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Broadcast Hysteria: Orson Welles's War of the Worlds and the Art of Fake News

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The enthralling and never-before-told story of the War of the Worlds radio drama and its true aftermath On the evening of October 30, 1938, radio listeners across the United States heard a startling report of a meteor strike in the New Jersey countryside. With sirens blaring in the background, announcers in the field described mysterious creatures, terrifying war machines, The enthralling and never-before-told story of the War of the Worlds radio drama and its true aftermath On the evening of October 30, 1938, radio listeners across the United States heard a startling report of a meteor strike in the New Jersey countryside. With sirens blaring in the background, announcers in the field described mysterious creatures, terrifying war machines, and thick clouds of poison gas moving toward New York City. As the invading force approached Manhattan, some listeners sat transfixed, while others ran to alert neighbors or to call the police. Some even fled their homes. But the hair-raising broadcast was not a real news bulletin-it was Orson Welles's adaptation of the H. G. Wells classic The War of the Worlds. In Broadcast Hysteria, A. Brad Schwartz boldly retells the story of Welles's famed radio play and its impact. Did it really spawn a "wave of mass hysteria," as the New York Times reported? Schwartz is the first to examine the hundreds of letters sent to Orson Welles himself in the days after the broadcast, and his findings challenge the conventional wisdom. Few listeners believed an actual attack was under way. But even so, Schwartz shows that Welles's broadcast became a major scandal, prompting a different kind of mass panic as Americans debated the bewitching power of the radio and the country's vulnerability in a time of crisis. When the debate was over, American broadcasting had changed for good, but not for the better. As Schwartz tells this story, we observe how an atmosphere of natural disaster and impending war permitted broadcasters to create shared live national experiences for the first time. We follow Orson Welles's rise to fame and watch his manic energy and artistic genius at work in the play's hurried yet innovative production. And we trace the present-day popularity of "fake news" back to its source in Welles's show and its many imitators. Schwartz's original research, gifted storytelling, and thoughtful analysis make Broadcast Hysteria a groundbreaking new look at a crucial but little-understood episode in American history.


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The enthralling and never-before-told story of the War of the Worlds radio drama and its true aftermath On the evening of October 30, 1938, radio listeners across the United States heard a startling report of a meteor strike in the New Jersey countryside. With sirens blaring in the background, announcers in the field described mysterious creatures, terrifying war machines, The enthralling and never-before-told story of the War of the Worlds radio drama and its true aftermath On the evening of October 30, 1938, radio listeners across the United States heard a startling report of a meteor strike in the New Jersey countryside. With sirens blaring in the background, announcers in the field described mysterious creatures, terrifying war machines, and thick clouds of poison gas moving toward New York City. As the invading force approached Manhattan, some listeners sat transfixed, while others ran to alert neighbors or to call the police. Some even fled their homes. But the hair-raising broadcast was not a real news bulletin-it was Orson Welles's adaptation of the H. G. Wells classic The War of the Worlds. In Broadcast Hysteria, A. Brad Schwartz boldly retells the story of Welles's famed radio play and its impact. Did it really spawn a "wave of mass hysteria," as the New York Times reported? Schwartz is the first to examine the hundreds of letters sent to Orson Welles himself in the days after the broadcast, and his findings challenge the conventional wisdom. Few listeners believed an actual attack was under way. But even so, Schwartz shows that Welles's broadcast became a major scandal, prompting a different kind of mass panic as Americans debated the bewitching power of the radio and the country's vulnerability in a time of crisis. When the debate was over, American broadcasting had changed for good, but not for the better. As Schwartz tells this story, we observe how an atmosphere of natural disaster and impending war permitted broadcasters to create shared live national experiences for the first time. We follow Orson Welles's rise to fame and watch his manic energy and artistic genius at work in the play's hurried yet innovative production. And we trace the present-day popularity of "fake news" back to its source in Welles's show and its many imitators. Schwartz's original research, gifted storytelling, and thoughtful analysis make Broadcast Hysteria a groundbreaking new look at a crucial but little-understood episode in American history.

