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Underling with an F in PR

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An underling or ally (usually for a Villain with Good Publicity, Hero with Bad Publicity, or other Slave to PR) who does not get that his boss' orders are meant to be carried out with secrecy and subtlety, that the pretense that the boss is good/reformed/having good goals needs to be upheld in front of witnesses, or that just because the underling is a Card-Carrying Villain doesn't mean the boss is. Often prone to Stupid Evil, Euphemism Buster, and Idiotic Partner Confession. Very likely to be the cause of a Beleaguered Boss.

Can be played for Cringe Comedy. Often seen in conjunction with Instantly Proven Wrong (where the underling inadvertently contradicts his boss), Number Two for Brains or Overzealous Underling (where this is a result of the character's idiocy/overenthusiasm), Sparing Them the Dirty Work (who will do dirty deeds behind their friend's back in order to support their cause), and Liar Revealed (where the underling's indifference to the need-to-know policy reveals his boss' machinations). The more intelligent villains may point out that At Least I Admit It when told off for not using code. Leave No Witnesses may ensue, depending on how many people heard the incriminating words.

Compare From the Mouths of Babes and Innocently Insensitive for characters who can use age as an excuse. Contrast Pragmatic Villainy.

Sister Trope to Minion with an F in Evil and Hero with an F in Good where characters fail an important moral aspect of their job.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Overlord:
    • Ainz's underlings in general have great difficulty in being even remotely friendly towards humans (as all of them are heteromorphic species, "no humans allowed" being one of the basic rules of the guild), which goes against Ainz's dream of peace and cooperation between the many races of the new world. And while he no longer has the means to directly change their personalities, he also loaths to order them to act nice, because they aren't responsible for the personalities their creators gave them (and as some of their creators were going through an edgelord phase, quite a few of those personalities have serious issues).
    • He even tries to get them to play an RPG as humans to better understand how they think... and all it does is confirm their view that humans are worthless creatures barely fit to serve Nazarick.
    • Narberal Gamma, chosen by Ainz to accompany him in his adventurer guise as she's the most human-looking of the Pleiades combat maid squad, turns out to be incapable of referring to humans as anything other than some kind of insect or arachnid, finding a different species to use every time. The only human she shows the slightest hint of respect is Enri, and only because she expressed her admiration for Ainz out loud.
    • Ainz himself is all-too-well aware that he's improvising his "impossibly wise and powerful lich" schtick and secretly watches Emperor Jircniv to see how he does it (which does wonders for the Emperor's mounting paranoia). However, he seems blissfully unaware that a skeletal lich whose first public action was to singlehandedly slaughter more than 180,000 people with a single spell might be at odds with the friendly image he tries to project, and doesn't understand why the Emperor roots against him during a gladiatorial match.
    • The Katze Plains massacre is perhaps the best illustration:
      Having met Ainz in person, Jircniv knows that allying with him is a temporary measure at best, and that other nations must witness Ainz's power firsthand in order to see the threat he poses and ally against him, so he asks Ainz to use his most powerful spell during the annual battle during the Empire and the Kingdom (using Ainz's territorial claims as the casus belli).
      Ainz dutifully casts Dark Young, a spell that eliminates three-quarters of the opposing army by first instakilling 70,000 soldiers and uses their deaths as fuel to summon five Eldritch Abominations that stomp on the soldiers who didn't flee in time.
      Jircniv's reputation takes a dive as it's widely believed he knew what would happen and made a Deal with the Devil, meaning other nations view with suspicion and not a little horror. Ainz, of course, is completely unaware of the implications: the reason he used such a flashy and overkill spell was to attract the attention of any other people Trapped in Another World like himself, he could just as easily have won the battle with the 500 Death Knights he'd brought along.
  • Lady Une, the fierce Number Two of Treize Khushrenada in Mobile Suit Gundam Wing causes a PR nightmare early in the series when she openly broadcasts a message threatening to nuke the colonies that the Gundam pilots represent if they don't back down. Treize is less than impressed by both her tactics and the heavy-handed way she carried them out and rebukes her for it, forcing her to undergo some character evolution.

