Follow TV Tropes


Revealing Cover-Up

Go To

Father Brown: For an intelligent murderer, such as you or I might be, it is an impossible plan to make sure that nobody is looking at you.
Flambeau: But what other plan is there?
Father Brown: There is only one... to make sure that everybody is looking at something else.
Father Brown, "The God of the Gongs"

Instead of having your agent sneak into the embassy to photograph the codebook, you're going to make huge splashy headlines to get everyone looking the other way. Why, with your plan to fake aliens landing and blowing up the embassy, surely no one will notice a codebook gone missing. It would be the last thing they'd suspect.


It never works. Inevitably they'll connect the fake aliens to your organization, making them wonder what you're up to, which will lead them to the (hitherto unknown) Mole you had planted in the embassy staff. Then it's heroes getting all over your business all up in yo' bidness with the rappelling into the volcanic headquarters and the shooting and the debris falling into the Shark Pool and having to run away while waving your fist and yelling about getting away with it if it hadn't been for those darn kids. Then you have to find a new lieutenant after having shot the previous one for having the bad taste to point out that it was your plan that caused all this when you'd have been further ahead just getting the damn pictures taken.

See the Conspicuous Trenchcoat for this same principle applied to costumes. Contrast this with Crime After Crime. For the comedic version, see Legitimate Businessmen's Social Club. Not to be confused with a Cassandra Gambit, in which secrets are covered up by "revealing" them in a way that invites disbelief.


An occasional variation is someone organizing a Revealing Cover-Up because they want to keep the heroes interested. Compare Kansas City Shuffle.

See also Streisand Effect, where people search for the covered-up information because it's covered up.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Death Note
    • Light's murder of Naomi Misora almost worked as intended, but ultimately just alerted L that there was a good chance that Kira was one of the people that her fiancé had been investigating.
    • Light's decision to kill the fake L appearing on television not only failed to catch the real target but revealed both his general location and the fact that he killed by supernatural means.
    • Once L began investigating him and started putting pressure on his mass murder schedule, Light killed people in even higher measures each day, as if to contradict his adversary's hypothesis (he reacted to something that should have prompted no change were he not Kira by killing excessively). He tells Ryuk that this was supposed to make L investigate the police, which would make them resent L and investigate him as well, and find his real name. Ryuk has a good laugh at his expense.
    • When Light realizes L has tapped his room, Light executes an extremely elaborate plan to look innocent with L as his witness. Light appearing perfectly innocent while criminals he should have no way of learning about die, but relatively minor criminals compared to Kira's usual targets, only seems to make L more suspicious.
  • Used to extreme effect in the eleventh volume of The Kindaichi Case Files. The killer followed Kindaichi throughout the two-parter mystery, killing people after they provided messages which were supposed to lead to a manuscript he wanted to keep from being published. What neither the killer nor Kindaichi realizes until after the last message was a dead end is that the message itself was irrelevant. The real clue was hidden in the order of the now-dead message givers. Because of the murders meant to silence them, the newspaper following the last murder would inevitably print them in order of killing, providing the same clue to everyone who read the paper, guaranteeing someone would figure it out before the killer could and prompting a desperate grasping of the Villain Ball.
  • In One Piece, the denizens of Punk Hazard try to trick Smoker out of investigating their island by putting out toxic gas. The idea was to make him think it was still uninhabitable after a prior accident. Unfortunately, Smoker knows the history of that island and this only makes him more suspicious, because there shouldn't be this much gas after all this time.
  • In Tiger & Bunny Maverick decides the best way to keep Kotetsu from revealing that Jake didn't kill Barnaby's parents is to frame him for murder, alter the memories of everyone working at Hero TV and knowing he's the Hero Wild Tiger, erase his job records and phone number, and seal the records about Wild Tiger so that the other Heroes would arrest him or Lunatic would burn him to death as he does with murderers... Thus revealing to Lunatic there's a criminal with the ability to do everything he did and making him protect Kotetsu. In fairness to Maverick, he could have not known that Lunatic, being actually judge Yuri Petrov, had access to all the altered data, let alone he always checks to make sure his victims are actual and unrepentant murderers before moving.

    Comic Books 
  • The Jack the Ripper conspiracy graphic novel From Hell, and the real-life Prince Albert Victor-centric conspiracy theory it dramatizes, hinges on the monarch of the world's most powerful nation being so threatened by the possibility of unsubstantiated (though true) allegations from four London prostitutes that she has them all murdered. Not only murdered but killed in such a needlessly elaborate and gruesome way that it inevitably attracts the attention of half the country, never mind the obsessive detective. Though Victoria only wanted the situation quietly taken care of. It was her bad luck that the man she picked to do it turned out to be an increasingly insane psychopath who insisted on mutilating the bodies in an ever more shocking and attention-drawing fashion.
  • Superman:
    • When villains Blockhouse and Jolt kidnap Lois Lane, they cover the inner walls of their hideout with lead, so Superman cannot find them with his x-ray vision. However, the lead covering makes the building stick out like a sore thumb to Superman, since it was the only thing he couldn't see through. This isn't the only time criminals try the trick and have it backfire on them.
    • In another case involving Superman, a group of crooks was running a scam with one pretending to be the Man of Steel and asking for money to guard various valuables. This attracts Jimmy Olsen's attention, as not only did the fake Supes fail to recognize him, but also he was aware that Superman would never ask for money for his services. The scam attracts further suspicion when Jimmy attacks and is easily able to give the fake Superman trouble, causing the crook to yell for his partners to shoot him "before he ruins everything!" A little late for that...
  • Superman: Earth One: In investigating Clark Kent, Lois Lane finds he is average. Totally, completely, ridiculously average, the way a person would never be unless they were trying to hide something, which just makes her more suspicious of him.
  • In a Silver Age story, Nasthalthia 'Nasty' Luthor sets in motion a bullying campaign to cover up her uncle Lex's latest ploy to kill Supergirl as luring the Girl of Steel out. Her bullying spree indeed drew Supergirl's attention... so she spied on Nasty and found out about Lex Luthor's whole scheme.
  • In the Daredevil storyline "Blind Justice", an investment banker who thinks his favorite employee may have overheard his unsavory business dealings has him arbitrarily fired so he won't be a target. This is a revealing cover-up twice; it attracts his criminal associates' attention to the employee, which is exactly what he wanted to avoid, and the employee himself goes straight to Matt Murdock to talk about a wrongful dismissal suit.
  • Defied (although even then it requires explanation) in Preacher: in a flashback to one of Herr Starr's first assignments for the conspiracy he works for he was asked to get rid of two reporters that the conspiracy had locked up in an insane asylum for getting too close to the truth in a way that doesn't lead back to them. Starr sets the entire asylum on fire killing everyone inside, reporters included. When his baffled and irate higher-ups ask why the hell he did that, Starr explains that killing just the reporters would have probably provided proof that they were Properly Paranoid, but killing everybody makes it impossible to discern who was the target, or even if there was a target, and may probably be dismissed as an accident. Starr's superiors acknowledge that he has a point.
  • In the Spirou and Fantasio comic L'ombre du Z, mad scientist Zorglub keeps his jungle base in Palombia hidden by mind-controlling fliers into ignoring everything when they fly over the area. The heroes discover the location by looking up aerial survey photos and finding one page with a huge blank spot, as the photographer "forgot" to take that picture.
  • In Runaways, Klara first came to the Runaways' attention when they stopped a fire in a factory where she happened to be working. Afraid that they were one of the two gangs that were hunting for people with superpowers, she fled the scene via a hole in the back of the factory, rather than going out through the front with the other children who'd been caught in the fire. Had she gone through the front with the rest, nobody would have paid attention to her, but her attempts to hide attracted Karolina's attention, leading her to discover Klara's horrible home life.
  • Tintin: In King Ottokar's Sceptre, Tintin wasn't suspicious of anything until the Syldavian conspirators got suspicious of him. Had they just let him be, their plan would have succeeded.
  • Ultimate Fantastic Four: How Dr. Molevik lost his job at the Baxter Building, as General Ross helpfully points out when he's caught. See, if you don't want your paranoid government bosses to look at your secret files, maybe don't make it difficult to get at them, since that suggests there's something there you don't want people to see, as opposed to just labeling it random crap, which they would've ignored. So SHIELD had a look, and finds Molevik's been working on biological experiments he's already been warned about.

