • A POW escapee played by James Coburn is reading a newspaper in a French cafe when a carload of German officers stop there, so he raises it to cover his face (unfortunately the producers have him reading Liberation, an underground newspaper that would be the last thing an escaped POW trying to avoid attention would read). It's an unnecessary precaution as La Résistance pull up in another car and machine-gun the Germans.
    • Richard Attenborough's character grabs a newspaper for cover after a harrowing escape from pursuing Germans, only to be greeted by name by an SS officer who's recognised the notorious British escapee.
  • Finnegan uses this while (poorly) tailing Miriam in Hill 24 Doesn't Answer. Because he doesn't read Hebrew, he accidentally picks it up upside down, only for Miriam to come over and turn it right side up for him.
  • Indiana Jones
    • Raiders of the Lost Ark: When Indiana Jones is on a seaplane about to leave for Asia, a man lowers the Life magazine he's reading and reveals his face, with ominous music to let the audience know he's a villain. He later turns out to be a Nazi agent.
    • In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, a subversion is pulled on the audience, however; in the aerodrome we see someone facing the camera directly with his newspaper ostentatiously held up to cover his entire face. Ah-ha, the audience thinks, this is one of the Jones boys! Then, Indiana appears in the background and begins chatting with someone slumped casually against a pillar behind Mr. Newspaper, who turns out to be Henry Jones Sr,; Mr. Newspaper isn't involved at all.
  • James Bond
    • Dr. No. When Bond first arrives in Jamaica a man in Sinister Shades (unknown to him, his future ally Felix Leiter) is shown to be watching him at the airport. At one point Bond goes back into the airport to make a phone call, and Felix is shown folding up a newspaper apparently after using this trope, then bending to drink from a nearby water fountain to avoid Bond getting a good look at him.
    • On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Bond finds his Walther PPK missing from the drawer in his hotel room after a night's sleep. After he checks out, one of Draco's men intercepts him in the lobby.
      Draco's goon: Mr. Bond? You're lost something. (indicates a man reading a newspaper, who lowers it to reveal the PPK aimed at Bond) We'll give it to you outside.
      • When Irma Bunt picks up Bond (posing as Sir Hilary Bray) from the train station in Switzerland, a fellow agent can be seen watching them from behind the Daily Express.
    • In The Living Daylights, Bond hides behind a newspaper while sitting in his car observing Pushkin leave the trade conference.
  • In the Stanley Kubrick adaptation of Lolita, Claire Quilty and his wife do this while spying on Humbert in a hotel lobby. Unlike the usual version of this trope, the camera is behind the newspaper and the man holding it, looking over Quilty's shoulder at Humbert, showing how he's unaware that he's being watched.
  • Two thugs in The Man Who Knew Too Little used a variation. While shooting at Wallace, they used a newspaper to conceal their gun, and to make it look like they were just standing around and reading the paper. Then their paper got torn to shreds as they kept missing.
  • The Master of Disguise has one such example; Pistachio (as a "cow pie" man) somehow hides from Bowman's henchmen in this manner.
  • In Murders in the Rue Morgue (1971), Marot does not even bother pretending to read the newspaper, but just holds it up to the side of his face when he sneaks into the theatre. Nobody notices anything.
  • In Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre, Orson grabs a map off a tourist and holds it in front of his face when tailing Ben and his bodyguard. It only works for a short time.
  • Steve Martin's version of Clousseau tries this along with his partner in The Pink Panther (2006) — while tailing a suspect. It works the first couple of times, but the next time they try it, Clousseau trips down the stairs to the subway station.
  • Planes, Trains and Automobiles has a character briefly hide his face behind a smut novel.
  • Prairie Fever: When Preston and the women arrive at the Carson City Hotel, Monte Walsh is sitting in the lobby, concealed behind a newspaper.
  • In Seven Murders for Scotland Yard, Pedro hides behind a newspaper while lurking outside the police station, and while observing Inspector Campbell at the railway station.
  • Sherlock Holmes (2009) pulls this with Moriarty in an otherwise empty train car, though in this case it was more a matter of atmosphere and keeping his face hidden from the audience more than any of the characters.
  • In The Thieves, Andrew sits at a cafe table holding a newspaper in front of his face while keeping watch on the hotel.
  • Wonder Woman (2017). Steve Trevor thinks they're Being Watched by German agents. As they pass a man standing in a doorway reading a newspaper, he raises the newspaper as if to hide his face, only confirming Steve's suspicions.
  • Downplayed in Young Guns II. Billy the Kid hides his face behind Harper's Weekly, not to disguise himself but to affect an air of nonchalance with the sheriff of White Oaks who comes to speak to him.