    Comic Books 
  • Asterix: In Asterix in Corsica, the Roman governor is planning to pull a Screw This, I'm Outta Here with the year's taxes (and leaving the garrison to their fates) when the Corsicans inevitably attack. Unfortunately, the one soldier he uses as his co-conspirator for his idiocy also shouts out the plan unprovoked when two other Romans talk to him, leading to the garrison demanding an explanation, rebelling when they find those explanations unconvincing and putting him in the (very) front line against the Corsicans.
  • Tintin: In Tintin: The Red Sea Sharks, Captain Haddock finds himself in charge of a cargo ship full of black Muslims. When the villains' buyer (who thinks Haddock is substituting for the usual captain) comes aboard and starts examining the passenger's muscles and teeth, Haddock angrily tells him the man isn't a slave, and the buyer rebukes Haddock for using the "s" word instead of "coke"note  in front of witnesses. Haddock goes ballistic, bellowing insults at the fleeing slaver even after he's out of hearing range.
  • Subverted in Preacher, where a young Starr is tasked with eliminating two journalists who managed to get info on the Grail and are currently being held in a mental hospital. Starr justifies his blowing up the entire hospital by pointing out that killing just the journalists would posthumously prove them Properly Paranoid.
  • In one issue of Damage Control, an employee of the Latverian embassy has been embezzling and making up the difference by refusing to pay the bills for outside contractors. This was a Retcon of the memetic comic where Doctor Doom skips the country to avoid paying Luke Cage $200.
    Doom: There is but one penalty for your crimes... You are... fired!
  • The Boys: Two supers on the Starter Villain team were putting on an appearance at a children's hospital. Or rather, one put on a show with his Shock and Awe powers, the other raided the supply cabinet. As the team's leader put it later when pictures of this (and the rest of the team's "playtime" activities) have been sent to them:
    "YOU STOLE PAINKILLERS FROM A FUCKING CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL!!! On what was supposed to be a PR opportunity!"

    Fan Works 
  • The Mountain and the Wolf: While it doesn't cause her any public embarrassment (every time the Wolf opens his mouth, just about everyone finds themselves opposing what he says on general principle), the Wolf would likely have become one of these to Daenerys, as evidenced by his proposal for dealing with the Lannister soldiers. Namely, publicly torturing them to death to ensure her name would only be spoken with fear and dread for all time. Daenerys, who very much intends to rule peacefully, shuts him down in no uncertain terms.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Cannonball: One of the side-plots of the film is about a Dirty Cop named Terry cheating his way to victory by flying his Ford Bronco from California to New York, picking up his lover on the way and spending some time to make the lie realistic having sex on a motel. Unfortunately for Terry, said lover is a complete airhead that casually blurts out the scheme when Terry cannot find the champagne to celebrate their arrival at the finish line ("I think we left it on the plane!"), getting them disqualified. The last we see of her is her doing a happy "oops!" face in response to Terry's annoyance as they are swarmed by reporters and race officials.
  • Hellboy: Hellboy is a Big Red Devil who's part of a secret government agency charged with eliminating supernatural threats before the public gets wind of them. Hellboy apparently didn't get the memo on that last part, because he enjoys having his picture taken with people, much to the director's chagrin. Note that in the comics, his existence is in no way a secret, and in fact nobody ever bats an eye at his appearance.
  • In Casablanca, when Louis Renault closes Rick's Cafe early, his underling Émile undermines his stated reason for shutting the establishment down:
    Rick: How can you close me up? On what grounds?
    Louis: I am shocked, shocked, to find that gambling is going on in here!
    Émile: [handing him a stack of bills] Your winnings, sir.
    Louis: Oh thank you very much. [shouting to casino patrons] Everybody out at once!
  • The Patriot (2000): Colonel Tavington, the field commander of the British dragoons, adopts extremely harsh policies towards the Americans, having wounded enemy soldiers gunned down and setting fire to the homes of non-combatants who sheltered them. General Cornwallis berates Tavington for his savagery, calling it unbecoming of an Officer and a Gentleman and reminding him of the King's wishes that there will be a reconciliation with the colonists (their fellow countrymen) after the rebellion is put down. He later rightfully points out that Tavington's cruelty has directly motivated men like Benjamin Martin to take up arms.
  • Played for Drama in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Adrian Toomes/The Vulture sets up an underground arms dealing ring. One of his coworkers, Jackson Brice, unwittingly draws attention to the organization by demonstrating their weapons out in the open, getting Spider-Man on their case. Adrian is furious at him, but Jackson doesn't change his stubborn, loose-cannon ways, and it ends up getting him killed.
    Adrian: How many times have I told you not to fire them out in the open?
    Jackson: Hey, you said "move the merchandise."
    Adrian: Under the radar! Under the radar! That's how we survive!
  • In Lethal Weapon 2 and Lethal Weapon 3, the first act involves underlings of the Big Bad in each movie doing something foolish that catches the LAPD's attention (in 2, a traffic stop leads to the LAPD discovering a trunk of Kruggerand currency; in 3, underlings attempt and fail an armored truck robbery with guns that were supposedly already taken in as evidence and destroyed by the police). As both main villains are operating as villains with respectable standing — Arjen Rudd as a South African diplomat, Jack Travis as a land developer — neither are pleased and immediately off said underlings for the trouble.