    Fan Works 
  • Dungeon Keeper Ami: At the climax of the battle for the High temple of Crowned Death, Ami gets possessed by both Crowned Death's Lesser Aspect, and her sister Tiger. As a result, scrying no longer works on her. Furthermore, due to the high percentage of the Light-affiliated mages distracted by the battle, Ami's Lightworlder allies immediately suspect something. Ami, of course, didn't intend this at all. However, in light of her reputation as a class-one Magnificent Bastard, she decides correcting them would be more trouble than it's worth.
  • In XSGCOM, the SGC are being threatened with the public figuring out what's going on behind the scenes. The truth is that Anubis has attacked Earth but they obviously can't tell the public that. So instead of trying to cover up the attack, they pull out a unique version of Sarcastic Confession, posing the aliens as cover-up of something else and leaking THAT out to the public in order to make the aliens appear as just another conspiracy theory. And it works!
  • In Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, Harry explains this is why he doesn't simply deny the crazy rumours about him which aren't true. If he was selective about confirming or denying things, people would start to pick up the patterns.
  • Death Note Equestria: At one point, Twilight gets a pony killed in front of the cameras to give herself an alibi. The problem is, she needed to mind-control the reporter to make sure the cameras get there. The reporter was supposed to die later and be overlooked by investigators... except that having her death already assigned, she is now impossible to kill ahead of schedule. This complicates matters immensely when she gets drawn back into the plot due to unforeseen circumstances.
  • In Fever Dreams L concludes that since Kira took the time to tamper with evidence and wipe their memories there must be a way to defeat Kira.
  • Life After Hayate has the conspiracy's existence is revealed because they altered the mission reports surrounding Hayate Yagami's death. Before that, the way she was killed looked a little too planned for Hayate to be a random skirmish, but nothing could be proved. After, because Chrono has access to the original mission reports, he can prove that someone is trying to cover up how Hayate died.
  • RainbowDoubleDash's Lunaverse has a Required Secondary Powers version of this. Trixie's original invisibility spell doesn't have silencing effects, which allows Octavia to hear her hoofsteps... but when the former casts a silencing spell, the latter is able to notice the unusual silence that shouldn't be there and use that to work out where she is.
  • The Secret Return of Alex Mack: The Collective uses fog machines to hide their base from being photographed by satellites. However, this means that there is one tepui which is always covered by clouds, which sticks out like a sore thumb.
  • In Mass Effect The Equestrian Equation, System AR-43281, the star system where Equestria is located, at first appears to be nothing but uninhabitable planets with absolutely nothing of interest or value. This trips EDI's logic filters because the odds of there being a star system that bland, with absolutely nothing of value, is so small that they have either found the most impossibly generic and uninteresting star system in the galaxy, or their scanners are being fed false data.
  • In Despair's Last Resort, the mastermind doesn't want the other students to try and guess that their true identity is Saemi Sasagawa, so they blank out the name and any information on Shuuya Kuronaga in documents so if they find out his talent they'll think it's him. Takara isn't fooled though and points out how Monokuma's behavior is strange for an assassin.
  • In Sonic X: Dark Chaos, Maledict sends Tsali to kill Venus after she steals tons of classified information from the Demon government. Tsali eventually finishes her off — but not before she reveals that bits of the information she found pertain to him. This makes Tsali intensely suspicious of Maledict and leads him to go find out what she learned which ends up with him discovering the conspiracy behind both him the Metarex War — and wrecking Maledict's entire master plan.
  • In Harry Potter and the Nightmares of Futures Past, Harry teaching his friends Occlumency is basically announcing that they’ve worked out that Snape is using Legilimency on them. However, while Snape is correct in deducing that they are learning Occlumency to keep something from him, he can’t actually do anything to stop them learning it as that would be announcing that he and Dumbledore use Legilimency on the students in the first place, and Dumbledore is content that Harry and his friends wouldn’t do anything dangerous to other students.
  • In The Dresden Files fanfic Enemy Mine, this is mentioned as a potential issue with silencing spells, which prevent the victim from communicating about certain subjects (and are incidentally highly illegal). Don't be thorough enough with what you forbid and your victim can indirectly communicate what you don't want them to, but if you exert too much control, then it's more likely that the spell will fall into this trope — and putting a silencing spell on someone means an instant death sentence if you're caught.
  • To cover up her new body's miraculous recovery in Eroninja, Kyuubi releases a pulse of healing chakra that fully heals everyone in the village. A single long-term coma patient suddenly recovering would raise several eyebrows, but with hundreds of patients recovering from illnesses, lost limbs, and more, she's not even a blip on the radar.
  • Harry Potter learns the hard way in The Havoc Side of the Force that while the Fidelius Charm perfectly hides a location or piece of information on Earth, it's less effective in a galaxy far, far away. Because anyone Force-sensitive can sense how magic tears at the Force, to them the space around Harry's new space station feels like a chaotic maelstrom. They can't find the space station itself but as Harry notes, it's like a giant neon sign announcing there's something hidden there.
    • Even his less powerful methods of hiding himself are easily noticeable to the Jedi. When Harry puts up protections to hide his magic use, the Jedi can no longer sense his actions but they can easily sense the empty void in the Force where he is.
  • Harry Potter in A Third Path to the Future is immune to telepathy but in such a way that telepaths sense a void when they try to read his mind, basically announcing that he's blocking them.
  • In Lay Down Your Burdens, Naruto notes how terrible the security on Kushina's unclassified file is as both her marital status and offspring are classified. As Naruto puts it, "You don't hide that she's married and has a kid by stating she does."
  • In And the Giant Awoke, Bronn, seeking the millions in gold Littlefinger hid during his tenure as Master of Coin, finds a bunch of locked chests in a secret room - but, when he opens them, they are empty. However, Bronn easily realizes that Littlefinger would have never gone out of his way to hide empty chests, so he takes them with him and tears them open, finding lots of gems hidden in hollows in the corners of the chests.
  • In the Miraculous Ladybug fanfic Fox Rain, it turns out that Lila and some other people have started suspecting Gabriel Agreste of being Papillon because of his attempts to further cover up his secret identity in addition to the magic already doing it, as him publicly insulting Papillon and immediately getting targeted by four Akuma villains seemed suspicious, even with the villain's known temper. It gets to the point that, knowing that Ladybug has just got the Miraculous book, she flat-out tells Ladybug that if she's right "he’ll akumatize himself to throw off suspicions before the end of the day", mere minutes before he does just that. The only reason his identity is saved is that the various Miraculous users know they're immune to their own powers and have no idea he figured a way around that.
  • In Cursed Blood, Aldera Middle School made sure Bakugo's record was completely spotless in hopes of gaining prestige when he becomes a famous hero. The clean record only makes Aizawa more suspicious because he knows there's no way someone with Bakugo's combative personality wouldn't have gotten in at least a few fights over the years. The situation is made worse by the fact Izuku's record mentions that he was frequently beaten but there isn't a single mention of a culprit.
  • To Undo it All: Aizen once found a band of shinigami attacking Hueco Mundo because they'd eliminated all the sensors that'd detect them, causing Aizen to simply send his forces to the middle of the dead zone.
  • Blackened Skies: When rumors reach them that another killing game has begun, the mysterious investigator of "Initium" is keen to dismiss them as just that: baseless rumors. At least until they run a cursory search and receive an 'Access Denied' message - revealing that there IS information out there, and that somebody has deemed it important enough to lock away.
  • King (MHA): Shouto immediately recognizes that Fujimori being called in means that U.A. is taking pains to conceal something that happened involving Bakugou. While unable to prove precisely what that is, he's able to make some educated guesses, given his own experiences with Fujimori. Katsuki's inability to discuss the matter honestly with anyone also works against him, especially as he's unable to explain why.
  • With This Ring:
    • Magic anti-scrying wards can block power ring scans, without the ring knowing it's being blocked, which causes Paul a lot of difficulty in finding villains once they wise up. However, in places where he can obtain a map or blueprint of the area, the ring can compare that to the area it's able to scan and identify any discrepancies.
    • Lex Luthor, on the other hand, is careful to avert this; he integrates a scry ward into LexCorp's corporate stationery, so everything they print is un-scannable.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Taken to extremes in 11:14, in which three different people, afraid that they or someone they love will be accused of killing Aaron, enact different schemes to conceal his death, make it look like an accident or suicide, or frame someone else for it. And then it turns out that each of these schemes was All for Nothing, as Aaron wasn't even murdered; his death was a complete accident.
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron: Ultron kills Baron Strucker after getting information from him and uses his blood to write "peace" on the wall behind him. Most of the team assumes this is just grandstanding until Natasha points out he already gave them a whole speech on his motives. She confirms this by checking their files on Strucker — and finding that Ultron has conspicuously deleted them.
  • Best Seller. Meecham doesn't believe Cleve's story about being a corporate hitman until someone tries to blow up their taxi. Later Cleve takes Meecham to a woman who helped carry out one of his hits, only for her to be murdered by Pearlman, ostensibly a 'public relations' man for Kappa Industries. Cleve is furious until Meecham points to the now-dead Pearlman and says, "You asshole, he's your corroboration!"
  • Averted in The Bourne Series. Treadstone assassin Jason Bourne is supposed to kill people in a way that won't cast suspicion on the US government ("I don't send you to kill! I send you because you don't exist!") such as a former dictator who's threatening to blow the whistle on CIA activities in Africa, the plan being to make it look like he'd been killed by one of his own men. After Bourne fails the dictator is killed by a sniper, as by that time Treadstone is trying to cover up for its own activities by making it look like Bourne has gone rogue.
  • In Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the Thuggee cult sends an assassin against Indy once he reveals he knows about the Shankara stones to the Maharajah. This gives him the lead he needs to find the secret temple and thwart their evil schemes. If they had just left Indy alone he probably wouldn't have found anything at all. Or they could have just said, "Sorry Dr. Jones, you've overstayed your welcome", given him a lift to the nearest port and sent him home.
  • James Bond:
    • In You Only Live Twice, SPECTRE could have completed their scheme if they hadn't given themselves away on three separate occasions, all but red flags to James Bond and Tiger Tanaka. The first was one where Bond finds a photo of a cargo vessel with a secret message saying the tourists who took the photo were killed, leading him to wonder what in the photo was worth killing for (of course, the photo was in a safe in an office building Bond broke into, perhaps a reasonable level of security...but it makes one wonder why they bothered to save the photo in the first place). In the second, Bond was doing an aerial search and was about to give up when he was attacked by 4 choppers. They obviously had to have come from SPECTRE, whose base, therefore, had to be in the general area. Lastly Bond learns of a local woman's mysterious death in a cave, which leads to him and Kissy to investigate it, dodge the poison gas trap, and find SPECTRE's base.
    • The scheme to steal nuclear weapons in Thunderball would have had a greater chance to succeed if a SPECTRE agent hadn't tried to off Bond while he was on leave and alerting him that something was up. Said SPECTRE agent was then killed for getting Bond's attention, or at least for failing to kill Bond.
    • In the first movie, Dr. No, the titular doctor's assassination attempts are what convinces Bond that Dr. No and his base are behind everything.note 
    • Yet another Bond example in Tomorrow Never Dies. Bond and Wai Lin are trying to deduce which bay the stealth boat is being hidden in. After going through a number of other clues, they decide to check to see if any have any unexplained deaths. Only one does, and they accurately deduce that's where the ship is hidden.
    • In Diamonds Are Forever, James Bond figures out that diamond smugglers are being bumped off following a failed attempt to burn him alive and the fatal shooting of Shady Tree. After Plenty O'Toole is defenestrated into a swimming pool and soon found dead by Bond and Tiffany Case, he figures out that the operator of the smuggling ring is trying to cover up a terrorist plot.
  • If the bad guys in L.A. Confidential just killed one guy and dumped his body somewhere, instead of trying to pass his death as a part of another, larger, crime, the various protagonists' paths wouldn't have converged and the bad guys wouldn't have been caught.
  • The Conspiracy in Left Behind killed a conspiracy theorist, ransacked his house, and left his corpse lying in it, about 24 hours after The Rapture has caused billions of people to disappear and killed thousands more in the resultant chaos. You'd think adding one more disappearance would be simple for any competent villains. Instead, his friend the Designated Hero finds the body, but since he ends up selling out to the conspiracy later, it might be a mild aversion.
  • This exchange from The Mad Magician concerning the murder of Ormond, though at this point The Great Rinaldi merely suspects Don Gallico's involvement.
    The Great Rinaldi: You had every reason to hate him. What did you do with him, Gallico? How did you get rid of it? [indicating the retort in the center of the room] Was this thing already built and hidden away, waiting for a job like that?
    Don Gallico: Ormond was seen alive two weeks ago. The Prentisses identified him.
    The Great Rinaldi: That didn't have to be him.
    Don Gallico: Who else could it have been?
    The Great Rinaldi: It could have been you, Gallico. From what Ormond told me you are a clever man, developed a wonderful new makeup, something new in the theater. Something that might be used offstage too. Only a man who dreams up illusions would think of such a thing, and only people of the theater would know it was possible.
  • Mercury Rising's plot kicks off when the NSA's supposedly unbreakable code is published in a magazine by low-ranking employees to test it, and a young autistic savant cracks the code and dials the NSA's phone number that was hidden in it. Their boss freaks out at this breach of security and sends a hitman to kill the kid and his parents, but he fails to find the boy before the police show up. Even ignoring how this is well beyond the Moral Event Horizon, the boy still didn't know what the code really meant, had no initiative to find anyone to sell his knowledge to, and only a handful of people in the NSA knew he could break the code. Justified since the NSA as a whole is not involved at all, and it is only the boss trying to cover up this breach (from the rest of the agency as much as anyone else, since he had already promised it was unbreakable to his superiors), and said boss therefore does not have the full might of the NSA backing him up but instead is solely reliant on a single Psycho for Hire who botches the initial job.
  • Minority Report: John Anderton, a detective who uses advanced psychic technology to prevent murders before they ever happen, is accused of a future attempt at murder. The thing is, from the get-go this makes no sense, so the killer provides lots and lots of evidence for Danny Witwer, the detective chasing Anderton, to ensure that it all goes off to plan. Witwer, however, is instantly suspicious of the "Orgy of Evidence". The killer framed Anderton because he feared that he might discover the truth about a previous cover-up. So the revealing cover-up with Anderton was staged to prevent another cover-up from becoming revealing. Naturally enough, it all comes down around their ears in a very public fashion.
  • Mission: Impossible Film Series
    • Mission: Impossible: If the traitor had not tried to be overly clever in trying to frame Kittridge as the real traitor, Ethan Hunt would not have been able to confirm the identity of The Mole on his team. All he'd had to do was simply shoot Hunt, have The Mole grab the list, and he'd have been in the clear with Hunt still considered the traitor and everyone else believing Jim Phelps was dead.
    • Mission: Impossible – Fallout: August Walker's attempt to frame Hunt doesn't convince anyone. Even Sloane, who is out for Ethan's blood for losing the bombs, is at the very least doubtful of the claim, and the mere suggestion that Hunt is John Lark by Walker is enough for Hunley to be convinced that Walker is totally untrustworthy, to the point he actually informs Hunt himself of this and Sloane. Hunley and Hunt all realise that Walker might be John Lark himself, so they manage to set him up and get him to incriminate himself into admitting just that. Had he not attempted this frame-up Walker might have managed to get away with everything.
  • Played with in Race to Witch Mountain. The lead characters are quick to publish a book on what happened to them during the movie, specifically they know The Government can't touch them without validating their claims.
  • In Red, and bonus points for being a cover-up of a cover-up. In 1981, a young Army officer snapped and massacred an entire village in Guatemala. A number of CIA agents, including Moses, were shuttled in to clean up the mess. Now, some 30 years later, a young reporter named Stephanie Chen has gotten wind of the thing and tries to get the scoop from someone else who was involved, arms magnate Alexander Dunning (Dreyfuss). He calls the young Army officer—Vice President Robert Stanton—who panics and just decides to Kill 'Em All. (Again.) And this brings us back to Frank and Sarah. All of this is revealed to be a ruse because Dunning was planning to make Stanton the president and use the incident to blackmail him. Any surviving witnesses to the original incident (Frank, Joe, the people the reporter talked to) had to go because they knew too much.
  • In The Return of the Living Dead, when the medical-supply warehouse staff accidentally release a corpse-animating toxin, their boss chooses to destroy the evidence (i.e. zombies) by burning it with the help of his friend who is employed at Resurrection Funeral Home, rather than risk letting the cops or Army snoop around. This directly causes a localized Zombie Apocalypse in Louisville.
  • The Alliance in Serenity (and the predecessor series Firefly) spent a whole lot of time and effort hunting down River Tam, including murdering just about everybody who may have been in contact with her in order to cover up what she learned through her telepathy and being in the same room as several high ranking Alliance members. River, being insane, probably didn't understand what she knew and, in any case, wasn't in any position to tell anybody even if she did. But the Alliance's campaign of persecution gave Serenity's crew a big motive to find out and make the information public knowledge.
  • In Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Professor Moriarty blows up a room of businessmen to cover up the shooting of the one businessman in that room that he had targeted. Played with, in that Holmes does deduce this, but no one else learns about it.
  • Shooter is about a sniper who is set up as the fall guy for a failed presidential assassination. It turns out that the senator who funded the job was joking about killing the president — it was the African ambassador next to him that was a serious threat. As the real killer puts it, "What better way to kill a man in plain sight of one million Americans than by shooting him right next to the president?" By the end of the movie, the sniper successfully uncovers the mass murder of third world tribes for oil pipelines to the Secretary of Defense, but the senator is too high up / the crime is foreign so it isn't in American jurisdiction. So said sniper just kills them all. And ironically covers it up so that the senator's hitman looks like the shooter. Agent Nick Memphis smells fish when he sees the forensic report on the shooting back within a few hours "We're the federal government, we aren't that good at our job" and also when the police officer who got a shot at the alleged-would-be assassin of the President dies a few days later in a "botched robbery".
  • In the movie Sniper 3, the sniper's mission to kill an old war buddy turned Vietnamese drug lord/rogue intelligence agent is interrupted by a second sniper trying to kill him. This is due to the fact that said drug lord is one of three people who had participated in a war crime in Vietnam, the other two being the NSA director and a powerful senator, and they wanted him dead to protect themselves, and kill the killer to ensure that the sniper didn't learn why. Given that they had destroyed all physical evidence of their crimes thirty years earlier, the only reason why it gets discovered is that they tried to cover it up.
  • The Stone Killer (1973). Charles Bronson's character arrests a washed-up mafia killer, who claims to know information about an impending hit which he'll trade for immunity. Bronson isn't impressed until the man is gunned down in front of him, right after being handed over to the NYPD.
  • Suspect: Judge Matthew Helms tries to cover up his past bribe-taking to throw a case by killing the person who found it out, but this leads to the revelation later when her murder is investigated.
  • Unknown (2011): Dr. Martin Harris is traveling abroad when he gets injured in a car accident. After waking up in a hospital, Harris finds that his wife and colleagues don't recognize him anymore — and his wife is with some other guy claiming to be Dr. Martin Harris. The first Harris doesn't believe this, but all evidence points to him not being who he thinks he is. He returns to the hospital, prepared to accept that he really has gone crazy... and then an assassin comes to kill him. Harris escapes, now knowing that there really is a conspiracy, and tears the entire thing down.
  • Valkyrie: Fromm's reason to summarily execute everyone involved, in an attempt to hide his own role in the failed coup. Ultimately, it did not save him. Hitler had ordered the conspirators to be captured alive so they could be interrogated, which Reimer specifically brought up to Fromm only to be ignored. It was just too blatant a cover-up.
  • In The X-Files: Fight the Future, in order to cover up the deaths of five people exposed to an alien virus, the Conspiracy sticks the bodies into a building in downtown Dallas and blows it up trying to get them classified as victims of a bombing, which of course attracts Mulder and Scully's attention, instead of dumping them in the ocean or incinerating them or any of the other million ways a government could get rid of a few bodies without Mulder and Scully ever knowing that anything was going on.