30 review for Broadcast Hysteria: Orson Welles's War of the Worlds and the Art of Fake News

  1. 4 out of 5

    Marla

    Very interesting story about what the War of the World's effect it had on the world from when it was happening and over the years. Also, it is interesting how now something like a tweet that is fake can go viral. I have a journalism degree and I have always been interested in the news media so this was fascinating to me. Great as an audiobook. Very interesting story about what the War of the World's effect it had on the world from when it was happening and over the years. Also, it is interesting how now something like a tweet that is fake can go viral. I have a journalism degree and I have always been interested in the news media so this was fascinating to me. Great as an audiobook.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Sharon A.

    "Believe nothing you hear, and only one half that you see." - Poe This quote is the frontispiece to this book. Hits me right in my skeptical soul. I run Doubtful News, a site that deals daily with questionable claims in news media. I don't like fake news. But the story of War of the Worlds, Orson Welles's historic radio drama that was said to cause a National panic, was NOT fake news, nor was it a panic. It was perceived as fake news; it was always intended to be a drama, nothing more. What surpri "Believe nothing you hear, and only one half that you see." - Poe This quote is the frontispiece to this book. Hits me right in my skeptical soul. I run Doubtful News, a site that deals daily with questionable claims in news media. I don't like fake news. But the story of War of the Worlds, Orson Welles's historic radio drama that was said to cause a National panic, was NOT fake news, nor was it a panic. It was perceived as fake news; it was always intended to be a drama, nothing more. What surprisingly spiraled from it is at the core of this book. The story of the National panic over a Martian invasion was what turned out to be fake. The US ended up with a giant storm about censorship and media trust in a time of uncertainty and change. In 1932, radio offered a mass of people means to follow events instantly and have shared national experiences in real time. It fostered a sense of community in the scary time of Depression, between wars. People had a difficult time adjusting to this new medium. Major broadcast networks did not use recorded content. News events were reenacted with sound-alike actors so the audience would not feel "hoaxed" or confused. Ironic, isn't it? The infamous crash of the Hindenburg narrative was recorded by a reporter. It was too important NOT to air but, even with clarification, the author says, some people still thought it was live. To chronicle what happened in the aftermath of the War of the Worlds broadcast, Schwartz mined the letters from listeners that were sent to the radio network and the Federal Communications Commission. CBS was a trusted new source. It hosted Welles' Mercury Theater on Air. Radio in the US was not run by the government but supported via advertisements and sponsorship right from the beginning. However, broadcasters were expected to serve the public interest. Americans looked to radio as their source of breaking news in the time of the Nazi threat. Thus, while they would have found it hard to accept that Martians were landing in NJ, it was just as hard to accept that CBS would violate public trust and fake a story. Broadcast Hysteria reveals much about Welles' himself and the how the infamous broadcast developed and played out. The writer, Howard Koch, was the one who adopted the HG Wells novel into a fake news angle as Welles wanted. Changes to the script, to make it sound more authentic, were made up to the last minute. Revisions removed several clues that would have clearly identified it as fake such as references to passage of time. Using real place names, names and voices of people that sounded authoritative, the tempo and construction of the broadcast, and the emotion-filled acting made the show the ultimate radio drama - people bought into it entirely, even if they KNEW it was fake. Yet, there was little reason to expect the serious problem that arose during and after the event. The book mentions the "Broadcasting the Barricades", an episode prior to Welles show, that was an obvious parody of a news broadcast in London. Some people were alarmed at the vivid description of London under attack, but it did not create a true panic. However, the NY Times declared a similar incident COULDN'T happen in the U.S. We were too smart to be taken in by such a thing... Not many people listened to the Halloween broadcast. Many had the station on but weren't paying close attention or tuned in late. The book notes that the idea that people turned the channels to catch other programs, called "dialitis", didn't stand out as a cause of the later confusion about the episode. There was no mass exodus of listeners from the popular Chase and Sanborn show at the same time. Schwartz makes several salient points in this book that those of us who follow weird stories find very interesting. 1. There was no real panic. There was outrage based on the media reporting of panic. The headlines said there was a panic, there were iconic pictures that fed the idea, but there were very few people that gave over to the fear and tried to evacuate. Most people tried to check the authenticity of the claims by talking to others. They DIDN'T necessarily think aliens were invading but that it was some earthly attack. The media took a complex sociological event and oversimplified it to the point where it was not true. 2. Information about the show was not spread via listening to the show but by those listeners who felt the need to spread news. Fear spread faster because of what people were told about the show than by listening to the show itself. 3. Nothing in the broadcast was illegal though many people thought there had been. It sparked a call for taking the show off the air and for censorship of various degrees. There were the typical calls that radio was corrupting the youth. The industry, scared for its future, policed themselves. Radio became boring pablum for many as creativity was squelched. 4. Support for Welles outnumbered complaints 10:1. The blame did not fall on him as much as it fell on an audience who seemingly overreacted. A Chicago Tribune editorial noted that "the radio audience isn't very bright" with some members "a trifle retarded mentally" (p 141). There rose a general concern about the national intelligence and if the US was prone to propaganda. However, it was not so far-fetched, when one examines it, to see how people could have so easily been mislead by the broadcast, no matter what their IQ. In the end, the real story was about the state of radio, skepticism about what we hear, and a constructed moral panic. Welles later changed his story saying the broadcast was a deliberate attempt to teach skepticism. This version is not supported by others' narratives. A repeat of the War of the Worlds show was repeated in Chile 1944 and Quito, Ecuador in 1949, when people died in the attack on the station after hearing it was a hoax. People seemed to not learn from history. And today, we see the same behavior repeated with viral news stories that people eat up and pass along uncritically. Our technology amplifies our ability to spread the word without pausing to think about it. The author notes "The only way democracy can survive in the age of mass media is for the public to be informed and skeptical." Hear hear! I recommend this book for those interested in hoaxes, the history of the media and of news, moral panics, and critical thinking. It sheds important illumination on these fields. Published at https://idoubtit.wordpress.com/2015/0...