  • Dave Barry's Tricky Business: The Big Bad Wannabe's Brainless Beauty secretary (hired on the basis of her bra size) is ordered to inform the Media Scrum outside that he's not here. She does this by announcing "He says he's not here!"
  • Frederick Forsyth's Icon: When Aldrich Ames betrays the names of 13 Russians working for the CIA, the KGB decides to arrest them all, simultaneously. The lower-ranking agents running the operation practically weep with despair, saying the KGB might as well have taken out an ad in The New York Times, informing the CIA that "we have a high-ranking mole in your agency and here's a list of the people he's given us." Fortunately for the KGB, and Ames, the CIA is too thick to take the hint, instead deciding that all 13 agents must have made some kind of careless mistake, at more or less the same time.
  • Soul Music: Ridcully and Stibbons are trying to study the "music with rocks in" phenomenon, which they do by trapping the music in a box. Unfortunately, Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler (the biggest and least successful conman on the Disc) sees them, and Stibbons starts explaining what they're doing "with the undirected excitement of the true discoverer and idiot", despite Ridcully stomping repeatedly on his foot. Sure enough, Dibbler is next seen trying to replicate the wizards' experiment, but since he's using a crappy Garage Band instead of the actual rock players the results are disappointing.
    Ridcully: Never give a monkey the key to the banana plantation.
  • Brother Cadfael: In "The Rose Rent", Miles' mother starts boasting about her son's generosity in front of the sheriff, going on about how he gave a pair of his old boots away to a man (who was later found dead). Miles desperately tries to stop her, but by then it's too late: Cadfael and Hugh were wondering why the dead man (and presumed culprit) owned boots that didn't fit and whose distinctive prints were found at the site of the first murder, identifying Miles as the story's culprit.
  • The killers in Shadow Prey target businessmen and politicians who are prejudiced against Native Americans and hope to inspire other oppressed Native Americans to take the initiative. In the final act, their two leaders are exasperated when their hot-headed main enforcer and son (they both slept with his mother around the time he was conceived and helped raise him together) keeps deciding Murder Is the Best Solution for dealing with people who aren't on their list of targets. His actions make the group as a whole look more bloodthirsty and hypocritical than it is, something they never fully shake off.
    Sam Crow: That fucking kid is ruinin' us.
  • Inverted in the Sherlock Holmes story "His Last Bow", where von Bork the German spy mentions that his career was nearly ruined when the German chancellor openly mentioned information that could only have been obtained by von Bork.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Blackadder Goes Forth: At the end of Blackadder S 4 E 5 General Hospital (which centers around a spy hunt in a hospital), Nurse Mary has been arrested as a German spy. Lt. George mentions this is going to make for a very interesting letter to his uncle Hermann. In Munich.
  • Kaamelott: In "La Révolte", Arthur and Léodagan are negotiating with peasants on strike, in a brilliant display of Léodagan's inimitable take on diplomacy.
    Guethenoc: And how do you explain that nothing ever improves?
    Léodagan: Because we've got more important things to deal with!
    Guethenoc: What!? Revolt!!! We'll burn everything down, no need to ask where that came from!
    Léodagan: I'm going to sic the guards on your asses, we'll see how fast it takes to get the harvest in!
    Arthur: [aside to Léodagan] I'm going to negotiate by myself for a while, if you don't mind.
    Guethenoc: Just to feed the nobs, we work 20 hours a day! We spend our lives freezing our asses off! Feet in dung from morning to night! We carry so much crap that at 25 we're half-dead! And what do we get out of it?
    Léodagan: A good kick in the nuts!
    Arthur: Will you shut UP?!
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Roose Bolton's hopes of uniting the North by marrying his son Ramsay to Sansa Stark fall apart because Ramsay rapes and abuses Sansa, which only makes the rest of the North, which is intensely loyal to the Stark family, hate the Boltons even more. When he tries to curb his son's behavior, Ramsay murders him and kills off his wife and child.
    • Gregor "The Mountain" Clegane, the Lannisters' Psycho for Hire, never really cares about his actions on the Lannisters' reputation (if anything, that's what he's there for). But during his duel with Oberyn Martell, he gleefully confesses that he was the one who killed Elia Martell's children, raped her, and smashed her head in (as he smashes in Oberyn's head), which would not have done the Lannisters any favors if Oberyn hadn't pulled a Mutual Kill.
  • In Luke Cage (2016), the entire conflict of the first season is kicked off when Cottonmouth’s right-hand man Tone disobeys his orders and shoots up Pops’ barber shop in a clumsy effort to kill a target who’s hiding there, despite the fact that said barber shop is supposed to be neutral ground. This earns Cottonmouth’s gang the ire of both Luke Cage and the entire Harlem community, and things generally go massively downhill from there. Even worse, Pops was a close personal friend of Cottonmouth (which is why he respected this rule — Tone knew this all perfectly well and still considered that it made Cottonmouth look weak) and ends up dying in the shootout, while the actual target gets away, making the whole thing pointless. No points for guessing what Cottonmouth does to Tone after hearing about all this.

