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Truman proving that newspapers are always right.

"Remember to write us every day, and don't forget to include a photo of yourself holding up that day's newspaper."
Roseanne, Roseanne, "Springtime for David"

Report: Majority Of Newspapers Now Purchased By Kidnappers To Prove Date

The easiest way to prove that a photograph or video was taken recently is to make sure that it includes a recent newspaper, with the date and at least one article prominently visible. Since the front page of a newspaper is finalized mere hours before it is printed, it's impossible to accurately fake a newspaper from the future. Often this is a photo of a hostage or kidnap victim, and is being used to prove that were still alive as of the newspaper's print date.

While it can be done to try to prove a photo is old rather than recent, it's not nearly as reliable, especially if the photo is in black-and-white rather than color. Newspapers yellow over time unless carefully stored and handled, but they don't simply disappear; it's easy enough to get a paper from last week or ten years ago, if you want to include it in a photo you take today.

See Newspaper Dating for a slightly more science-fictional use of dates on newspapers.

Examples of Authentication by Newspaper include:

Films — Live-Action

  • In Call Northside 777 (1948), a reporter played by Jimmy Stewart proves a man's innocence by blowing up a wire service photo to show the date on a newspaper being held up by a paperboy in the background. (Though they didn't actually need to go that far—as long as they could see the headline they could tell what date it was from the paper's archives.) This may be the earliest example of this trope.
  • In Finding Kelly, this trope is not only used, but also explained, near the end after Kelly is finally found.
  • In Proof of Life, such a photograph is the titular evidence that the hostage isn't dead.
  • In Midnight Run, a bounty hunter takes a picture of his latest target with that day's newspaper. He shows it to the gangsters he's selling the target to before upping his price. The plan backfires because he didn't think to remove towels with the name of the hotel on them before he took the picture.
  • In Jingle All the Way, it's used to confirm that the toy the character was looking for was available that day.
  • In a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment in Hot Fuzz, after accusing Timothy Dalton's character of being a murderer, Nicholas Angel is foiled by camera footage that shows Dalton in his store when the murder was committed. After a few seconds of Angel's disappointed look, the camera cuts back to Dalton, and in the background, the security monitor is showing him very obviously holding up a recent newspaper, almost as though he knew someone would be checking the footage.
  • Near the end of S1m0ne, she is seen reading a headline about her own death.

Live-Action TV

  • Leverage uses this trope in "The First David Job". As part of their plan to sell a faked Michelangelo statue, they photograph their fake with a recent newspaper to prove to their victim that they actually have it.
  • Subverted in the 2008 special of Jonathan Creek. There was a video showing a kidnapped woman and that morning's local newspaper. It turned out that the woman in charge of the newspaper was in on it and released a swarm of bees at the local council's meeting so she could make sure she knew what the front page story would be.
    • There's also a variation in an earlier episode of Jonathan Creek where a woman gets an alibi due to a faked video of a stalker filming her while she flips through Thursday night's TV. It turns out that this was actually a videotape compiled out of splicing together recordings to make it look as though she was channel-hopping, and was recorded the night after.
    • Also used in the episode "Angel Hair" in which a group of men kidnap a woman and display a newspaper. This however backfires on the kidnappers. They want it to seem as though the woman is in on the kidnapping and is about to extort money out of her lover by pretending to be held hostage. Unfortunately their tactic of cutting off all her hair causes an inconsistency in the tape (which the recipient watches as it was being recorded live) considering they rig the set-up immediately after she had just participated in a catfight complete with hair-pulling. Coupled with the date that the newspaper provides, it seems impossible that the woman's hair grew back in so short a time.
  • This is served with a massive dose of Fridge Logic in Dexter's second season. Bad guy Little Chino gives the cops a video of him holding a newspaper as if it were proof that he was somewhere else on the day a murder took place. (It has a timestamp from the camera on it, but those can be faked pretty easily too...)
  • Happens in How I Met Your Mother in a way, where Ted tells Victoria her care package is already in the mail and he sent it a few days ago when in fact he hasn't made it yet. In said care package is the Big Applesauce Times from three days ago. (Which, of course, proves nothing.)
  • In Charmed episode 4 season 1: Piper makes a photo of crime lord Tony Wong, while he is holding the newspaper that reports his death, to prove he at least outlived his own death report.
  • Referenced in an episode of Stargate SG-1. Upon time-travelling back to ancient Egypt, Daniel grabs his camera claiming he wants to get proof the pyramids predate the Third Dynasty. Jack points out the obvious flaw in this plan by asking if he plans to include the local newspaper to "prove" the date.
  • Journeyman pulls off proof of age, but it is a time travel show. Dan takes Katie's wedding ring into the past, puts it in a toolbox with that day's newspaper, and buries it in what would become their backyard. Back in the present, Dan takes a sledgehammer to the patio to dig up the box:

 Katie: What are you doing?!