  3. 5 out of 5

    Shelley

    3.5? There wasn't quite enough here for a full book. Everyone thinks of the War of the Worlds as having inspired people to go crazy with fear, but unsurprisingly, that is way overblown. Some did think it was real, because they tuned in late, and even fewer panicked and tried to escape. Newspapers played up the drama, because they wanted to sell more papers and excitement/half-truths sold better than full truth (and also they were sort of bitchy about upstart radio news journalists!). People talk 3.5? There wasn't quite enough here for a full book. Everyone thinks of the War of the Worlds as having inspired people to go crazy with fear, but unsurprisingly, that is way overblown. Some did think it was real, because they tuned in late, and even fewer panicked and tried to escape. Newspapers played up the drama, because they wanted to sell more papers and excitement/half-truths sold better than full truth (and also they were sort of bitchy about upstart radio news journalists!). People talked about it because it had been fun. In later years, Welles and others involved tried to play it up, too, to keep attention on them. In truth, they had no clue what they were doing, everyone thought the show would be a turkey, and they were shocked by the results. The most interesting bits to me were about how radio played with the idea of fake news, re-enacting events and turning it into entertainment and sell ads, which people preferred over straight, serious newspaper coverage. Our news channels, Fox, CNN, MSNBC, etc, owe a large debt to the the 30s and 40s style. (Not to mention the FCC in the 80s, reversing the mandate that news cover all angles and creating the hellish echo chamber we deal with now. A mandate from the late 40s when sensationalism got the best of news sources and people were being misled.) I think it would have been a more interesting book had it not been tied so tightly to War of the Worlds, but there were definitely interesting things in there.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Marlene