  • This happens a lot in Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels involving the Ankh-Morpork City Watch. You'd think people would have learned that if you try to cover something up in Ankh-Morpork, Commander Samuel Vimes is only going to get suspicious, dig deeper, and then come down on you like a ton of rectangular building things.
    • Exploited in Thud!, when word is intentionally spread that a murder is not to be reported to the Watch, knowing that Vimes will find out sooner or later and come snooping around. The person who gave the order does this because he wants Vimes to unearth and stop the immoral activities of his superiors, which he himself is powerless to stop. (When Vimes works this out he's offended at the thought he might need to be tricked into being interested in a murder.)
    • Inverted in Jingo when in order to cover up the fact that he had tried to have his brother killed as an excuse to start a war, the Crown Prince of Klatch (the Discworld's country of Saudi Arabia stereotypes) had various stereotypical items (coins, sand, everything but a "camel under the pillow" etc) left behind to make Vimes think that someone was trying to make him think that the assassin was Klatchian.
    • In Interesting Times, the Agatean Empire tells its citizens that outside the Empire is nothing but a howling wasteland of invisible, man-eating ghosts. So when they have to go to war with barbarian invaders, they have to quickly change tack and say that the enemy are not invisible, man-eating ghosts. Since Rincewind the wizard is technically on the side of the barbarian invaders, he wanders through the camp telling people that there officially are not 2,300,009 invisible, giant, man-eating ghosts. He was quite proud of the "9": If he'd simply said that there aren't any, they might have believed him, but since he is saying there aren't 2,300,009 of them, people obviously wonder about the precision.
  • In the James Bond novel You Only Live Twice, evil mastermind Blofeld decides the best way to lie low is to operate a castle with a poison garden for people wanting to commit suicide. If they change their mind, the "gardeners" assist them. No one is going to pay any attention to that, right?
  • Being a Gentleman Bastard Locke Lamora loves this trope. Case in point: running a con on a wealthy nobleman, then disguising himself as one of the secret police and informing the mark that he's being robbed.
    • The second book takes it all Up to Eleven, with Locke running this trope back and forth between at least two different marks, at once exposing his plans and yet diverting suspicion away from himself.
  • How many Doc Savage pulps started out with the villain trying to pull a preemptive strike on the Man of Bronze, getting his minions slam-dunked, and Doc then becoming curious about what was going on?
  • In Sandy Mitchell's Ciaphas Cain note  novel Duty Calls, Cain's Fake Ultimate Hero status bites him in the ass again when a rogue Inquisitor tries to have him killed — repeatedly — because of what he would surely have found out otherwise. Needless to say, he had no idea anything was going on until people suddenly started trying to kill him, and his investigation into why people are trying to kill him blows the plot wide open.
  • In Edgar Rice Burroughs's John Carter of Mars novel "Thuvia, Maid of Mars", Carthoris is framed for Thuvia's kidnapping. Not his love would have let him leave the matter alone, but it always helps, to implicate his honor.
  • The Zero Game, a mysterious game is set up and then all but one of the participants are killed off in suspicious ways. The worst part is that the game is really just an elaborate ruse to get an abandoned mine reopened. Which they could have gotten much more cheaply and easily just by simply asking. And not only was the mine completely unnecessary to their plans, it actually made it more difficult.
  • The Illuminatus! Trilogy, being a Conspiracy Kitchen Sink, naturally has one of these. When a leftwing magazine's office is bombed, the police investigating find a stash of strange notes about The Illuminati in the wreckage. Subverted in that the bomb was set by the magazine's editor, as part of a Batman Gambit to get one of the police detectives investigating the Illuminati.
  • This is a recurring theme in (and, in fact, often the basic plot of) many of Christopher Brookmyre's books, like Country of the Blind and Boiling a Frog. And Be My Enemy. And Quite Ugly One Morning. Essentially, the crimes that catch the protagonist's attention are almost always attempts to cover up a previous and otherwise unnoticed crime.
  • In Master of the World, our hero investigates a mountain that's producing odd rumblings, but is unable to climb to the top. After giving up and filing it under "unexplained," he gets a note saying, "Stay away from that mountain, or it'll go badly for you!" If Robur had just left him alone, the hero would have dropped the case.
  • In The Pelican Brief, the protagonist writes up a theory—more idle speculation than anything else—about why two US Supreme Court justices were killed. Then her car gets bombed. She isn't killed, and she realizes that her speculation must have hit a little close to home, and she begins investigating in earnest.
  • Sherlock Holmes:
    • The Adventure of the Norwood Builder has the villain fake their own death and frame the son of a woman who turned him down for his murder, and the evidence against the son is so thorough that even Holmes is stumped by how to prove his innocence. However, the day after the initial investigation the villain decides to further incriminate the son by using a wax imprint of the son's thumb to leave a bloody thumbprint on the wall of his house; since Holmes is convinced the thumbprint appeared on the wall after the crime, this only strengthens his resolve to expose the true culprit.
    • In The Hound of the Baskervilles, the villain steals one of an intended victim's new boots, then returns to swipe one of an older pair, while returning the first one, presumably so the owner would assume he'd just misplaced it. Granted, Holmes was bound to solve the case anyway, but the fact that the boot not bearing its owner's smell was brought back again clinched his suspicion that there was a real, trained dog involved. Had the culprit stolen all four boots and returned nothing, Holmes couldn't have ruled out the possibility that one of the hotel staff had a profitable sideline stealing guests' possessions.
  • A recurring plot device in the Fargo Adventures by Clive Cussler. The Fargos find some obscure item which is at least four steps away from in one case an artifact the villain wanted to find, and in another a secret the villain wants to conceal. So the villain sends assassins after them, letting the Fargos know that their totally innocuous discovery was important somehow. Had they just purchased the item at a fair price, or simply ignored them entirely, the villain would have succeeded.
  • Lyra Silvertongue, in His Dark Materials, carries out this skill with the modifiers of being the hero and a twelve-year-old girl. Her strategy, when she finds out that the cops are looking for her companion, Will, is to talk to the cops themselves, pretending that Will is her brother, to throw them off the trail. Will, who prefers to blend in and go completely unnoticed, finds this very irritating.
  • A humorous version in the Carol Higgins Clark novel Jinxed. A con artist passing himself off as a well-to-do man is about to marry an heiress but concerned that her sister will recognize him from the acting class they both attended. He thus gets his brother to kidnap her until the wedding is done but things get wildly complicated and in the end, he's arrested for the kidnapping and several crimes. The kicker: The sister never paid any attention to him in that class, has no idea who he is and thus he would have married into money if he hadn't done all this.
  • Older Than SteamDon Quixote presents a parody: In his first sally, Daydream Believer Alonso Quijano pretends he is Knight Errant Don Quixote. He tries to live the Medieval European Fantasy in Real Life Spain. He doesn't find any dragons, enchanters nor any Damsel in Distress. He is very disappointed when he comes back to his house, where his family and two Moral Guardians have burned his Chivalric Romance books. To avoid Don Quixote's ire, the Moral Guardians advise the family to tell him, literally, that A Wizard Did It. That excuse was the Don Quixote's first contact with the Medieval European Fantasy he so desperately wanted to live! If the Moral Guardians had told him the truth, he would never have persevered in his madness.
  • Subverted in the Andrew Vachss Burke book Another Life; Burke and crew have a scene blown up rather than burned down in order to erase evidence, and he rationalizes it to another character by saying that in that bad neighbourhood, druggies' "experiments" going boom is normal, but arson is not.
  • In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Blomqvist assumes he investigating a hopeless cold case until the villain tries to kill him.
  • Noticeably averted in Seven Days in May, about a plot to take over the US via Military Coup. Several people who appear to have been murdered turn out later to have been merely detained on justifiable pretexts. There's only one suspicious death (of a White House aide carrying direct evidence of the conspiracy who had to be stopped) and only luck enables the signed confession he was carrying to survive the plane crash and be found in time to avert the coup. The closest you get to this trope is when an orderly is reassigned to Hawaii after discussing an apparently innocuous signal with the protagonist, which is what first arouses his suspicions.
  • Vladimir Vasilyev's Wolfish Nature duology starts with someone stumbling on a wolf (dog-humans able to kill) enclave in Siberia. The wolves quickly eliminate him and anyone in his address book whom he may have contacted, finishing with a guy whom he only called because of dialing a wrong number. Since murder is incredibly rare in this world (genetic engineering having "excised" the so-called "wolf gene" from all dog-humans, making them incapable of killing), this sudden string of murders (including murder-suicides) catches the attention of the governments, who quickly deduce the existence of the wolves. Just a few weeks after the first murder, the Siberian town of Alzamay where the enclave is located is full of spies from all major powers.
  • In the Night Huntress books, there is a minor example: Bones realizes that Cat is being moved when the Men in Black clear an entire floor of the hospital and otherwise make a big to-do of it. After which, they were easy to follow.
  • The Stainless Steel Rat has Jim noting that secrecy is an obviousity, leading him to disguise his investigation by posing as a flamboyant, wealthy visitor to the planet he's sniffing around on. Ultimately, the criminals get spooked and step up their plan, though it's never revealed just what tipped them off.
  • The Alex Benedict novel Polaris features a bombing intended to destroy evidence (which later turns out to never have been there in the first place) camouflaged as an assassination attempt on a visiting dictator which just happens to be tipped off in time to evacuate the people but not most of the goods. Had it stopped there, no-one would have been the wiser... but unfortunately for the conspirators they try to be more thorough in removing the possible evidence, and the ensuing mysterious visits and thefts were not so well camouflaged, tipping the protagonists off to the fact that there's something strange going on with Polaris despite the many decades since its crew disappeared.
  • Invoked in the Temps story "Leaks" by David Langford. The DPR send a low-level paranorm to investigate evidence of an "entropy ray" affecting government vehicles. He quickly realises that all that's actually affecting the vehicles is someone running a scam selling engine parts and replacing them with old ones, but he can't work out what purpose was served by the letter mentioning the entropy ray, which just attracted everyone's attention. It turns out the letter was sent by someone who'd spotted the scam but wasn't involved, purely so the DPR would send a low-level paranorm.
  • In John Bude's The Lake District Murder, the victim is found in circumstances that suggest suicide. Once the police establish it was murder, they quickly determine that he was killed in case he might reveal information about a criminal gang he was involved with, whose existence they had not previously suspected.
  • Joe Pickett: In Breaking Point, Juan Julio Batista's attempts to bring Butch Roberson to justice, including calling in a military drone strike, are so heavy-handed they just clue Joe in to the fact that he is desperate to cover something up.
  • The Laundry Files is all about averting this trope. Rather than being Killed to Uphold the Masquerade, anyone who finds out about Eldritch Abominations is conscripted into the Laundry's bloated bureaucracy. If you start killing off your own citizens because they know too much, sooner or later something will go wrong and the associated publicity will cost more than just giving them a public service job.
  • Oliver Twist is one of the few times that the usual Fridge Logic associated with this trope is avoided; while Fagin, Sikes, and Co. were reasonably safe, in that Oliver wasn't inclined to talk about them, they did not know that for certain, and their already committed crimes would be enough to hang them anyway.
  • Journey to Chaos: After illegal use of the Arch of Kresnik, Ponix fudges the records of such use, and then he fudges his previous fudge. This is because defying this trope was part of his training as an intelligence officer.
  • Defied in the Left Behind novel Assassins. Towards the end, Nicolae schemes to have Pope Peter II eliminated at a meeting. The plan calls for both the weapons and the body to be destroyed immediately afterwards, and it's given out that His Holiness had died of a rare, highly contagious virus that causes the victim to bleed to death.
  • Professor Horace Slughorn from Harry Potter alters one of his memories to conceal the fact that he taught Tom Riddle AKA Voldemort how to create a Horcrux, something he is deeply ashamed of. However the cover-up is so incompetently handled (In the book, the offending scenes are covered by thick mist; in the movie, the key words are distorted and barely audible. Both versions end with Slughorn launching into an angry yet obviously staged tirade and throwing Tom out of his office.) that Dumbledore starts asking questions about what Slughorn was trying to hide.
  • In Harry Turtledove's Noninterference, Standard Operating Procedure for Federacy Survey Service field teams observing worlds inhabited by sufficiently human looking sorts with transportation/communication advancement below a certain level is to hide any excess tech and pass themselves off as travelers from somewhere a bit off the local maps. The fellow that took pity on The High Queen of an early Bronze Age city-state (and got cashiered for his trouble) claimed to be from somewhere far to the west when he gave her something for her end-stage cancer. When the follow-up team swung by 1500 years later they dropped off a couple in a town on the western end of a near renaissance-level continent-spanning quasi-theocracy who called themselves jewel traders from the far northwest, were quietly pumped for information by one of the local priests within a day, and the next morning were seized and put onto a well-guarded carriage to the Holy City as per standing orders from the Eternal Goddess.
  • An amusing version in a Spenser novel. Spenser leaves his office, and almost immediately notices a tail, who "was paying absolutely no attention to me. And being blatant about it."
  • In the Travis McGee novel The Green Ripper, McGee's girlfriend is murdered by a domestic terrorist group for having seen something she shouldn't have, unnecessarily because she hadn't realized she'd seen anything important. Once he discovers she was poisoned, McGee's investigation uncovers the previously unknown group and their plot, and they get his full, and undivided, attention.
  • Mass Effect: Revelation: Looking in to Kahlee Sanders, Anderson finds a lot of her records are classified. Really classified, the sort of classified neither she nor her impoverished mother could ever afford, unless they knew someone very high up in the Alliance. Which is what helps Anderson learn her father is Alliance hero John Grissom.
  • The Stormlight Archive: The island of Aimia is Shrouded in Myth due to the extreme methods its inhabitants use to prevent people reaching their shores, including killing anyone who actually lands there. When Rysn successfully makes it to the island in Dawnshard she tells the inhabitants that all they've done is make people more curious about what's hidden on the island and what happened to the people who disappeared. She convinces them that if they let her reveal a few select pieces of information about what she found it will make the place less interesting and draw attention away from the bigger secrets they're protecting.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 24:
    • Season 5 opens with the bad guys trying to frame Bauer which only gets him involved in the scheme far earlier than he would have (if ever).
    • Double-Subverted in Season 8, when a villain disguised as an EMT suspects Renee Walker recognized him. He tells his boss he can get rid of her and Bauer, but the boss orders him to wait out of concern for this trope. Ultimately, the guy goes ahead with an attempt anyway, but by that time Renee's already realized where she recognized the man from and alerted CTU to the fact.
  • Alfred Hitchcock Presents: In "The Last Remains", mortician Amos Duff burns a body at the request of the deceased's business partner and discovers a fireproof bullet among the ashes. This is after he comes to the realization that the death may have been foul play. Though normally any metal objects found among the remains are completely separated from them via a magnet upon removal from the retort and before said remains are pulverized, he makes a point of putting the bullet in the urn along with the ashes so he can show it to said business partner at the police station at the end.
  • The Barrier: Luis initially doesn't believe warnings to him that the government has a few immoral projects, including getting rid of him in the not-so-long run. He starts taking those warnings seriously when one the people who informed him dies in a car accident and a sniper tries to kill the other while Luis is in the same room as her.
  • Referred to in Blindspot when Assistant Director Mayfair dismisses Carter's suggestion to have Jane killed in order to keep Operation Daylight secret. Mayfair points out that Jane herself doesn't have any knowledge due to her memory being erased and any information hidden in her tattoos related to it has already been scanned and recorded. All killing her would do is focus more attention on her case, increasing the risk the information would be discovered.
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Mayor inexplicably has Faith kill a previously unheard-of archaeologist, who had just discovered the corpse of an Olvikan demon killed by a volcanic eruption, the same kind of demon that the Mayor planned to turn into. Lampshaded:
    Wesley: Ah, by attempting to keep a valuable clue from us, the mayor may have inadvertently led us right to it.
    Buffy: What page are you on, Wes? 'Cause we already got there.
  • In Burn Notice, one of Michael's signature narratory asides covers this trope in the episode Made Man.
    Narrator!Michael: One reason it's tough to pull off the perfect crime is destroying evidence leaves its own evidence. If a section of floor has been cleaned with a powerful surfactant, it sticks out like a drop of bleach on a shirt, begging the question: what did someone go to so much trouble to clean?
  • Used, and lampshaded, continually in Castle. A very small selection below:
