War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast Part 3

About the famous War of the Worlds radio broadcast by Orson Welles which sent America into a state of panic.


The drama switched to New York, where a lone announcer stood on a rooftop watching the Martians--tall as skyscrapers--preparing to wade the Hudson River and said: "Now they're lifting their metal hands. This is the end now .... People in the streets see it now. They're running toward the East River ... thousands of them, dropping like rats .... Now the smoke's crossing Sixth Avenue ... Fifth Avenue ...100 yard away ... it's 50 feet ..." then the mike went dead. And in New York, listeners rushed out of their doors to hallucinate in the streets, seeing those Martians and their machines over on the Jersey Palisades.

In the radio studio, police mobbed the control room, having already surrounded the building, after officials became aware of the magnitude of the panic. Calls continued to come in, one from the mayor of a Midwestern city who reported mobs, violence, and looting. "Women and children are huddled in the churches," he said, and if he were to find out that the whole thing was "nothing but a crummy joke," then he planned to come to New York to "punch the author of it in the nose."

Although hundreds of thousands of Americans were in the streets, governors announced that there was no martial law. People prayed in churches or slugged down booze, depending on their individual persuasions. Calls to local radio stations increased 500%. Most listeners missed the station break, which clearly said that the "Martian landing" was part of a radio drama, and they did not hear the second half of the show, which was set in a time weeks later and told of the Martians' final defeat by bacteria, the "humblest thing that God in his wisdom put on earth." And few heard Welles's jocular sign-off.

The police in the studio began to question the cast, citing suicides, traffic deaths, and a "fatal stampede in a Jersey hall." These reports were either exaggerated or completely untrue. But the panic was real, and it went on in spite of CBS announcements during the evening which said that "the entire story and all of its incidents were fictitious."

The following morning, newspapers headlined the broadcast. A Nazi party paper blamed the panic on the Jews, and an Italian paper said that the program had plunged a "third-grade democracy into confusion." While The New York Times pompously hinted of censorship and chided radio, talking of its "adult responsibilities" and its lack of mastery over "itself or the material it uses," the New York World-Telegram, agreeing that such an event should never happen again, said, "If so many people could be misled unintentionally when the purpose was merely to entertain, what could designing politicians not do through control of broadcasting stations?"

Dorothy Thompson, in a much-quoted column, wrote, "Nothing about the broadcast was in the least credible, no matter at what point the listener might have tuned in," and went on to say that Welles had done the country a service by demonstrating how easy it would be to start a panic in time of war.

Fearing investigation by the Federal Communications Commission, the chairman of CBS called the show "regrettable" and made a public statement of apology, as did Welles.

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