    Originally published at Reading Reality This was scary all right, but not in the way that I originally thought. Then again, the original broadcast of the War of the Worlds in 1938 wasn’t actually as scary as anyone thought. At least not that night, 77 years ago today. The newspaper coverage the next day had all the chills and thrills that anyone could possibly have imagined. And very little of it seems to have been true. Instead, the newspapers latched onto the sensational aspects and magnified th Originally published at Reading Reality This was scary all right, but not in the way that I originally thought. Then again, the original broadcast of the War of the Worlds in 1938 wasn’t actually as scary as anyone thought. At least not that night, 77 years ago today. The newspaper coverage the next day had all the chills and thrills that anyone could possibly have imagined. And very little of it seems to have been true. Instead, the newspapers latched onto the sensational aspects and magnified them out of proportion, with each newspaper account adding more “details” to the one before, until the original incident became buried in an avalanche of sensationalized but fake news. Today we would turn to snopes.com to see if the whole thing was a hoax or not. But in 1938 the internet hadn’t been invented yet, and TV was in its infancy, if not still mostly in its gestational stage. Your news choices were the newspaper, the radio, or the rumor mill. In the case of Orson Welles’ broadcast of the War of the Worlds, the newspapers amplified the rumor mill until the story reached the level of myth – we all believe there was a mass panic during the October 30, 1938 radio broadcast, when there wasn’t really a mass anything. For one thing, Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre on the Air didn’t ever have a mass audience. It only had about a 3% share of the radio audience. Mercury Theatre ran opposite an extremely popular program, one that ironically starred a ventriloquist and his dummy, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. The story in Broadcast Hysteria is itself ironic. While it does provide background on Welles’ creation of the broadcast, the place where this story really puts its emphasis is on the aftermath. It also does a terrific job of explaining what it was that those people who did believe, even briefly, believed in, and why they believed it. From the description of radio broadcasting techniques, and a look at world conditions at the time, a picture very different from the one of mass, uneducated panic emerges. One of the aspects that fascinated this reader was the prevalence of re-enacted news events accepted as the truth. This was a standard practice in broadcast journalism at the time. To us it automatically sounds faked – a re-enactment is not the same as a recording of the same event. The re-enactment inevitably inserts some dramatic license to make its packaged story flow. That some of the same voice actors from the news re-enactments were part of the War of the Worlds did add to the verisimilitude. But even more telling was what people believed. Based on information that has recently been pulled from various archives, it looks like only a third of the people who believed at all believed or even heard anything about Mars and Martians. In 1938, with World War II about to erupt and World War I still a very recent memory, a lot of people believed they were hearing about a perfectly terrestrial, albeit terrible, invasion of the U.S. by Germany or the growing Axis Powers. And most of the rest who believed something thought the problem was a meteor strike. Again, something quite plausible. Like a lot of us who use television as the background soundtrack of our lives, many people who were listening to radio were not paying attention to every single word. It was on in the background, and they listened more intently when something grabbed their attention. So even people who were listening were not actively listening all the time. And without pictures, their minds filled in the blanks with things that made sense, like a European invasion or a meteor. The story here is that the newspapers sold a lot of issues by playing up the sensationalism of the story. If it sounds like modern “clickbait”, it should. While there was some somewhat scientific research on the aftermath of the broadcast, the research seems to have been designed to confirm the biases of the researchers, and rejected any data that did not fit the result they wanted. The fears at the time, in 1938, were that the mass panic supposedly created by the fake broadcast showed that America would be susceptible to mass propaganda in the same way that Germany and Italy had been. Instead, the data showed that propaganda didn’t really work that way, but the published reports ignored their own data. So instead of a story about the mass panic, the one that I expected, instead we have a story about the rise of fake news, and we see just how seductive it can be. That’s actually more frightening than any invasion from Mars. Reality Rating A-: The parts of this story that shine are the parts that get into the making of the broadcast and its aftermath. The world of radio broadcasting was different than we imagine, but in some ways the manner in which the news is made hasn’t changed all that much. The irony is that some of the worst changes are the result of War of the Worlds, not the non-existent panic of the broadcast, but the very real panic created by the newspaper coverage. One of the reasons this book is sticking with me is that the comparisons to now are all too easy to make. In 1938, newspapers were tried and true, and radio was the new kid on the block. While that seems old fashioned now, it seems new again when the book describes all of the charges that were leveled at radio broadcasting at the time. Radio was new, it was immediate, it was available everywhere, and the drastic change in the way that people consumed media frightened people. All the same charges about corrupting morals and leading to violence that have been charged against TV, movies, video games and the internet in general were all leveled against radio at that time. This is a fascinating study for anyone interested in mass communication and the uses and abuses to which it can be put. One final note. As I said above, all the charges that every new media rots the mind were first leveled at radio. But one comment I found eerily prescient. A Tennessee publisher warned in 1932 that one day “newspapers will be nothing but a memory on a tablet…” And so they are.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jim Janus

