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“War of the Worlds” anniversary a timeless reminder of fact vs. fiction

October 30th, 1938 23-year-old Welles took to the airwaves for an hour to describe a Martian...
October 30th, 1938 23-year-old Welles took to the airwaves for an hour to describe a Martian invasion in such detail that it caused alleged nationwide hysteria.(WABI)
Published: Oct. 27, 2020 at 1:39 PM EDT
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ORONO, Maine (WABI) - This Halloween-Eve marks 82 years since Orson Welles scared millions with his radio drama “War of the Worlds.” Or did he?

October 30th, 1938 23-year-old Welles took to the airwaves for an hour to describe a Martian invasion in such detail that it caused nationwide hysteria. At least that’s what newspaper headlines read the next day.

But scholars Michael Socolow of UMaine and Jefferson Pooley say the reports of mass hysteria reported following the broadcast were greatly exaggerated.

They say according to a national radio survey that night most people were listening to a much more popular program or nothing at all. And the streets that were filled with panicked listeners were actually the opposite -- quiet and deserted.

Socolow says newspapers sensationalized the panic in an attempt to discredit radio and win over advertisers.

However, he says these facts don’t take away from the historic effect the broadcast still holds today. In the 1930s radio was the new and exciting way to get your news and today that’s social media.

And just like that Halloween-Eve we should remain skeptical of what we are reading in the media. Socolow says, “We should apply media literacy and think about things critically. That was important in 1938 when people thought this mass of crowds were in the streets but it’s really important in 2020. It’s more important when you think about the way social sharing works through social media. Media literacy really matters. Think critically and skeptically about the information you consume.”

Both Professors Pooley and Soclow will be featured in an interview on the October 27th episode of the “Professor Buzzkill History Podcast.”

To read more about The Myth of the War of the Worlds Panic you can visit this link.

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