    • "Hedgefund Home Boys": The fact that the body had been moved reveals that the murder was unlikely to have been the accident the killer had so elaborately set up.
    • "Hell Hath No Fury": By wrapping the body in a rug meant to implicate a political rival, Castle and Beckett realized that it was more than a robbery gone wrong.
      Alexis: So by trying to look smart they were actually being stupid?
      Castle: I think you just described the human condition.
    • "Poof! You're Dead" features a faux-Bernie Madoff billionaire Ponzi-schemer who has faked his own death with the aid of a brilliant stage magician. He would have gotten away with it, but killing the one man who knew his secret, the magician, led to his undoing.
    • "Linchpin" somewhat averts this. Knowing that Castle will solve it eventually anyway and can't let go of a mystery, Sophia Turner decides to Just Shoot Him.
    • "Always": Appears to be another case of this. A robbery by the Big Bad Conspiracy meant to eliminate evidence gets Castle and Beckett their first lead in almost a year. Averted, though because the conspirators didn't care about leaving evidence for Beckett; they were really raiding Montgomery's house to discover who was blackmailing them so they could kill Beckett once and for all.
  • Chernobyl: Ulana Khomyuk (a Composite Character of various Soviet scientists who figured out the disaster independently) notices a massive radiation spike on her lab's sensors, that seems to be coming from Chernobyl. But Chernobyl is so far away that to get those readings, the disaster would have to be ridiculously bad, like the core exploding or something. Being the good scientist that she is, she calls Chernobyl to confirm... and finds that the phone lines have been cut. This only serves to confirm to her that Chernobyl is the source of the radiation and that a nuclear core has indeed exploded.
    • When Shcherbina is interrogating the plant's supervisors, who are at this point deeply in denial of the severity of the accident, they try to pass off the graphite (i.e. highly radioactive debris from the core) he's spotted as burnt concrete. Which only confirms to him that they are lying- he may not know much about the stuff in reactor cores, but he does know his way around concrete, and he knows that whatever that stuff is, it's not concrete.
  • Dexter: Afraid that the team investigating the Bay Harbor Butcher may be closing in on him, Dexter writes a rambling manifesto touching on politics, the environment, religion, and other themes to fool them into thinking he's just a standard deranged serial killer. However, the team sees through the deception and realizes that the manifesto was written with the intent to deceive them, confirming their suspicion that the killer is somehow involved in law enforcement and bringing them closer to finding out his real identity.
  • Used several different ways in an episode of Diagnosis: Murder in which the killer tries to make the victim's death look like suicide-by-pill-overdose. The killer wipes their own prints off the pill bottle, but the lack of any prints, including the victims', piques Mark Sloan's suspicion. Also, when he notes that the lack of a suicide note is irregular in the killer's presence, the killer forges one using the victim's laptop; Mark checks the laptop's date-stamp and finds that the note was typed 20 hours after the victim's death.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "Aliens of London"/"World War Three": A fake UFO crash is organized by real aliens among the British government to cause worldwide panic and distract attention from themselves and such "non-noteworthy" events as the "disappearance" of the Prime Minister. While this does allow them to take over 10 Downing Street, wipe out most of the country's alien-invasion experts (who were intentionally gathered in Number Ten to discuss the crash, so they could be taken out) and gain access to the British nuclear arsenal, it also alerts the Doctor and Rose Tyler to their presence.
    • In Series 7, the Doctor spends time running around erasing all evidence of himself from history. The one thing he can't access, the Daleks' database, another character does for him. However, as one of his allies points out, this creates a "Doctor-shaped hole" in history obvious to anyone who cares enough to look.
    • "Deep Breath": There's a murderer prowling the streets of Victorian London who makes a point of partially burning the bodies of all of his victims; Madame Vastra correctly deduces that he's harvesting the victims' organs, then burning the bodies so the police can't tell what's missing.
  • Elementary:
    • "The Red Team" has a kind of double-layered version of this; the culprit's attempts to kill off the other members of a war games team that came up with a successful plan to attack New York (since he doesn't want the plan to be exposed to terrorists) not only alerts Sherlock to the targets but also leads him to deduce what the attack plan was.
    • In "Step Nine", the murderer, on seeing that Holmes and Watson are on his tail, panics and races to murder his accomplice to tie up loose ends. He makes a bungle of this, resulting in him getting caught.
    • In "All My Exes Live in Essex" the murder victim is stripped down to skeleton and disguised as an educational tool for medical students. The speed and skill in which the body was stripped to the bone allows Holmes to deduce the killer is also a doctor; and the fact that the hyoid bone (and only the hyoid bone) is missing tells him the victim was probably strangled, as strangulation often breaks the hyoid bone.
    • In the last few episodes of the final season, the Big Bad is taking greater pains to prevent Sherlock and Joan proving his involvement in multiple murders. Sherlock points out that the more his activities go "off-model", the more likely he is to make a mistake.
  • In the mini-arc in Season 3 of Eureka concerning the hidden bunker, everything Eva does to conceal what was down there makes Jack and Alison more suspicious. And in the end, she admits there was no reason not to tell them the truth beyond simple mistrust.
  • This ends up being the Reverse-Flash's first big mistake in The Flash (2014). He murders a reporter who could've exposed his secret identity, but was unaware that Flash had already been informed that the reporter had information on Harrison Wells, a fact that Barry was incredulous of at best. Thus when the guy suddenly disappears without a trace, Flash gets suspicious when he wasn't before and decides to follow the thread on Wells.
  • Game of Thrones: The attempted assassination of Bran was the only thing that gave Catelyn reason to believe his previous fall of a tower that left him paralyzed from the waist down wasn't just his habit of recklessly climbing things catching up to him, leading her to discover clues pointing to the Lannisters.
  • Hawaii Five-0 Chinese super agent Wo Fat was assigned to prevent the United States from using their radar network to analyze an upcoming missile test, which he planned on doing by kidnapping the daughter of one of the men responsible for maintaining the system and making it suffer an apparently random technical malfunction for a critical few seconds. With absolutely no one on the American side having the slightest idea this was happening, for some reason, he thinks archenemy Steve McGarret will interfere and so launches a distraction plan against McGarret involving fake Swiss bank accounts and lookalikes that has been in place for years in case he needed it. Once Wo Fat's involvement is discovered while investigating the distraction plan, police, intelligence agencies, and the military get together to try to figure out what Wo Fat is up to, discover a glitch in the radar system that had occurred a few days earlier (during a test to make sure that the system could be brought down), and while investigating it, on the off chance it has something to do with Wo Fat, uncover the kidnapping and blackmail and arrange to rescue the girl and ensure the system is up and running during the test while allowing Wo Fat to believe his plan succeeded.
  • In In Justice, the corrupt FBI official who helped railroad an innocent man tries to blackmail the National Justice Project into dropping the case by threatening to have the FBI look into one of Swain's clients. Ultimately, it's the suspicious nature of the threat (a high ranking member of the FBI using blackmail to try and shut a case his son's involved in) that convinces Swain to actually take the case (initially he was opposed to getting involved).
  • JAG: In "Déjà Vu", Colonel Patano, the Thai Embassy chief of security, bribes a witness into telling the cops that he didn't see anything. Which is entirely true, as he really didn't see anything. However, he decides to tell Harm about the bribe.
  • The Jonathan Creek episode "The Case of the Savant's Thumb". It turns out the murderers were government agents trying to destroy a certain DVD and kill anyone who'd seen it. The exact contents of the DVD aren't revealed except that it's a conversation between Very Important People and confirms the nastiest suspicions people had about them. The twist is that the DVD is of a rather heavy-handed satire show that employed lookalikes, but as Jonathan says, it's interesting that someone high up thought it could be real.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit:
    • "Serendipity" has a double example; desperate to avoid being fingered for the death of a woman he impregnated, a plastic surgeon inserted a fake vein filled with blood from one of his patients into his own arm in order to beat a paternity test. Unfortunately for him, the patient was a serial rapist who targeted children, and thus he experienced even more scrutiny, leading to him being murdered by the real pedophile when he decided to confess and posthumously being implicated for the crime for which he was originally being investigated.
    • In "Ritual", a white pedophile anthropologist attempted to hide his double life from his wife by murdering his victim and arranging the body in such a way that it looked like a Santerian-style sacrifice. However, the police consulted with actual Santerians who pointed out that the "sacrifice" was not consistent with their methods, leading the police to search for someone who would be familiar enough with Santeria to attempt to reproduce the sacrifice but not familiar enough to do the sacrifice correctly, and thus they came upon the white anthropologist.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Agent Carter: In "The Lady in the Lake", Detective Henry has been hired to dump the body of Jane Scott, an Isodyne physicist killed by accidental exposure to Zero Matter. Dumping the body causes the lake to freeze over (in the middle of the hottest day of summer in L.A.), alerting the SSR that something strange is going on and kicking off Peggy's investigation.
    • Luke Cage (2016): In "DWYCK", Mariah Dillard and the other underworld bosses call a secret meeting at Colon's Gym to discuss the transfer of Cottonmouth's assets...except for Diamondback, who controls the weapons supply. This backfires by guaranteeing Diamondback's appearance, and he promptly kills all of the bosses except for Domingo just to send a message.
      Peter: ... Why do I find that hard to believe?
      Willis "Diamondback" Stryker: [enters, grinning] Because you're smart and stupid at the same time!
      Jacques: Diamondback, what are you doing here?
      Willis "Diamondback" Stryker: You invited me. By not inviting me.
    • Daredevil (2015):
      • Wilson Fisk tries to have Karen framed for murdering a Union Allied coworker to scare her into giving up the flash drive containing a copy of the pension file. When Matt and Foggy show up to defend Karen before Fisk's people can get to her, Fisk has James Wesley strongarm a guard into trying to hang Karen in her cell. That, and the fact that Karen hasn't yet been charged despite the case being so open-and-shut, reads to Matt and Foggy as evidence of a cover-up.
      • In "Rabbit in a Snowstorm," one of Fisk's hitmen is arrested after botching a hit on a rival of the Ranskahovs. At one point, while the trial is underway, Owlsley suggests that they just murder Healy to sweep this under the rug, which Wesley promptly shoots down by pointing out that Healy dying would be too suspicious and prompt an investigation that could link back to them.
      • In season 2, District Attorney Samantha Reyes' constant antagonizing Nelson & Murdock over the course of the Punisher manhunt eventually leads Karen to uncover that Reyes is trying to cover up that she was involved in coordinating a failed drug sting in Central Park that culminated in the deaths of Frank Castle's family.
    • Iron Fist (2017): At first, Colleen doesn't seem to believe that Danny is who he says he is. That is, until Harold decides to have Ward investigate the phone call Danny makes to her from Birch Psychiatric Hospital.
  • Happens so often on Monk that the show could probably have its own separate folder on this page.
  • Motive: The killer in "Oblivion" had a pitch-perfect murder scheme that honestly might've been dismissed as an accident, but she decided that the best alibi for herself was to fake her own death. Investigating her apparent death leads the cops to her victim's murder and her eventual capture.
  • In one episode of Murder, She Wrote, Jessica is shot at while investigating at the behest of the accused's wife, while the accused himself is in jail. She quickly realizes it was the wife, who was worried Jessica was starting to think her husband might be guilty and wanted to provide evidence otherwise.
  • NCIS
    • In a variant compressed into less than five seconds, the team needs to locate some terrorists hiding among any of a dozen warehouses. Knowing they're pressed for time, Gibbs whips out a shotgun and blasts a nearby street light, which causes the terrorists' rooftop lookout to immediately open fire and give away the bad guys' position. Had he had the sense to quietly keep his head down, the team would've been too late to stop them.
    • In another episode, the murderer, being a retired forsenic expert, went to such great pains to completely clean up the crime scene that absolutely nothing could be detected indicating a suspect. When the team is at a loss and realize that only someone extremely knowleedgeable in forsenic science could have cleaned up the crime scene so thoroughly, the murderer (who, being a retired legend of his field and an old friend of Ducky, has been allowed to take a look at the body) plants evidence leading to a petty criminal and then claim that he miraculously found it while doing his own analysis, which immediately tells Gibbs it's him, because they hadn't found anything in any of the previous numerous analysis of the body, so only he could have put that evidence here.
  • This was the plot of the bad guys in the second season NUMB3RS episode "Rampage". A man (who was a perfectly innocent civilian dad aside from having a brown belt in martial arts) was blackmailed into going on a shooting rampage in the FBI building and provoke an emergency evacuation in order to cover up getting a list of key witnesses in a trial out of the building. In a slight subversion, while the FBI was able to connect the shooter to the criminal, the guy was off the grid (he was a hired gun not directly affiliated with anyone) so the trail seemed to stop with him. The break came when Charlie analyzed the shooter's path, discovering that the only conscious choice he had made was to avoid shooting anywhere near two guys under a desk. When one of them tried to run, the FBI figured out he was the one who had a connection to the shooter and searched his computer records, which revealed what he'd been doing.
    • Another episode has a billionaire murdering anyone who knows of his plan to fix California's election system. That just leads the team to expose it to the public so while the man avoids arrest, he can't pull off the scheme.
  • Occurs regularly in Person of Interest. Someone plans a premeditated violent crime to cover up something else (sometimes the something else isn't even illegal), and the Machine detects this and sends Reese and Finch out to stop the cover-up, which exposes what the cover-up was intended to hide. Though in fairness the villains don't know of the existence of an AI whose specific task is to detect premeditated crimes.
  • This was often used in Quincy, M.E., but the episode "Visitors in Paradise" was a real standout example; where Quincy was convinced that the death was exactly what was claimed until the bad guys started trying to run him out of town and made him go back over everything in greater detail.
  • Invoked in the Sherlock episode "The Hounds of Baskerville" as an explanation for why the episode's murderer did not simply kill a man who had seen too much and was telling what he'd seen to the news:
    Sherlock: Because dead men get listened to! He needed to do more than kill you; he needed to discredit every word you'd ever said.
  • An episode of Simon & Simon has a tourist hire the Simon Brothers to find out why she was the victim of a series of petty thefts: first her camera, then her purse, then her hotel room was broken into... Turned out she'd snapped a picture that showed a man someplace he wasn't supposed to be in the background, and he was trying to get the film. (She had already dropped it off to be developed when he started stealing her stuff looking for it.)
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
    • Invoked in the opener of the last season; it's not until an assassin from the cult of the Pah Wraiths shows up to kill him and vows that he "will never find the orb of the Emissary" that Sisko learns it even exists (let alone that he needs to find it).
    • Pulled earlier by Garak when he sees a Romulan assassin on the station. Garak blows up his own shop to make Odo think the assassin did it, but Odo discovers otherwise that the assassin works with poisons, not explosives. And then the assassin gets killed anyway as though someone was covering their tracks, which only stokes Odo's curiosity further. By the time Odo and Garak figure out what's going on, the Romulans and Cardassian Secret Police are making a joint first-strike on the Dominion.
  • In Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The First Duty", Nova Squadron's attempt to hide the fact they performed a highly illegal move that got a classmate killed ended up being exposed due to the fact that the crew of the Enterprise got involved as one of those involved was Wesley Crusher. When Picard figures it out, he's not too happy.
  • Stranger Things:
    • As Hopper investigates Will Byers' disappearance, he finds evidence that he might've crawled through a culvert to Hawkins National Laboratory on a certain night. Even though he thinks it's unlikely, Hopper stops by there to review the security tapes of the area. The tapes show a perfectly normal night... which Hopper immediately knows is fake, as it rained like mad that night. Investigating the laboratory further, he eventually finds evidence of their training and mistreatment of El.
    • Later, when the "body" of Will is found in a quarry lake by the State Police, Hopper immediately knows something's off. Especially when the county coroner gets sent home so "someone from the state" can do the autopsy, which would make sense for a high profile subject like a Kennedy, but not for a nobody like Will Byers. So he goes after the trooper who called it in, and gets him to admit to being paid off, and then uncovers that the "body" is a fake.
  • In Veronica Mars, it's the Kanes' cover-up of what they believed to be the circumstances of Lily's death that alerts Keith to their dishonesty.
  • The X-Files:
    • This is how the series starts. All the weird brainwashing, floodlights, and murders undermine Scully's skepticism. Of course, it stays throughout the series, but...
    • Occasionally invoked by the conspiracy as to why they don't just kill Mulder:
      Cigarette-Smoking Man: Kill Mulder, and you risk turning one man's crusade into a religion.

