In an era of alternative facts and fake news, telling the story of the infamous 1938 radio broadcast that convinced thousands of Americans a real-time Martian invasion of Earth was occurring could not be timelier.
In a finely detailed narrative nearly as riveting as the broadcast, Jarrow chronicles how a radio drama based on H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, performed by Orson Welles and his Mercury Theatre players and broadcast on the night before Halloween, sent thousands of listeners who believed they were hearing breaking news about an alien invasion into a panic. Researchers later found that fewer than one-third of the frightened listeners understood the reports to be about an alien attack; most assumed the reports were about either a German invasion or a natural catastrophe. None listened long enough to hear one of four announcements made during the broadcast that it was a dramatization. Welles and his producing partner, John Houseman, were shocked to learn about the reaction to the program. The broadcast sparked a national discussion about fake news, propaganda, and the role of radio. Members of Congress proposed more government regulation of the medium. Jarrow deftly connects history to current events by comparing the phenomenon to contemporary fake-news controversies and ongoing freedom-of-press debates. Attractively designed, the text is complemented with archival photos of the broadcast and illustrated scenes from Wells’ original story.
A grippingly told story that adeptly makes history fascinatingly relevant to the present. (timeline, source notes, bibliography) (Nonfiction. 10-14)