    A history of radio broadcasting before, during, and after Welles' broadcast of War of the Worlds. Good biography too of Welles' creative life. I especially liked the detail regarding how the War of the Worlds radio script was written and revised, and how the performance was produced. I agree with the author's comparing and contrasting the internet with the early days of radio. I also agree with the author's position that the 1987 end of The Fairness (in Broadcasting) Doctrine led to television n A history of radio broadcasting before, during, and after Welles' broadcast of War of the Worlds. Good biography too of Welles' creative life. I especially liked the detail regarding how the War of the Worlds radio script was written and revised, and how the performance was produced. I agree with the author's comparing and contrasting the internet with the early days of radio. I also agree with the author's position that the 1987 end of The Fairness (in Broadcasting) Doctrine led to television news increasingly resembling the "fakery in allegiance to truth" of early radio's The March of Time. Lastly, the author is a trained researcher. The first half of the book conveys the factual history in a way that's engaging. The second half of the book are the notes documenting the author's credible sources. This is especially important today for sound non-fiction.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sherry

    Read for Windham Public Library Maine Humanities Lets Talk About it series on Journalism... Schwartz for his Senior Thesis had the opportunity to studyI the University of Michigan’s bequest of 1400 letters sent to Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater after Welles’ radio play of H. G. Wells’ The War of The Worlds. He looks at Fake News in Radio, research on reactions to Welles’ broadcast, transmission, risks, problems, people involved, effects on politics, programming, sponsors and commercial prog Read for Windham Public Library Maine Humanities Lets Talk About it series on Journalism... Schwartz for his Senior Thesis had the opportunity to studyI the University of Michigan’s bequest of 1400 letters sent to Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater after Welles’ radio play of H. G. Wells’ The War of The Worlds. He looks at Fake News in Radio, research on reactions to Welles’ broadcast, transmission, risks, problems, people involved, effects on politics, programming, sponsors and commercial programs, tv and the internet. Fascinating research well presented. Dense reading but well written.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Douglas

    Very, very interesting. Extremely well researched. The author covered many related subjects. I was particularity pleased with the chapters on Orson Welles and his experimental theater projects back in the 1930s. The truth about the actual events is not what you expect. And all the related issues are still relevant as we continue to live in a world of instant rumors and emotions and disinformation. Very intelligent, very interesting. Recommended!!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Brion Salazar

    This was an interesting listen. I enjoyed the intricate history lesson on the events, combined with a larger worldview that put into context the broadcast. The book also suggests why we may be in the state of misinformation and fake news that we currently find ourselves in. Informative and interesting although a bit dry at times.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