  • A Real Life example occurred with Data East's Back to the Future pinball machine. Michael J. Fox did not allow his likeness to be used for the game, so instead artist Paul Faris used his son as the model for Marty. To hide this fact, "Marty" is drawn on the backglass with his face covered by a pair of large sunglasses — which only serves to draw more attention to his non-resemblance to Fox.

    Video Games 
  • Dragon Age: Origins: Alistair is the bastard son of King Maric and a serving girl who died giving birth to him. Despite the big conspiracy by the royal family to keep his existence secret (so as not to challenge his legitimate half-brother's rule), they leave a huge paper trail. He's easily able to find his half-sister (the daughter of his servant mother), and once he finds her she already knows he's her brother and that he's of noble blood because right after her mother died giving birth to him, "thems at the castle" made a huge show of giving her a coin to shut her mouth, then chasing her off when she came back for more. The Calling and Dragon Age: Inquisition strongly imply that his mother was actually an Orlesian Elven Mage Grey Warden named Fiona (all huge no-no's in Ferelden society), who gave him to his father and requested that Alistair be told his mother was a human who died giving birth to him because she doesn't want him to live with the Fantastic Racism associated with having an elven mother. In hindsight, it's strongly implied that "thems at the castle" deliberately invoked this trope as a Red Herring to hide Alistair's true parentage.
  • In Heroes of Might and Magic III, the Necropolis town has the "Veil of darkness" building that conceals a large area of the map around the town from enemy players. But as a result, a player, seeing that a part of the discovered map area has been concealed in the signature circular pattern, can instantly tell that there's a Necropolis there, and its exact location (the center of the circle), from much farther away than they would be able to see the town normally.
  • Splinter Cell:
    • Chaos Theory actually has this as a tutorial video titled "what not to do", showing a guard getting suspicious when he finds a light turned off — investigating, he finds the door in the darkened room with a broken lock, leading to yet another room with the light off, and finding an unconscious colleague. Cue them hitting the alarms. If you hadn't turned off the lights in an attempt to hide the mess you left, the guard would have probably never found it.
    • Conviction, where if the conspirators hadn't sent thugs to try and kill Sam Fisher he would never have been aware there was even a conspiracy in the first place. Of course, we shortly find out that one of the top-level conspirators is a double agent and old friend of Sam's who wanted him to find out and be bought to her.
      Yahtzee: Note that Sam only finds out about the conspiracy after it sends thugs to kill him, so the baddies said to themselves, "Hey, the one guy who could threaten our operation is in a different country and isn't the slightest bit interested in our stupid conspiracy. Fuck that, let's go shoot at him!"
  • Clock Tower 3 has the protagonist's grandfather plan to sacrifice the protagonist when she turns 15 in order to gain immortality as an evil creature. To accomplish this he sends strange letters, sets up traps, and throws her into various evil settings. Along the way, she clues in that something very wrong is going down, awakens her evil-fighting powers, and hones her combat skills by killing off other evil creatures; by the time he finally confronts her, she is ready to take him down. The alternative, not pulling any of that crap and just welcome her home, celebrate her birthday, and then suddenly sacrifice her when the time is right, doesn't really occur to him.
  • In Cultist Simulator, one can be tempted to send minions to destroy evidence or kill the investigators following them. Sadly, should the minion fail, not only are the pieces of evidence and the hunters still around, but it will also create more Notoriety. Which is a very bad thing as it is what one needs to produce more pieces of evidence.
  • War Craft II: Tides of Darkness: King Aiden Perenolde of Alterac made a secret alliance with the Horde. To cover the orcs' mining operations in the Hinterlands, he plots a peasant revolt in the township of Tyr's Hand, which only succeeds in bringing the attention of the Alliance to the region, who send the Silver Hand to investigate and then destroy the Horde presence. Not deterred by this failure, Perenolde then tries to have Lord Uther assassinated, thus revealing to him Alterac's betrayal.
  • L.A. Noire: You know, it may have just been the deadlines and lack of serious threats talking, but burning down entire houses with families still alive in them is NOT a good way to hush up a government-level scam. Cole proceeds to crack the case wide open. Sadly, his rival remixes the cover-up so that the corrupt higher-ups are arrested, but the multibillion-dollar redevelopment project (read: highway that made Los Angeles a megacity) goes ahead.
  • Darkest Dungeon: The boss of a level is always buried in the deepest part of an area. However, because the layout is revealed from the start, unless there are two rooms furthest away from you equidistant from each other, this means you know exactly where the boss is and can go straight there without worrying about detours. You're also unlikely to stumble on it accidentally, so you can make sure to power up as much as possible before going in.
  • In First Encounter Assault Recon, Armacham's attempt to silence anyone who could talk about Project Origin and the horrible things that they did in said project to create psychic Super Soldiers is what clues the FEAR investigation team into their involvement in the first place. That being said, the Point Man being forced to nuke the city to prevent Alma from escaping and Alma's subsequent massive world-ending psychic rampage does mostly cover up what happened anyway. The impending apocalypse tends to do that.
  • In God Eater, it's repeatedly stressed that resources are incredibly tight, those needed for the titular God Eaters even more so. So when Lindow goes MIA, the number of orders the top brass issue to countermand normal search and rescue protocols only serve to upset and tip off anyone remotely connected to his squad. In short, trying to make him KIA via Manchurian Agent was a Morton's Fork for them. Materials recovered? The field team would notice discrepancies. Shut down the investigation? Might as well announce you're up to something. This is the first domino in the chain that brings down the first Arc Villain.
  • In Yakuza 5, Minoru Aoyama's attempt to take the Yamagasa family involves assaulting their patriarch, Madarame, knifing him, framing Kiryu for it, and blowing up the HQ with a bomb. Turns out that Yahata, captain of the family, isn't as dense as Aoyama hoped as while he first buys it and attacks Kiryu, the HQ blowing up clues him in a day later that Kiryu didn't lay a finger on Madarame. A bomb is way more than Kiryu could or would do, and now Aoyama's painted a target on himself.
  • RuneScape quest "One Piercing Note" has you investigating a series of murders in a convent, whose victims all have their feet mutilated. The first also has her face mutilated beyond recognition. This is supposed to tip the player off that the first victim is not Sister Anna as the other nuns had assumed, but the missing novice Isabella, dressed in Anna's habit and placed in her bed. Sister Anna is the killer.

