W. Joseph Campbell

War of the Worlds

In Media myths, Media myths and radio on October 31, 2009 at 3:09 pm
Chicago Herald Examiner about War of the Worlds broadcast

Front page of the Chicago Herald Examiner on Halloween, 1938

The famous radio dramatization of The War of Worlds in October 1938 supposedly set off panic and hysteria across the United States. Tens of thousands of panic-stricken Americans were said to have taken to the streets or headed for the hills during the radio show, which was a clever adaptation of H. G. Wells’ novel about an invasion by Martians wielding  deadly heat rays.

The supposed panic that night in 1938 is a delicious story, one almost too good to be false.

But it is. There is scant evidence to believe that The War of Worlds dramatization had such an effect.

Getting It Wrong describes how newspapers of the time got it badly wrong.

Listen to the broadcast here.

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  1. [...] that have been likened to the panic and hysteria supposedly caused by Orson Welles’ famous War of the Worlds radio dramatization in 1938. [...]

  2. [...] addressed include the Remington-Hearst/furnish the war anecdote; the War of the Worlds/mass hysteria myth, and the “Cronkite moment“/”I’ve lost Middle [...]

  3. [...] like the Hearst tale and the alleged mayhem caused by Orson Welles’ [War of the Worlds] broadcast. Others survive because our prejudices nourish them (“crack babies,” bra burners) or [...]

  4. [...] war” with Spain at the end of the 19th century, the dubious notion that Orson Welles’ 1938 radio dramatization of the War of the Worlds set off nationwide panic and mass hysteria, and what I call the [...]

  5. [...] of Worlds: The notion that the War of Worlds radio dramatization in 1938 caused nationwide panic and mass hysteria is [...]

  6. [...] also discussed the media-driven myth of “crack babies” and the famous 1938 radio dramatization of The War of the Worlds, which supposedly was so dramatic that tens of thousands of Americans were [...]

  7. [...] purported vow to “furnish the war” with Spain; the 1938 radio dramatization of the War of the Worlds which supposedly sowed panic across the United States; the notion that Edward R. Murrow’s [...]

  8. [...] also discussed the War of the Worlds myth–that Orson Welles’ 1938 radio dramatization of an invasion from Mars was so realistic [...]

  9. [...] widespread panic and mass hysteria characterized the reactions to the 1938 radio dramatization of The War of the Worlds, then jumped to a discussion of the myth of superlative reporting of Hurricane Katrina’s [...]

  10. [...] in American history.  Published in 1975, it’s a subjective history, full of opinions – and the occasional historical myth.  The book not only observes this period, but is a product of it.  It’s a point of view.  I [...]

  11. [...] why October brings numerous references to the War of the Worlds show and the panic it supposedly caused. Indeed, just the other day, an item posted at examiner.com [...]

  12. [...] YouTube video–prepared by Patterson in the fall to mark the anniversary of the famous War of the Worlds radio broadcast that supposedly was so realistic that it panicked America–also is accessible [...]

  13. [...] a savory, intriguing tale that never loses appeal. The War of the Worlds radio myth, of course, is especially popular this time of [...]

  14. [...] fooled thousands of gullible people into thinking they were being invaded by Martians – which itself is a myth that has fooled hundreds of millions of gullible people, and you’re probably one of them. [...]

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