Broadcast Hysteria: Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds and the Art of Fake News by A. Brad Schwartz (2015)

broadcasthysteriaWe’ve all heard the stories: in October 1938, Orson Welles adapted the classic alien invasion novel The War of the Worlds for radio and the broadcast was so realistic that it made people flee from their homes in terror. Or maybe you’ve heard that it was all a myth, that newspapers made the whole thing up to try to discount the new medium of the radio. Like most stories, the truth is somewhere in between. Orson Welles’s broadcast really did frighten listeners, and some people did leave their homes, but the panic was not as dire as history would remember—nor was it as simple.

In Broadcast Hysteria, A. Brad Schwartz uses newspaper articles, Princeton research, and first-hand accounts to examine the many factors that made the War of the Worlds broadcast such a sensation, including the Nazi rise to power, previous radio-based panics, the use of fake news bulletins, and much more. You won’t believe how intricate this web can be—or how much it has influenced media today.

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