    Visual Novels 
  • Danganronpa: Many of the mysteries in the series would be a lot harder to solve if the culprits hadn't insisted on giving themselves "perfect alibis", which always creates a chain of evidence leading back to them as the only person who had a reason to create such a convoluted set-up.
    • Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc:
      • Had anime otaku Hifumi not insisted on incorporating Transformers cosplay into his murder plans, his frameup job on Yasuhiro would probably have worked.
      • A notable one at the end: the photographs given to the students by Monokuma all have Junko Enoshima's face obscured. This is a key part of the final trial.
      • Furthermore, the act of making the body be rigged to explode to set it on fire was the clue to the body being someone they’d recognize had they not lost its face. The failure to burn off the fake nails on one hand makes this fail further. Unlike most examples, however, it’s quite likely Junko knew all this and was intentionally giving them a chance to win because her failure would bring her more despair.
    • Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair: The culprit of the third trial falls afoul of this in trying to make their first victim look like they committed suicide. As the Ultimate Nurse, Mikan should have been able to tell that Ibuki had died of strangulation rather than hanging, despite the killer hanging the body afterwards.
    • In Chapter 2 of Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, Kirumi most likely would have gotten away with killing Ryoma if she'd left the body in his Research Lab where the murder took place since none of the students had alibis for that time. Instead, Kirumi uses a ropeway over the pool area to move Ryoma's body to a water tank in the gym so it'll be eaten by piranhas during Himiko's magic show. She accidentally drops two pieces of evidence in the pool, which she can't retrieve due to Monokuma strictly forbidding going into the pool at night, and Shuichi realizes she's the only one who had the opportunity to set up the ropeway.
  • In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies, the desperate attempts of "the phantom" to keep his existence a secret, which includes at least two murders (three if you count him killing Bobby Fulbright and stealing his identity) and bombing a courtroom to destroy evidence, ultimately contributes to his undoing.
  • Fleuret Blanc. When Junior tries to deflect an investigation into the anonymous text messages, she does so by pinning it on Le Neuvieme — but the messages are in English, and Le Neuvieme only speaks French. When Florentine figures out the fabrication, she realizes Junior must have been the real culprit — why frame someone else, otherwise?
  • In Dr. Himuro's route of Metro PD: Close to You, during an interview the protagonist observes the mark of a ring on Yanagie's finger, as though he normally wore a ring on that finger but removed it before the interview. It strikes her as unusual enough to make note of in her report and to ask the victim's grandson about it, with the result that she and Himuro are eventually able to make the connection between the custom-designed ring and an unexplained mark on the victim's neck, implicating Yanagie in the murder. Had he not tried to hide the ring by taking it off before speaking to the police, the protagonist probably wouldn't have noticed it at all.

