[....It was all a tempest in a teapot. –Jack Parr Most of us are already acquainted with Orson Welles’ legendary radio adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, broadcast on the evening of October 30, 1938 on CBS Radio’s Mercury Theatre on the Air. The broadcast is infamous for causing widespread panic across America as tuners-in believed they were hearing a real account of an alien – or at least a Nazi – invasion of New Jersey. This event endures to this day as a testament to the power of mass media to mislead us. And that’s true, but not in the way you think.
You see, the mainstream – including PBS and Radiolab – continues to focus on the “mass hysteria” catalyzed by Welles’ broadcast, as if that demonstrated the media’s power. In this still accepted reading, the citizens of 1930s America appear to us a gullible gaggle of dimwitted dupes, and we enlightened denizens of 21st-century America immediately assert our progress and superiority over our sheep-like ancestors. How silly it is that millions of Americans would believe in a Martian invasion simply because they heard it on the radio! We would never fall for such tomfoolery, we say.