    Orson Welles' 1938 radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds is legendary, the radio play that was so realistic, so believable, that millions of listeners were convinced aliens were invading, thousands fleeing their homes in panic, besieging police stations, army bases, churches, newspaper offices. Whilst the truth is sadly not quite as dramatic as that, the story behind the radio dramatisation, the subsequent media over-inflation of the tale of mass hysteria and the psychological investigations Orson Welles' 1938 radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds is legendary, the radio play that was so realistic, so believable, that millions of listeners were convinced aliens were invading, thousands fleeing their homes in panic, besieging police stations, army bases, churches, newspaper offices. Whilst the truth is sadly not quite as dramatic as that, the story behind the radio dramatisation, the subsequent media over-inflation of the tale of mass hysteria and the psychological investigations into the power of radio as propaganda and truth-teller are every bit as interesting. One only has to look at how easily information can become 'viral' on the internet, how quickly disinformation and hoaxes can spread, even in today's cynical, information-saturated world, to understand how such a panic could have been possible. 1930s America was a far less media-savvy world teetering on the brink of world war, so it hardly seems surprising that it wouldn't have taken much to set people off. This is certainly the explanation the media and history have accepted, and even the subsequent psychological investigation by Princeton academics seemed to take this line. It may seem surprising that academia would have paid such attention to a radio drama, but this was a time when dictators such as Hitler were mesmerizing entire populations, leading them blindly into war. Radio was seen as a master tool of propaganda, and the apparent ease with which otherwise intelligent listeners could be tipped into panic and hysteria was cause for intense interest. The research done in the wake of The War of the Worlds broadcast exploring these issues came to have a profound effect on American media and culture. Some of these researchers became major figures in the emerging science of market research and opinion polling, the influence of media and advertising on decision making, and the commercialisation of media and politics. Schwartz obviously doesn't attribute all of this to Orson Welles and his radio play, but it certainly served as a catalyst for new discussions about the role of media as a vehicle for truth and information versus propaganda and disinformation. I found this book a wonderfully interesting read, an exploration not just of the Orson Welles and the broadcast itself, but the history of radio in America, the psychology of propaganda, market research, the links between cultural awareness, education and 'critical ability'. The War of the Worlds' example is trotted out time and again whenever media gullibility or mass hysteria raises its head as an item of discussion, so it was fascinating to read just how much the truth about the broadcast and the public reaction to it has been distorted over time. In a way, this distortion of the truth has had far more of an impact on history and the media than the original broadcast ever did.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Justin

    I had heard about the hysteria created by Orson Welle's War of the Worlds, but I had never read an actual historical account of the event. This book did a good job sharing with readers what the radio culture was like before, during, and after. How other programs helped to create a context in which listeners would actually believe that aliens were landing. Sometimes I'm guilty of judging people in the past for believing in things that seems so glaringly fake. What surprised me was the fact that th I had heard about the hysteria created by Orson Welle's War of the Worlds, but I had never read an actual historical account of the event. This book did a good job sharing with readers what the radio culture was like before, during, and after. How other programs helped to create a context in which listeners would actually believe that aliens were landing. Sometimes I'm guilty of judging people in the past for believing in things that seems so glaringly fake. What surprised me was the fact that the hysteria itself is not actually factual. Yes, it was reported there was a lot of hysteria, but there's no evidence there was actual hysteria. What happened was that some polls only collected data from listeners who were negatively affected by the program, but didn't factor in that vast amount of listeners who were not affected. The review of the various studies that were done in order to analyze the effects of the broadcast showed me a sad picture of academia. The majority of the statisticians were women, yet none of them were credited for their work and many of them brought up issues with the way the questions were asked and how the data was being analyzed. Another issue that surprised me was that there were a lot of programs that were blending fact with fiction. Listeners had becomes primed to believe that what they were hearing on the radio was either live or was an artistic representation of actual events. This shocked me because what I grew up believing was that the War of the Worlds broadcast was an anomaly. However, Mr. Schwartz shows that this isn't the case. I would recommend the first half of this book. The second half just becomes a biography of Orson Welles, which isn't interesting in my opinion. I personally don't think he's all that brilliant nor that interesting of a figure. But that's just me.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Len Knighton

    A. Brad Schwartz takes us back to the Golden Age of Radio and the pinnacle of its creativity, the famous Halloween Eve 1938 broadcast of WAR OF THE WORLDS. Nearly seventy years have passed since that infamous evening and the legend of the program and its resulting panic has grown to mythical proportions, far exceeding the reality. Schwartz tells us that the night air was rarely disturbed by the screams and shouts of terrified Americans. He explores the causes of such irrational behavior and how A. Brad Schwartz takes us back to the Golden Age of Radio and the pinnacle of its creativity, the famous Halloween Eve 1938 broadcast of WAR OF THE WORLDS. Nearly seventy years have passed since that infamous evening and the legend of the program and its resulting panic has grown to mythical proportions, far exceeding the reality. Schwartz tells us that the night air was rarely disturbed by the screams and shouts of terrified Americans. He explores the causes of such irrational behavior and how context can powerfully influence how one hears the news or fake news on the radio. Born in 1950, I came into the world as radio was waning in popularity and influence; television was in its infancy but waxing rapidly into the main medium of America. Nevertheless, I fell in love with radio and the programs and personalities that brought information and entertainment into millions of living rooms during my parents’ formative years, programs like Mercury Theater of the Air. And in my preteen years I listened to the last remnants of studio entertainment programming. I heard Arthur Godfrey’s final radio program on WCAU Philadelphia, and I listened to NBC’s Monitor on weekends on WBAL Baltimore. And eventually, I heard WAR 0F THE WORLDS. Even now, in the 70th anniversary year of the initial broadcast, I tune into a station in Hamilton, Ontario that broadcasts old radio dramas like The Shadow starring Orson Welles. While Schwartz gives more information and analysis than the average reader desires, the book is a fascinating study of the most memorable night in radio history. If you love radio, you will enjoy Broadcast Hysteria. Four stars slightly waning