  • In Freefall, Sam puts it rather succinctly when trying to remove embarrassing footage of himself.
    Sam: My original mistakes never draw half the attention as my attempts to cover them up do.
  • Girl Genius:
    • Lampshaded in these two strips, where Tarvek teaches Vrin the right way to cover up things that are best kept hidden.
    • Later, Baron Wulfenbach instantly realizes something's wrong when he receives word that Prince Aaronev Sturmvoraus, whom he knows to be truly meticulous in his work, was killed in a "lab accident".
    • And before that, two Jaegermonsters discuss "De kind of plan vere hyu lose you hat".
  • Gunnerkrigg Court:
    • Ysengrin tries to pull one of these off on this page. Four pages later, Jones points it out, calling it a "fairly transparent ruse" (apparently, being on "the brink of insanity" was why Ysengrin didn't think to just drop the seeds while Coyote and Reynardine were arguing).
    • An odd meta-example: Antimony was given the Faceless Masses treatment on pages 399 and 400, presumably so she wouldn't distract from the foreground. Several fans took notice of this, and theorized that there was some sinister significance behind Annie's blank-faced grin.
  • Nodwick's hometown. No secret societies taking it over. Nope.
  • Ozy and Millie: Tiberius takes the cake. He's in charge of the UFO cover-up conspiracy but managed to pull this trope. What makes it particularly embarrassing is that UFOs genuinely don't exist in this comic.
  • xkcd: One strip had a character get a personalized car plate with a mixed series of ones and upper-case I's, thinking that he could never get identified because eyewitnesses wouldn't get the exact symbols right. Unfortunately, the plate is still uniquely eye-catching and allow the police to catch him - especially once they just write down the information for 'the guy with the stupid plate' on a post-it note. The alt-text reveals that it also immediately made him really easy to frame for additional crimes by getting a plate with a different mix.

    Web Original 
  • This very wiki sometimes falls into this when it comes to spoilers.
    • The spoiler tags, whether they're placed next to incomplete sentences or not. Of course, the idea is to let people know they shouldn't read these parts, but it can't deter curiosity. This can get particularly bad on Character pages: if a character has a huge amount of spoilered text in their examples, you can be pretty sure that there is a major twist of some kind that they are involved in.
    • Badly-placed spoiler tags can do this. For example, if someone apparently dies (only to show up again many issues later), and an article describes it as "her apparent death"... there are very few words that would fit into that spot, and most of them indicate that the person's still around in some sense. So unless we all get into the habit of saying "her real, permanent, not a dream, not a robot, not an imaginary story! death", it's probably best to stick the spoiler at the end, where it could mean any number of things, including things that happened to someone else entirely.note 
    • Likewise, this is the entire reason why we have the Walking Spoiler trope. If you're reading the "Characters" subpage for a work, and you notice that a character has more than half of his or her entries whited out — often to the point where even trope names are covered up — you're probably looking at a character who is at the center of a major twist, such as him or her turning out to be a villain, dying early, or having an important secret.
  • When the titular Homestar Runner gets something stuck in his craw he tries to cover up the resulting lump by putting a wig on it or painting it green with red stripes (against a yellow shirt). This only leads to other characters commenting on how gross it is. It turns out to be his Iconic Outfit red shirt
  • Mentioned in episode two of RABBITS, when Concernicus Jones asks Carly Parker why she uses a podcast to document her search for her missing friend, Yumiko. Carly has a few reasons, one of which is that it was her former boss' idea to use a public forum as a form of insurance. Jones takes that to mean that anyone who might want to silence Carly would think twice in order to avoid exposure in the process. He then dodges Carly's follow-up when she says Jones makes it sound like there's some sinister organization in the background.
  • Not Always Right and its sister sites get such stories. Most of them involve bad employees and managers.
    • After a child breaks her tooth, the dentist warns the mother that their insurance will not cover the treatment, and offers to heavily discount it out-of-pocket so the mother doesn't even have to make the claim. Mama Bear calls the insurance anyway to find out why it isn't covered, and both she and the insurance company find out the dentist has been making fraudulent claims.
    • The medical receptionists in this story claim that a patient skipped on payment for her appointment, to cover up that they took an unscheduled lunch break and abandoned the office (leaving the patient unable to pay).
    • This waitress insists that a customer is scamming free food when the customer claims that he and his wife never got their ordered food. And when the customer tries to defend themselves for being charged for not-received food, she gets her father, the manager, involved. Unfortunately, the owner of the restaurant knows better and reveals that the waitress had eaten the food herself. The owner comps the customer's meals, fires the waitress for stealing, and daddy manager follows shortly after for covering for his daughter.
    • These two gas stations are rivals in a company contest. The manager of one gas station accuses the manager of the other one to have cheated to win the contest, but only ends up revealing that he cheated himself when things got investigated.
    • The manager in this story fires an employee under completely fabricated sexual assault claims, to cover for his son botching the inventory check. Senior management then has to investigate the reported sexual assault. It doesn't take long for everybody to discover what actually happened, and both the manager and his son got fired.
    • This electronics store notices that electronics have been going missing, and one coworker loudly accuses the newly hired, ex-con employee to be the one stealing it. To nobody's surprise, the coworker was the one stealing and thinking the employee was a convenient scapegoat because of his past.
  • Black Jack Justice:
    • "Justice Incorporated" opens with a big-name lawyer wanting to buy the detectives' agency lock, stock, and barrel. However, the offer he makes is so good that it makes Jack and Trixie suspicious. Jack even lampshades that they would have been tempted by a lower offer, but an offer as great as the one they were given just put them on edge. They soon discover why the lawyer wanted to buy the agency: access to Trixie's old case files, which contained photos of his client, a corrupt judge running for public office, with a gangster's girl. Trixie had used the photos to force him to straighten up, or at least stay under the radar, but the photos coming out would sink his career, political, judicial, and criminal alike.
    • "The Do-Nothing Detectives" has Jack and Trixie hired to cease their investigations on behalf of a client they did not actually have. Trixie is initially content to let their new, incompetent client pay off the wrong detectives, but Jack finds himself investigating despite being contractually obliged to do no such thing. He goes so far as to get Lt. Sabien to arrest himself and Trixie as material witnesses in order to force them to act. It's revealed the man who hired them was being blackmailed by the woman they were paid to leave alone and her accomplice, whose name the man used when he hired Jack and Trixie. His plan was to kill his blackmailers in what as meant to look like a murder-suicide and have Jack and Trixie be witnesses once they both turned up dead. Jack, Trixie, and Sabien all acknowledge that the whole plan is so screwball they couldn't not investigate it.
    • "The Mark Two Caper": Jack and Trixie are hired by a man who refers to himself only as "Simon" to find a briefcase whose contents he absolutely refuses to elaborate on, claiming he's a federal agent hiring the detectives to pursue local leads his men wouldn't be able to follow as easily and the case's contents are classified. Jack and Trixie make their dislike for this situation clear, but also take the case in order to get paid. In their investigation they discover there's a circular being distributed to local police precincts that, while still secretive, offers more detail than their client Simon did, such as the contents of the briefcase. The fact that official circulars are being more upfront than an actual agent makes the detectives realize that "Simon" is a spy, he's just not an American spy. He originally stole the briefcase, subsequently lost it and is desperate to retrieve it but, for obvious reasons, can't contact his superiors to ask for help.

    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 
  • Codename: Kids Next Door: In "Operation: E.N.D.", someone up in global command tampers with the KND database, upping the ages of Sector V to thirteen, causing Numbuh 86 to go after them for mandatory decommissioning. Numbuh 1 searches for the perpetrator and the reason as to why this happened, rejecting help from Chad (Numbuh 274), who informed him of the conspiracy ahead of the decommissioning squad. As it turned out, Chad was responsible for what happened, in order to cover up the fact that he was turning thirteen (he falsified his age months ago, but his parents decided to throw a birthday party, forcing him to decommission everyone on the mailing list, starting with Sector V). And all Nigel had to do was look at his mail to find out.
  • In the The Legend of Korra episode "The Terror Within", Aiwei sets up on a random guard when investigating how the villains infiltrated the ironclad-security city of Zaofu and almost succeeded in abducting Korra. Mako realizes the guard would have been only 5 when the villains were imprisoned 13 years ago making it implausible he had any connections with them and thus suspect Aiwei who's Living Lie Detector meant he'd have known his innocence and was the only one who could get away with lying.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Near the end of "A Canterlot Wedding, Part One", Twilight Sparkle's slanderous and unfounded claims that her brother's wife-to-be is an evil imposter has resulted in her friends, her brother, and the princess losing their trust in her, leaving her a doubt-filled wreck. Instead of talking her into going back to Ponyville in shame, or just leaving her alone, the evil imposter decides to reveal her true nature and sends Twilight down to the dungeons, where she finds the real bride, realizes she was right all along and organizes a breakout followed by a wedding interruption.
  • Used in ReBoot: Hexadecimal's extra security concerning The Medusa, a weapon she's developing, prompts Megabyte to steal it in hopes of gaining the power it's sure to have. The twist being that this was exactly what she wanted to happen, and he becomes the Medusa bug's first victim, while she gloats.
  • Invoked in Roswell Conspiracies: Aliens, Myths and Legends, where agents Fitz and Nema use Bad "Bad Acting" to "cover-up" nonexistent conspiracies, in order to distract from their own.
  • Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated had Mr. E invoke this trope on Scooby and co. He gave the gang just enough information about the former Mystery Inc. to get them interested and let the attempts of Crystal Cove's adults to hide anything about it keep the kids interested in order to draw them into the real secret of the town a hidden treasure that, unknown to even Mr. E, is cursed and hiding an Eldritch Abomination who's been luring mystery solvers to it for centuries.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars: In "The Lost One", Anakin and Obi-Wan have come to the planet Oba Diah, headquarters of the Pyke Syndicate, investigating the circumstances of the death of Jedi Master Sifo-Dyas over a decade before. They're questioning Silman, aide to former chancellor Finis Valorum, about why the Pykes were hired to kill Sifo-Dyas. Silman has gone mad from over a decade in a dungeon, and can't coherently explain what happened. Just as Obi-Wan and Anakin are trying to get him to tell them the identity of the man who wanted Sifo-Dyas dead, someone starts Force-choking Silman — it's Count Dooku, come to clear up a few loose ends from Sifo-Dyas' death, and in the process giving the Jedi the answer they were looking for.
  • Star Wars Rebels:
    • "Warhead": An Imperial infiltrator droid lands on Atollon, and Zeb winds up having to deal with it. Since its memory can't be erased without triggering its Self-Destruct Mechanism, he has AP-5 reprogram it so it'll detonate when it reconnects to the Imperial network. While this succeeds in obfuscating which droid was compromised, it also narrows the possible location of the rebel base down to 94 planets, as there were only around 100 droids and all of their destinations were on record. Ezra did delete Atollon from the list later on, but Thrawn stopped relying on the database a while later.
    • "Through Imperial Eyes": Agent Kallus ends up framing Lieutenant Lyste as being Fulcrum. The problem is, he set Lyste up too well. Thrawn and Yularen both agree that the events in question are beyond Lyste's capabilities, but it isn't until Ezra's helmet, painted with Sabine's distinctive artwork is brought in that Thrawn realizes who The Mole really is. Ezra altering Thrawn's database may have barely escaped his notice while all that was happening, but it didn't matter because Kallus was just half the puzzle Thrawn needed to find Phoenix Squadron's base.
  • Superman: The Animated Series: In "The Late Mr. Kent", Clark interviews a death row inmate, concludes that he's probably innocent, and digs up some exonerating evidence. This causes the real killer to plant a bomb in his car, leading to a chain of events that exposes him and gets him executed. If he'd just let the original suspect go free, the case almost certainly would have remained unsolved, especially considering that the real killer is a police detective who is in a perfect position to sabotage any new investigation.

