Heller: How Orson Welles’ ‘War of The Worlds’ broadcast influenced fake news and mass panic

A portrait of Orson Welles. -Courtesy of pixabay.com

Before he was immortalized in film, Orson Welles became a household name through what many consider one of the most infamous broadcasts of all time: the radio dramatization of H.G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds.”

For those who’ve been living under a rock for the past 80 years, Orson Welles created a radio broadcast that fooled many Americans into believing aliens were invading Grover’s Mill, New Jersey. On Oct. 30, 1938, Welles’ mesmerizing performance fooled a good number of the american public, and has become a joke for many in the media industry. .

Fast forward to 2016 and the craziness of 1938 hasn’t really changed all that much. The internet was abuzz with reports saying World War III was days away, Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring in the basement of a pizzeria and Donald Trump claiming that Clinton won the popular vote due to illegal voting.

All of these stories and claims were entirely untrue, but were shared on social media and news websites, regardless of how crazy the stories were. This makes it perfectly relevant to revisit what Orson Welles did with the H.G. Wells classic.

Firstly we have to remember the context of what was going on in 1938. World War II was on the horizon, and America was still struggling through The Great Depression. Americans were uneasy and the only broadcast news media that many families had was the radio. The radio was the fastest way to bring information to individuals and for many it was their only source of instant information. Not only did they have news, but they had broadcast shows such as the “The Lone Ranger” that largely entertained families as they gathered around the radio.

Not only was the radio available for many Americans, but newspaper moguls such as William Randolph Hearst still used sensationalism to push news stories for profit. In some way, Welles’ performance was an amalgamation of a perfect storm of events. His performance stunned a small group of people, but was largely exaggerated by the newspapers of the day, thus culminating the Orson Welles legend.

I know what you’re thinking: how do aliens relate to fake news? Well, if you think about it, the age that we live in isn’t all that different than 80 years ago.

Americans have the ability to get information literally at their fingertips. Many people can now pick and choose what information they want to hear, and the world at large has become a little more restless as nations are struggling through economic stagnation, mass immigration and constant civil unrest. False flags and conspiracy theories have become the norm, and as a result certain individuals actually take it at face value. These people usually live on the fringes of society, but as they continue hearing this information, the more likely they are to believe it and act upon it.

It’s been 80 years since the “War of the Worlds” first broadcast to American listeners. Though the extent of how many people actually listened to the broadcast has become the stuff of legend, the way Americans handle information hasn’t really changed all that much.

Who knows? Maybe when aliens actually do arrive on earth, Alex Jones might claim it as a false flag propagated by the deep state.     

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  1. Just for the record, you state …

    “Before he was immortalized in film, Orson Welles became a household name through what many consider one of the most infamous broadcasts of all time: the radio dramatization of H.G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds.

    Welles didn’t dramatize the H.G. Wells classic, he dramatized a script written for the Mercury Theater by Howard Koch. For you youngsters who don’t recognize the name Howard Koch, he also co-wrote a screenplay “Casa Blanca” with Humphrey Bogart.

    I knew Howard and my wife and I cherish a signed Poster by Koch of Orson Welles at the microphone delivering Koch’s rendition of War Of The Worlds.

  2. Too bad no one remembers who wrote the radio play for Orson Welles; it was Howard Koch who also co-authored the screenplay “Casa Blanca”.

    Howard Koch was also “Black Listed” as a “Communist” and his rising career was severely damaged.