  • A gorilla is walking through the jungle when he spots a lion taking a drink from the spring. The lion is bent over and oblivious to anything but getting a drink, so the gorilla thinks he'll play a joke on the lion. The gorilla sneaks up on the lion and pushes him in the water and laughs. Well, the lion doesn't like this at all and starts chasing the gorilla. The gorilla runs and looks for some place to hide. Eventually, he comes upon an abandoned safari camp. The gorilla quickly puts on some clothes and a pith helmet he finds, sits in a deck chair and hides his face behind a newspaper. Soon, the lion pounces in on the scene and growls "Grr... did you see a gorilla go through here?" Without lowering the paper, the gorilla says "You mean the one who tossed the lion in the spring?" Then the lion says "You mean it's in the papers already?"

  • In the climax of the Dirk Pitt novel Night Probe!, British agent Brian Shaw is exploring a train that was hidden away for eighty years in an underground quarry. The train is full of mummified corpses, including one slumped in a chair with a newspaper over its face. Shaw is looking for a vital diplomatic paper that was aboard the train, when the "corpse" drops the newspaper to reveal it's really Pitt, who found his way into the quarry shortly before Shaw did.
  • Played with twice in the Doctor Who Eighth Doctor Adventures novel Unnatural History. In the first instance, Fitz doesn't seem to be attempting to hide, but came across as shady nonetheless:
    The guy on the sofa was watching them, she suddenly realised. Just wide grey eyes, appearing in the slit between the San Francisco Chronicle and the black [fedora].
The second time he does it, this time actually trying to camouflage himself, he realizes that the newspaper is in Chinese, and, unluckily for him, while he does speak Chinese, he can't read it.
  • In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Hermione does this with a book (which is upside down) when Professor McGonagall comes in and takes Harry's Firebolt, to hide her face from Ron and Harry, who round on her as soon as McGonagall is gone and start getting after her for tattling.
  • Ed Foley used this to keep one of his agents from seeing his face during handoffs in the Tom Clancy novel The Cardinal of the Kremlin.
  • Played straight in The Historian. The main character wakes up on a train, and someone is in the room with her (who hadn't been there before she went to sleep). He's hidden behind a newspaper, which she finds creepy and it eventually strikes her that after about five minutes, he hasn't bothered to turn the page.
  • John Rain doesn't think this is good tradecraft because not having a newspaper gives you an excuse to scan the crowd under the guise of idle people-watching, whereas someone with a newspaper would be expected to look at it instead of their surroundings.
  • Done in the mystery novel The Secret Of The Monster Book, by a bad guy the good guys know is following them. One character lampshades it by saying, "There should be a law against bad people buying newspapers."