Dan: Saving my marriage.

Katie: Not really!

The newspaper doesn't actually prove anything, since getting a newspaper from years ago, putting it in a box, and burying it under your patio, without a trace, is merely very very difficult, not impossible. The ring is actually better proof, since she has seen her ring recently, and knows the patio hasn't been disturbed since it left her possession.
  • Parodied (of course) in a Saturday Night Live sketch following the invasion of Iraq that had Saddam Hussein sending out a video to prove to the Iraqis that he was still alive. As authentication, he held up a calendar with the day marked.
  • The Daily Show and The Colbert Report will often jokingly Lampshade the fact that they are recorded several hours before their 11:00 and 11:30 time slots by making vague remarks about the result of something major that was to take place that day, such as a vote or a sporting event. On the rare occasions they have done a live show (for elections), they did attempt to actually "prove" it.
  • A variant in Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip: The show-within-the-show is shown live on the East Coast, but tape-delayed for the West Coast. In one episode, they need to insert a live apology for the West Coast, and prove that it's live. They do so by having the actor give an up-to-the-second sports score.
  • In the White Collar episode "Front Man", a kidnapper has his victim record her proof-of-life video while holding a newspaper in order to make it more convincing.
  • In an episode of The Incredible Hulk a restaurant David works at is vandalized by a reporter cooking up a story to make it look like there are serious health code violations and may have to shut down. The previous morning they just happened to have taken a picture of their cook with the day's newspaper, which shows that their kitchen was clean.

New Media

  • 4chan has "Timestamp or GTFO!!", which is like this but with a hand-written date instead of the newspaper. Of course, people can handwrite any date they want.
  • This is used to foil an attempted scam in this Not Always Right post.

Puppet Shows

  • Parodied in an old sketch of Les Guignols De L Info. The hostage ("played" by the puppet for Christopher Lambert) is registering such a video proving he's well, before realizing the facetious hostage-taker has given him a porn magazine instead of a newspaper. Complaining about the childishness of the joke, said hostage leaves in a huff.


Real Life

  • When Tony Blair was Prime Minister, there were persistent stories of a rift between his wife and Humphrey, a cat who permanently resided in 10 Downing Street. They ended up presenting parliament with one of these photos.
  • In 2006, Fidel Castro went into a hospital for intestinal surgery. To prove he'd come through it alive, he sent a picture of himself holding a newspaper to the press.
  • This comes up quite a bit in online weight loss challenges. There are a few sites that give prizes for the biggest body transformation (either losing fat or building muscle) in a given time frame (like 12 weeks for example.) They'll have contestants take photos with newspapers to show they are working within the time frame as opposed to say, slowly losing weight over a year and then dragging out an old photo to send into the contest.
  • Sometime in mid-2011, a website placed up a story about how Hayley Williams of Paramore was to appear on a magazine (called G-String, a suposed dirty magazine that nobody had heard of dedicated to rock chicks) cover topless. However, it was proven to be fake by a number of things, including the fact that a real topless pic had became well known online and people were comparing the two images, and a thong is very prominant despite her refusal to talk about her underwear choices. But the thing that proved it false was, the hoaxer placed a date on it to make it look legit... except that it claimed it was a year old, making it, if it was real, far too old to have not been discovered before had it been real. It did get some praise however for being a very realistic photoshop image and did look real.

Western Animation

  • Parodied in an episode of Hey Arnold where Timberly's stuffed dinosaur Wally has falsely been stolen. She finds a ransom note that shows the toy beside a newspaper with that day's date.
  • In an episode of The Simpsons, Homer gets kidnapped by Ukrainian criminals, and forced to hold up a newspaper.

 Homer: What will you do when there are no more newspapers?

Criminal: Perhaps by then we will live in a world with no need for kidnappings.

Homer: Oh. Way to make me feel obsolete.

  • In Titan Maximum, Gibbs seduces Jodi and at one point holds up a recent newspaper, with his latest terrorist attack on the front page. When he broadcasts a tape of the event on interplanetary television, the newspaper proves it wasn't from when Jodi and Gibbs dated before he turned traitor.
  • On April Fools' Day 2012, [adult swim] made sure viewers know that they didn't just replace their block a taped airing of Toonami by referring to things that all happened between Toonami's cancellation and this pseudo-revival. TOM-3 acknowledged the Fake-Out Opening suggesting a fourth year ofan April Fool's Day marathon of Tommy Wiseau's The Room by quoting it and turning it off, one of the bumps for Tenchi Muyo! said Tenchi had "99 Problems and these bitches are all of them", and the video game review was of Mass Effect 3.
    • Bleach was the only active [adult swim] show aired that night, but new bumps were made for it as well, despite being dubbed after Toonami's cancellation. It was even the new episode advertised and TOM-3 did an ad for the next week's episode, to boot!