    Real Life 
  • That there was a cover-up at all may actually constitute evidence of guilt, in some cases. If a statute requires that an action was taken "with corrupt intent", or that it was undertaken "knowingly", the defendant's counsel might argue that they did not have the necessary intent or knowledge. If, however, the defendant took part in any action to conceal the first crime, then that itself may be construed as being evidence of that intent or knowledge. It's hard to argue that you didn't know you were doing anything wrong if you got caught trying to prevent that wrongdoing from ever being discovered.note 
  • There’s a saying in politics: “It's not the crime, it's the cover-up”. Often in a scandal, the only actual convictions that result come from the cover-up rather than the crime itself. Partly this is because, in the United States, obstruction of justice laws are so broad that they can be interpreted to cover almost anything. Sometimes it's because the real evidence was successfully destroyed by the cover-up, and so the only evidence left is for the cover-up. Finally, when confronting a defendant who they feel is guilty but without enough evidence to convict, a jury will search for some lesser charge like obstruction to nail them on. Also, the original crime may have been committed by a relatively junior member of an important person’s staff, without the boss’s explicit knowledge. If this comes out, it will be embarrassing for the boss but probably survivable. However, as it starts to come out, the problem is escalated to the top of the organisation — which means that the boss does have knowledge of any attempted cover-up.
    • Martha Stewart was found guilty of concealing evidence that she'd engaged in insider trading, but not of actual insider trading itself. Due to a quirk in American legal law, the prosecution couldn't quite prove that what she had done fit the definition of insider trading, but they could absolutely prove that she'd been lying about it and was trying to cover it up.
    • Bill Clinton was impeached over his affair with Monica Lewinsky. However, while tacky and morally reprehensible, cheating on one's spouse isn't actually illegal in America, even for politicians. Instead, Clinton was indicted over perjuring himself by lying to a grand jury to cover-up said affair. His defenders argued that the "crime" itself was so silly that the cover-up shouldn't be prosecutable, while his detractors said that Clinton still broke the law by lying about it, even if it was a silly crime.
    • The excesses of the Nixon Administration might not have become public if flunkies hadn't been carrying out completely unnecessary break-ins, with more cunning plans piled on top to prevent the preceding cunning plans from coming to light, which instead attracted even more attention. Similarly, Nixon himself might have been able to escape relatively unscathed by the Watergate scandal... had he not fired the Special Counsel investigating him, prompting the resignation of both his Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General in what was later dubbed the Saturday Night Massacre. The saying "It's not the crime, it's the cover-up" apparently originated with Watergate.
  • The potential pitfall of retroactive classification. Operation Dark Heart definitely also qualifies in this respect: "By censoring Anthony Shaffer’s new book “Operation Dark Heart” even though uncensored review copies are already available in the public domain, the Department of Defense has produced a genuinely unique product: a revealing snapshot of the way that the Obama Administration classifies national security information in 2010."
  • The publishing company behind the Harry Potter books, in their rush to snuff out leaks, might have confirmed the authenticity of said leaks by issuing highly visible subpoenas to certain websites. If they'd allowed the leaks to persist, they might be indiscernible from the huge amount of fake spoilers being posted up.
  • An incompetent version of this was behind the whole Roswell mystery. When a rancher discovered some strange debris on his property, the top brass realized that it was actually a balloon from a secret government project called Project Mogul (the balloons were supposed to be an early-warning system in the event of a nuclear strike). Since Project Mogul was top secret, the government quickly confiscated the debris and ordered a press conference denying that it was anything but a weather balloon. Sometime after that, word got out that the weather balloon story was a cover-up. Project Mogul was still classified, so they could only confirm that yes, the weather balloon story was a cover-up, and no, they couldn't disclose what it was covering up. Bear in mind that this was the height of UFO sightings in the USA, and you have the explanation from how things went from "a few plastic strips and metal rods found on a ranch" to "OMG ALIENS!!!"note  The notoriety of the Incident also stems from the fact that the first cover story used actually was "we've captured a flying saucer." (This lasted for about a day, and was the brainchild of a foolhardy local PR officer.) The replacement "weather balloon" cover passed without notice for decades; it was only in the 1970s (once eyewitnesses became conveniently hard to locate) that UFO enthusiasts could latch onto the original cover story as a "smoking gun" and build an entertaining conspiracy theory out of it.
  • Scientology's Operation Snow White was started with the intention of expunging all "unfavorable" material pertaining to the cult. Scarily, 5,000 of the organization's agents penetrated the IRS, FBI and other US government organizations, the largest such infiltration in history, and did manage to abscond with the "erroneous" documents. Two Scientologists were caught essentially red-handed by the FBI, and from there the whole plot unraveled and ended up with several prominent Scientologists getting hefty fines or prison sentences, including L. Ron Hubbard's wife. The resultant publicity caused a backlash against the Church and indirectly led to its banning in several countries.
  • During WWII, many nuclear physicists correctly deduced that their foreign colleagues were working on top-secret atomic bomb programs because they were no longer publishing research papers.
    • Specifically, the Soviet nuclear scientist Georgy Flyorov stumbled upon this by accident. He had written a paper on spontaneous nuclear fission that was nominated for a Stalin Prize but rejected because western scientists had taken no notice of it even though he published an article in Physical Review. Peeved, Flyorov leafed through U.S. physical journals in search of a review of his work when he noticed that not only was there none, but there were no articles at all about nuclear fission. This led him to the conclusion that the (at first still neutral) American government had made the matter a state secret because it was working on producing a nuclear bomb. However, it actually was a subversion, as American physicists had decided among themselves in April 1940 (about a year before the launch of the atom bomb program) to stop publishing anything pertaining to nuclear fission in order not to give anything away that might help the Germans build a nuclear bomb.
    • Averted when sci-fi writer Cleve Cartmill wrote a short story called "Deadline" that described how to build a uranium-fission bomb; it was published in the March 1944 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. The FBI demanded the issue be removed from the newsstands, but Astounding editor John W. Campbell convinced them this would only draw unwanted attention.
    • A similar aversion occurred with Dr. Strangelove, as the model B-52 bomber was so accurate that the military initially wanted it altered until someone pointed out that doing so would run afoul of this trope.note 
  • One of the first things arson and police investigators look for in the case of fires that have had fatalities is evidence the victims were dead first and the fire used to hide that fact.
  • This fact has saved several journalists that have speculated on classified information. In 1944, a crossword puzzle in a London newspaper coincidentally used several codewords for the upcoming Normandy landings and massive deception campaign. It turned out that the author had no idea that he was using the codewords, but nothing was done as doing anything would draw attention to it. It was later revealed that his students had overheard the words being used around military camps and presented them to him. Similarly, though in a less innocent case, Col. Robert R. McCormick, the isolationist publisher of the Chicago Tribune, speculated that the US had broken Japanese codes and was left alone so to avoid drawing attention.
  • One theory regarding John Muhammad, the DC Beltway Sniper, was that his random killings were a setup so he could eventually kill his ex-wife in the same manner, knowing that he could avoid the usual suspicion of the ex-husband if she were believed to be a random victim. Due to the massive media coverage of the case, he was caught before executing this plan.
  • The Dreyfus affair started as a bad investigation and a worse trial sending an innocent man to a Hellhole Prison. When the errors were being unravelled step by step, the perpetrators choose to defend the initial error and the real perpetrator by more and more lies and outright forgery, ending with a grotesque anti-Semitic conspiracy theory about a "Jewish syndicate". It didn't work.
  • Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert's sexual abuse scandal came to light after federal investigators looked into his illegally structuring hush money payments to his victims to avoid his bank reporting large transactions to the government as required by law.note  Incidentally, this provision was part of the PATRIOT Act, a law he had championed.
  • Border control agencies become highly suspicious of packages being sent over the border, either through the postal service or by being carried by passengers, the second they see carbon paper. This is due to an urban myth that carbon paper absorbs X-rays and makes whatever is hidden within invisible to X-ray machines. Criminals attempting to smuggle drugs this way only end up giving themselves away.
    • Likewise with any effort to throw drug-sniffing dogs off by concealing the contraband in something seemingly "innocent" like coffee grounds or peanut butter; dogs are trained to discreetly alert on those smells, particularly when they smell them in places that no one would expect to smell them like a car's front grille.
  • Copy Protection for games often involves deliberately introducing errors on a disc in specific places. When the game is run, it checks for these errors, which the operating system's copy function will skip over. When the copy is run, the game will notice that there's no error and it's not running off the original disc. There are ways to make exact "bit-for-bit" copies that will fool naive copy protection schemes.
  • Donald Trump's administration over the United States government:
    • During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen paid at least two women not to reveal their sexual relationships with Trump. It was already public knowledge that Trump had previously engaged in extra-marital sex and it had little impact on his support, even among evangelicals, whom one would expect to be most bothered by it. An ongoing investigation of this and other matters related to the Trump campaign has, as of February 2019, led to at least three dozen people being indicted with several of them, including Cohen, becoming witnesses for the investigation. To make matters worse, it also prompted investigation into many other aspects of Trump's life, such as his charitable organization, his business, and his family, on the grounds that Trump's repeated denials about the payoff through Cohen implied he was lying about everything else as well.
    • In June 2019, the Supreme Court ruled against the Trump administration’s proposed question about citizenship in the 2020 census for this reason. The reason for adding the question, according to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, was that they wanted to enforce the Voting Rights Act better, a motive seen as highly implausible at best. Turns out that a Republican operative named Thomas Hofeller had done a study in 2015 in which he discovered the citizenship question would help Republicans keep majority standing in the U.S. House and more state legislatures in future elections. Essentially, counting by citizenship, not total population, would benefit rural, white places whose voters vote more Republican over diverse, urban places whose voters vote more Democratic.note  It would also stop Republican bleeding in transitioning states with large populations of immigrants like Texas and Georgia. However, Hofeller didn’t destroy his hard drives before he passed away in August 2018 and his daughter found his communications about the VRA coverup story as well as the hard data. In his majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts stated that the citizenship question was not necessarily inherently problematic but that the sloppy inclusion and cover-up called for the executive branch to clear up its story. The Trump administration announced the next week that they wouldn’t defend the case at the circuit level and that they would print the forms without the question. It also seems many administration officials, including Ross, lied about the question while under oath. For instance, the Administration's official story was that the Commerce Department requested the question, while in actuality the Administration had already decided to add the question and had contacted Ross to provide some sort of justification after the fact.
  • As a rule of thumb, whenever you see an article with a headline ending in a question mark (e.g., "Is Bob a pedophile?"), it's probably not truenote , as if the writer/publisher/editor had stand-up-in-court proof, they would simply say it. Phrasing it as a question is done so they (probably) can't be sued for libel if it turns out to be false (or they are just making the whole thing up). It's most commonly known today as Betteridge's law of headlines after British technology writer Ian Betteridge, who wrote about it in a 2009 story.
  • When journalist Brian Deer began investigating Andrew Wakefield's study into the alleged connection between the MMR vaccine and autism, Wakefield attempted to shut him up by suing him for libel. This backfired massively, as not only did this act validate Deer's suspicions even further, but the terms of the lawsuit ensued that Deer would have full access to Wakefield's research notes and be able to see all the inconsistencies and lies firsthand. note 


Video Example(s):


Siegfried Tries Too Hard

Siegfried's attempt to hide the fact he's wearing a false nose reveals to Max that he's up to something.

How well does it match the trope?

3.5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / RevealingCoverup

Media sources:

Main / RevealingCoverup