    Live-Action TV 
  • A lot of modern police shows employ this for one or two officers when they have a large number of officers staking out a single target. They can play it straight without accidentally invoking parody if those hiding are extras and the camera doesn't single them out for long.
  • 100 Things to Do Before High School: Crispo spends the second half of "Pilot" attempting to disguise his identity by holding a book in front of his face.
  • Agent Carter. Jarvis sits down next to two men reading newspapers at a shoeshine stand. One turns out to be Howard Stark whom he's meeting with; the other is Stan Lee doing his requisite Creator Cameo.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
  • Parodied in the "Monkey-ed Movies" James Bond spoof on TBS' Dinner And A Movie, when Q shows 009 a newspaper. This prompts 009 say "It's just an ordinary tabloid!". But when Q holds it over himself, 009 immediately asks "Where did you go?", and Q puts the newspaper aside and says "Peekaboo, 009!".
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Doctor and Jamie do this in Episode 2 of the serial "The Faceless Ones". It's especially egregious in Jamie's case, since the newspaper does nothing to hide his lower half, and the authorities are specifically looking for a young man in a kilt.
    • The Doctor also does this when investigating Clara's childhood to try to work out why she's The Impossible Girl in "The Rings of Akhaten". Because the Eleventh Doctor is a Manchild however, he's not using a newspaper, but that year's The Beano Summer Special.
  • Father Brown: In "The House of God", Father Brown hides behind a newspaper on the back seat of a bus; dropping the newspaper when the bus in motion and the two people he wishes to confront cannot escape.
  • Frasier: In one episode Roz has been dodging yet more unwanted advances from Noel. But as she dumps a guy in Cafe Nervossa, Noel reveals he's been hiding behind a newspaper right in front of her.
  • In Heroes, Sylar does this during the first season while Hiro and his friends are in the diner.
    • In the first-season episode "Five Years Gone", the version of Matt in the Bad Future also does this in a diner, to sneakily apprehend Claire.
  • Horrible Histories:
    • In the Mission: Incompetent sketch detailing the attempts of the Black Hand to assassinate the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the first assassin Muhamed Mehmedbašić is hiding behind a newspaper at a cafe, but is too scared of the policeman standing nearby to act.
    • Another episode of Horrible Histories had Harriet Tubman use a newspaper as a disguise. The man looking for escaped slaves assumed that a woman who knew how to read couldn't possibly be an escaped slave and left her alone. This really happened, though it was not so much hiding behind a newspaper but pretending to be someone else by means of a newspaper. The man sitting in the same train compartment was a former master of her, who knew she couldn't read (as it was forbidden to teach slaves to read and to write). She pretended to read the newspaper, hoping that this was enough to throw him off and make him think that she must be someone else.
  • In an episode of How I Met Your Mother, Barney spent an entire day spying through one of these in a French restaurant. Subverted in that the woman Robin told him was there wasn't going there; she was just trying to make a point.
  • MacGyver (1985), "Thief of Budapest" has a scene in which McGyver hacks a stoplight control box standing in the middle of main street. His cover? People on both sides with newspapers spread out wide.
  • Married... with Children has a variation; in one episode Bud is seemingly reading a Life magazine. However, it turns out he has a dirty magazine hidden inside (his eyes not moving were a dead give away).
  • In one episode of The Mighty Boosh, Howard spies on Ms. Gideon by pretending to read a book with holes cut out of O's in the title. After getting interrupted, he follows it up by spying on her with a spyglass hidden in a sandwich.
  • Murder Rooms: In "The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes: Part 1", Arthur Conan Doyle uses a newspaper to disguise himself as he sneaks past the pack of angry Sherlock Holmes fans gathered at the entrance to The Strand Magazine building.
  • Murder, She Wrote: In "Incident in Lot 7", a suspect eavesdropping on Jessica's conversation in the studio canteen hides behind a menu.
  • Murdoch Mysteries:
    • Murdoch employs a newspaper in this fashion while staking out the intersection of Carlton and Parliament in "Murdoch on the Corner". Constable Crabtree has been flamboyantly spending new-found money per Murdoch's instructions, and Murdoch drops his paper to urge Crabtree to go home so they can wait for the killer to follow him there.
    • Brackenreid hastily grabs a newspaper from the station's front desk in one of his efforts to hide from temperance crusader Miss Hamilton in "Murdoch Au Naturel".
  • In Still Open All Hours, Granville tasks Leroy with tailing a local to find out where he is doing his shopping. Leroy does so clutching a magazine in front of his face as cover.
  • Person of Interest. The episode "/" starts with A Day In The Life of Root instead of our main protagonists Harold Finch and John Reese. While she's walking through the park with this week's Number, Root suddenly walks over to a man reading a newspaper and pulls it down, revealing Harold Finch.
  • In Pushing Daisies, Chuck's recently resurrected father isn't supposed to leave Ned's apartment, but does so anyway. He hides in plain sight in Ned's restaurant behind a newspaper, only revealing himself to Ned after Chuck had left.
  • In an episode of The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, Zack and Cody pull newpapers to disguise themselves. However, Zack adds a mouth-hole in his newspaper to eat french fries resulting in the two of them being caught by Maddie.
  • Wizards of Waverly Place: Alex insists that she and Mason do this at Zeke's party since she is embarrassed of Mason's werewolf form.

  • The cover of No Use for a Name's album Incognito is a newspaper sheet with a pair of eyes peeking through holes on it.

    Theme Parks 

    Video Games 
  • In Fallen London, several espionage-related cards and storylets, particularly those related to the Great Game, depict someone looking shiftily through a newspaper with eyeholes.
  • Early in Persona 5, Makoto can be seen tailing the Player Character while keeping her nose buried in a huge manga magazine she clearly isn't reading. She'll also run to keep up with him while still buried in the mag, which looks as hilarious (and precarious) as it sounds.
  • In Ratchet & Clank this is done by Clank while trailing the Kingpin in Secret Agent Clank.
  • Agent XYZ uses the eyeholes-in-newspaper version in Tonic Trouble. In fact, only his hands and feet stick out from behind the paper; we never get to see what he actually looks like.
  • You, the player, can do this as Arthur in We Happy Few: Arthur's "special ability" is that he's so unremarkable that all he need do is sit down on any nearby chair or bench, open up his trusty newspaper — and the angry mob that was chasing him moments earlier will rush right past without giving him a second glance. The only requirement is that any enemy who is currently angry at Arthur must not actually see him at the moment when he's opening his paper. The newspaper is actually readable, and will actually block most of your field of view when you do this, though you can glance around its edges. You can also press a button to put the newspaper away while remaining seated, which will render Arthur "visible" once more.
  • Can be done in the World of Assassination Trilogy of Hitman games to blend in from people who could otherwise see through the disguise 47 is wearing.
  • Cole Phelps pulls this a couple of times in L.A. Noire when he's tailing a suspect; once in a diner when he's following June Ballard in the "A Fallen Idol" case, and once on a park bench outside a motel in "The Set-Up" when he's tailing Candy Evans.
  • During the first mission in Jazzpunk, you can pick up a side quest from a trenchcoated fellow agent who's sitting on a bench and pretending to read a newspaper. In this case, it's not his presence that he's trying to hide so much as the fact he's talking to you, though he could also be spying on someone.

