Fake news media offers America plenty of tricks… but no treats
HALLOWEEN: It was fake news media on a grand scale. From coast to coast, Americans unquestionably became convinced the news bulletins coming from their radio speakers were real. It mattered little that the events described sounded so fantastic. Their reliable source, the authoritative reporter Carl Phillips of CBS News, recounted the proceedings so vividly that listeners quickly formed clear, concrete images in their minds.
On that memorable evening in 1938, worry over the territorial ambitions of German Führer Adolf Hitler faded to insignificance. During a radio broadcast, Americans learned, to their horror, that the Martians had landed in Grover’s Mill, New Jersey. Suddenly, the Earth found itself at war with the strange alien invaders hailing from the fourth planet from the sun.
So said the radio actors of the Mercury Theater on the Air. They said so under the direction of a now-legendary entertainment boy genius, Orson Welles.
Fake news media… for real?
According to the New York Daily News of Oct. 31, 1938,
“Without waiting for further details, thousands of listeners rushed from their homes in New York and New Jersey, many with towels across their faces to protect themselves from ‘gas’ which the invader was supposed to be spewing forth.
“Simultaneously, thousands more in states that stretched west to California and south to the Gulf of Mexico rushed to their telephones to inquire of newspapers, the police, switchboard operators, and electric companies what they should do to protect themselves.”
The report also stated St. Michael’s Hospital treated some fifteen New Yorkers for shock. And a woman called police in New Jersey to see if relatives living near Grover’s Mill were among those killed by poison Martian gas.
Another newspaper reported the good people of Providence, Rhode Island, flooded the switchboard of their power company, begging them to turn off the electricity and darken the city from the spying eyes of the alien invaders.
From the time the first Martian craft landed to the destruction of New York City, one thing didn’t seem to matter. All these events occurred within a one-hour radio broadcast. Clearly, the sonorous tones of fictional CBS reporter Carl Phillips provided all the proof needed to trigger a national panic.
More “on the record”
Journalist Dorothy Thompson wrote in her “On the Record” column:
“Hitler managed to scare all Europe to its knees a month ago. But at least he had an army and an air force to back up his screeching words. Mr. Welles scared thousands into demoralization with nothing at all.”
Editorial opinion of the day roundly condemned a gullible public.
In their defense, however, Americans trusted broadcast news because there were so few sources. In 1938, NBC and CBS radio were the only games in town. ABC didn’t come around until 1943. That means only two domestic sources provided American news as it happened, breaking into regularly scheduled programming with bulletins from around the world – or Mars.
And when the networks transitioned to television in the years following World War II, the monopolistic information triad presented words and pictures, excluding the need for consumers to conjure images in their minds.
By 1976, 95 percent of Americans got some of their news from one of the three monopoly networks. But in 2020, the Pew Research Center found 60 percent received news from “a smartphone, computer or tablet.”
But a survey by global communications firm Edelman found 56 percent of Americans believe “journalists and reporters are purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations.”
What did the digital “revolution” actually do for the fake news media?
Many thought the digital revolution destroyed the legacy media’s monopoly on information. But like a crimped garden hose impedes the flow of water, Big Tech crimps the free flow of information through censorship and the banning of authors. And it chooses the living corpse of legacy media to “factcheck” and decide what is truth.
And so, the media tell us COVID-19 is a continuing crisis requiring never-ending authoritarian measures to combat it. Measures our digital minders say has the imprimatur of cold, dispassionate “science.” And they expunge differing views, even those of medical professionals. All efficiently handled by the robotic, algorithmic minders of Big Tech.
Did H.G. Wells’ “ruling elite” finally happen in America?
That sounds a lot like an H.G. Wells sci-fi story in which a ruling elite form a benevolent dictatorship that worships science and eradicates religion. It then molds their knuckle-dragging subjects into educated, secularized, and cultured beings of a new utopia.
In fact, that’s Wells’ story “The Shape of Things to Come.” At least his prediction of how authoritarian regimes use science as a cudgel to enforce compliance and stifle dissent is right on the money. And today’s fake news media reliably lends those regimes a helping propaganda hand.
This Halloween, meanwhile, the people of Grover’s Mill still await the arrival of Martians – and an honest, trustworthy media.
About the Author:
Originally from Los Angeles, Steven M. Lopez has been in the news business for more than thirty years. He made his way around the country: Arizona, the Bay Area, and now resides in South Florida. A cigar and bourbon aficionado, Steven is a political staff writer for Communities Digital News and an incredibly talented artist.
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