  12. 4 out of 5

    Dave

    This ought to be subtitled, "Orson Welles' quick rise to fame & his efforts to live up to it." There was a lot of research that went into this book, and it shows. Mr. Schwartz does an excellent job of analyzing a lot of data and information. While this book does tell a lot about the production of the show and the background and behind the scenes of how it came to be. But it is much more than that. He really makes us question how we view news and media. I really like the way he goes an additiona This ought to be subtitled, "Orson Welles' quick rise to fame & his efforts to live up to it." There was a lot of research that went into this book, and it shows. Mr. Schwartz does an excellent job of analyzing a lot of data and information. While this book does tell a lot about the production of the show and the background and behind the scenes of how it came to be. But it is much more than that. He really makes us question how we view news and media. I really like the way he goes an additional level beyond War of the Worlds to press coverage of it, to help bring his point home. While I enjoyed the book as it went along, its final portion reminded me of reading an Assimov novel. A good story, but the ending wraps things together and makes all of it that much more meaningful. His conclusion is well thought out and reasoned. And it packs a powerful punch. NOTE: I listened to the audio version of this book. It is well-read, with good clarity and pacing. A nice touch to the audio version would have been to include a recording of the broadcast.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sue

    I was very impressed by this book. Schwartz did an excellent job covering various aspects of the production of the War of the Worlds through the fall out after the broadcast. Anyone interested in media would do well to give this book a read. I have heard a broadcast of the original show and, even knowing it was fake, still get goosebumps when remembering certain parts of the show. Knowing that there wasn't a huge panic like the myth has said was a surprise, for the broadcast has been tied to pan I was very impressed by this book. Schwartz did an excellent job covering various aspects of the production of the War of the Worlds through the fall out after the broadcast. Anyone interested in media would do well to give this book a read. I have heard a broadcast of the original show and, even knowing it was fake, still get goosebumps when remembering certain parts of the show. Knowing that there wasn't a huge panic like the myth has said was a surprise, for the broadcast has been tied to panic from the beginning. Broadcast Hysteria explains how the myth got started. I look forward to other books by Schwartz. (And I love an author who really shows his passion in the acknowledgments. He not only said how the book came about but also how it fit into a lifetime love of old radio shows which began as a child, listening to cassette recordings of some classic shows like The Lone Ranger when trying to fall asleep.)

  14. 4 out of 5

    D

    The real treasure of this book is all of the letters sent in response to the 1938 broadcast of War of the Worlds that now see the light of day. A. Brad Schwartz tackles a formidable task in analyzing and weaving them throughout the book. I definitely learned a great deal about the process of producing WotW, Orson Welles' life (which could have been edited back a bit more for the sake of brevity), and the atmosphere around radio and news during that time. How convenient that the Rally to Restore The real treasure of this book is all of the letters sent in response to the 1938 broadcast of War of the Worlds that now see the light of day. A. Brad Schwartz tackles a formidable task in analyzing and weaving them throughout the book. I definitely learned a great deal about the process of producing WotW, Orson Welles' life (which could have been edited back a bit more for the sake of brevity), and the atmosphere around radio and news during that time. How convenient that the Rally to Restore Sanity happened on an anniversary of the broadcast, too! As a fan of radio broadcasting and radio history, this was an enjoyable read. I put down the book interested to read more from these response letters and to hear the broadcast again myself.