    Web Comics 
  • In El Goonish Shive, Helena spies on Elliot behind a book with the title "The Spy".
  • In Schlock Mercenary, after the grav-catcher in Credomar is sabotaged, Ebbirnoth offers to sweep the perimeter and scan for cameras. Tagon indicates the possibility of cameras hadn't occurred to him and he expected the saboteurs to have had eyes on the situation in person.
    Ebbirnoth: Or I can look around for guys with trenchcoats and sunglasses trying to hide behind flatreaders.

    Western Animation 
  • Subverted in an episode of Ed, Edd n Eddy where the Eds are spying on the cul-da-sac kids. In one scene, Eddy is seen leaning against a street pole holding a newspaper over his face as some neighbor kids walk by. Once they pass, the "newspaper Eddy" turns out to be a cardboard cut-out that falls over as the real Eddy pops out from behind the street pole with a pair of binoculars.
  • Futurama:
    • Subverted in an episode where Flexo (a robot who looks exactly like Bender save for a small metal goatee) disappears along with an expensive atom they were delivering. While looking for him, Leela and Fry find "Bender" first wearing a turtleneck sweater, then a scarf, then holding a newspaper to his face that he refuses to put down. They finally get him to put it down, revealing... that he really is Bender and Flexo left hours ago.
    • Played straight in a later episode, in which Bender finds himself pursued by the New New York police (on whose radar he has fallen due to a previous crime), who attempt to cover their tracks by reading the "Non-Police News" before finally giving up the act and arresting Bender. He gets off clean, which was quite lucky for him—he was carrying data for the Robot Mafia and had just given it to another robot on the street to complete his delivery.
  • The Little Rascals short "The Case of the Puzzled Pals": Buckwheat, Darla, Porky and Pete hide behind newspapers as they watch Spanky at a store across the street. Porky is also wearing a false beard.
  • Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies:
    • "Home Tweet Home": Sylvester spies on Tweety by sneaking around the park with newspaper in hand, moving from bench to bench and pretending to read the paper until he gets to his prize. The bird immediately realizes he's being stalked by his ever-present puddy pursuer and rushes to a young woman to protect him.
  • In the Mickey Mouse cartoon "Mr. Mouse Takes a Trip", Mickey gets kicked out of the train by conductor Pete for trying to bring Pluto aboard. When they sneak in a second time, Mickey hides behind a newspaper as Pete asks for tickets.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • Done in the episode "A Bird in the Hoof" by Philomena the bird. Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy, who are chasing her around, actually do check behind the newspaper, but appear fooled by the fake mustache Philomena wears underneath.
    • In the episode "Amending Fences", Twilight Sparkle and Minuette stalk Moondancer using this method. Later in the episode we can see Starlight Glimmer hiding behind a restaurant menu.
  • The Popeye cartoon "Olive's Sweepstake Ticket": Popeye hides behind a newspaper as he walks, trying to pluck said ticket from a woman's backside.
  • Rocky and Bullwinkle: In the story arc "The Last Angry Moose", Bullwinkle leaves on a train bound for Hollywood with a mattress full of his life savings. In the same train car, Boris and Natasha make their entrance hiding behind a copy of Crime magazine (which, coincidentally, has Boris' mugshot on the back), with holes cut in the covers for them to look through.
    Narrator: Now our boys are on their way to California, unaware that Bullwinkle's mattress full of money is the target of two pairs of sinister eyes belonging to... Oh no, it isn't! Oh, it can't be!
    Boris: Say the name!
    Narrator: Boris and Natasha!
    Both: Ta-da!
  • On The Simpsons, Bart goes to a counsellor, where we find Principal Skinner in the waiting room. He doesn't want Bart to see him, so he hides behind a magazine — namely "Principal's World", with his headshot on the cover.
    • In "Adventures in Baby-Getting", Bart does this when following Lisa. He sits on a bench reading a Playdude magazine, with the breasts of the woman on the cover cut out for his eyes.

    Real Life 
  • Undercover FBI agent Donnie Brasco would read newspapers so he could listen in on what his fellow Mafiosi were saying, without distracting himself with conversation.
  • Harriet Tubman used this as a disguise for herself and escaping slaves. Someone reading a newspaper was seen as educated and not a slave on the run.
  • As it happens, the Secret Police in many countries actually invert this: If you walk into a cafe and someone is very obviously reading a newspaper and peering over at you every now and then, it's probably because you're being watched, and the secret police want you to know it.


A Bird in the Hoof

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