    Video Games 

    Web Comics 

    Web Videos 
  • Joueur du Grenier: During the "Project Hospital" LP, the government-sent accountant is giving an interview assuring that everything is going fine. The head of medicine staggers onscreen, still clutching his (emptied) whiskey bottle to confirm it, why it's been a whole 20 minutes since the last patient died! The consultant shoves him away, says to ignore him because he's always drunk, and then she asks if they could not use that last sentence.
  • In Soviet Womble's "Random Arma Bullshittery Part 9, Womble tries to lead the resistance (known as the Badgers or Moltos Independence Liberation Front to everyone but him) to be morally upstanding and focus on liberating the island of Altis from Russian troops; however, the rest of the ZF note  clan constantly undermine him and his hearts and minds initiative by shooting civilians and one another (in the former case this was because of bugs, the latter because someone went AFK in real life), killing dogs, and then executing Russian soldiers who have clearly surrendered and even using suicide bombers. The former leads Womble to believe that the group have crossed the Moral Event Horizon and eventually, the combined antics of everyone else lead him to declare Then Let Me Be Evil and say "fuck it" from a PR standpoint. When the resistance is eventually wiped out, it turns out that Altis and its citizens decide that the Russian occupation is the lesser of two evils, while the rest of the world condemns them as terrorists.
  • Ultra Fast Pony: In "Batshy Crazy", Apple Bloom accidentally spoils Applejack's attempt to say she wasn't trying to kill Fluttershy.
    Twilight: And since Fluttershy is our friend, we're going to help her out of this problem, instead of just killing her.
    Applejack: Well, of course, Twilight! I wouldn't dream of doing it any other way.
    Apple Bloom: Hey, Applejack! I found your shotgun that you said you wanted to murder Fluttershy with, just like you specifically told me!

    Western Animation 
  • DuckTales (2017): Other than the leader Bradford Buzzard, every single member of FOWL is a bit too proud of being a Card-Carrying Villain, to the point that when they started recruiting people for his Nebulous Evil Organization, said goons refused to be part of it unless "Fiendish" was added to the acronym.
    [Bradford gets ready to escape the McDuck family with a helicopter, but they stop and notices that the copter has the FOWL emblem painted on the side where everybody can see it (revealing to the family for the first time who they are dealing with); they immediately do a Face Palm]
    Black Heron: Well, I suppose you'd rather fly around in an unmarked helicopter!
    Bradford: YES!!!
  • The Simpsons: One episode has Mayor Quimby remember he forgot to deliver Chief Wiggum's bribe for the month and give it to him... in front of most of Springfield's citizens.
    Chief Wiggum: And when you break the law, you gotta go to jail.
    Mayor Quimby: Uh, that reminds me, er, here's your monthly kickback.
    Chief Wiggum: You just... you couldn't have picked a worse time.
  • TaleSpin: "The Idol Rich"
    Kit: How'd you find us anyway?
    Col. Spigot: I simply examined the clues and my scintillating intellect deciphered where the idol was hidden.
    Sgt. Dunder: Yeah, and then we followed you.
    Col. Spigot: (swats him) Who asked you?!

    Real Life 
  • The Zimmermann Telegram was a secret German proposal to ally with Mexico during World War I, promising to return the 1838 borders in exchange for Mexico declaring war on the US (preventing them from sending supplies to Europe). As the US could not say how they got the telegram without revealing that the British had cracked German codes, the telegram was accused of being a British False Flag Operation... until Arthur Zimmermann (the man who'd written the telegram in the first place) helpfully told everyone that it was very much real. The US quickly went to war with Germany, who'd started sinking American ships, while Mexico made no attempt at reconquering its former territories (being in the middle of a civil war at the time. The Mexican President actually did have his generals contemplate attacking the U.S., but they all pointed out that it would've been suicidal).
  • If you have a product or service to sell, learn from the Ocean Marketing debacle and never hire this guy here to do any of your P.R. work.
  • Urban Legend holds that when the French president Félix Faure went Out with a Bang, the priest brought in to administer the last rites asked the police officer at the door "Le président a t-il toujours sa connaissance?" (meaning "is the president still conscious?", but can also be interpreted as "is the president's acquaintance still there?"). To which the officer replied, "Oh no, your reverence, she already went out the back door!"