  15. 4 out of 5

    JBP

    More of a right in the middle 2.5, Broadcast Hysteria was a big disappointment to me. I'm into hoaxes and pranks and Orson Welles 1938 Mercury Theatre radio performance is one of the ultimate hoaxes on an unsuspecting public in American history--whether or not that was Welles' intention or not--but Schwartz's book is just way too academic & dry for the subject matter. It seems like it is a bloated doctoral dissertation and has the 60 pages of footnotes to back it up! Schwartz repeats himself too More of a right in the middle 2.5, Broadcast Hysteria was a big disappointment to me. I'm into hoaxes and pranks and Orson Welles 1938 Mercury Theatre radio performance is one of the ultimate hoaxes on an unsuspecting public in American history--whether or not that was Welles' intention or not--but Schwartz's book is just way too academic & dry for the subject matter. It seems like it is a bloated doctoral dissertation and has the 60 pages of footnotes to back it up! Schwartz repeats himself too much when asserting his opinions and the entire book gets quite repetitive by the end. There were moments to enjoy but Broadcast Hysteria, even though it is connected to a subject I love, is a big miss.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    You think you know the whole story of the Orson Welles broadcast of WAR OF THE WORLDS which started a national panic... or at least that's how the story got spun. Broadcast Hysteria goes into the history of that broadcast, and its effect, which in actuality wasn't quite the devestating event it got hyped to be - but in long term effect, actually was, or at least was the watermark for what was later termed 'fake news'. Highly recommended. You think you know the whole story of the Orson Welles broadcast of WAR OF THE WORLDS which started a national panic... or at least that's how the story got spun. Broadcast Hysteria goes into the history of that broadcast, and its effect, which in actuality wasn't quite the devestating event it got hyped to be - but in long term effect, actually was, or at least was the watermark for what was later termed 'fake news'. Highly recommended.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    One of the most interesting and lucidly written histories I've ever read. And proof positive that fake news was a threat long before our contemporary discourse got so caught up with it. Schwartz does and excellent job putting Welles' mastery of fake news into historical relief. He provides insight into the artistic, psychological, political, and cultural legacies surrounding it and concludes with excellent parallels to many of the questions we face today. One of the most interesting and lucidly written histories I've ever read. And proof positive that fake news was a threat long before our contemporary discourse got so caught up with it. Schwartz does and excellent job putting Welles' mastery of fake news into historical relief. He provides insight into the artistic, psychological, political, and cultural legacies surrounding it and concludes with excellent parallels to many of the questions we face today.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Bonnie

    I was disappointed that we got SO MUCH on the Welles broadcast and biography and so little on the kinds of fake news phenomena it inspired around the world. Also, where were mentions of Fox News and RT, two of the biggest propaganda networks propping up far-right politics and xenophobic bigotry? I think this book was a great idea that missed out in execution.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Ronnie

    I received this book in a giveaway from publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux and felt even luckier when I finished it than when I started it, so that's saying something. Anyone who appreciates Orson Welles and/or is interested in the media's early day will like this book. Schwartz's thorough research is woven into every page, and for me that only enhanced the reading. It does an admirable job of examining the power of the media in general, but it does an exceptional job of recreating the time and I received this book in a giveaway from publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux and felt even luckier when I finished it than when I started it, so that's saying something. Anyone who appreciates Orson Welles and/or is interested in the media's early day will like this book. Schwartz's thorough research is woven into every page, and for me that only enhanced the reading. It does an admirable job of examining the power of the media in general, but it does an exceptional job of recreating the time and place of Welles's famous (not infamous) broadcast of War of the Worlds on Oct. 30, 1938. At first blush, the Americans in Welles's audience that night come across as more than a bit innocent and naive; the nostalgia of a time when families gathered around the radio and actually wrote letters voicing their approval or disapproval is as endearing as reading what then passed for "vulgar" and "shocking" is amusing. On the surface, it seems a simpler time, and in many ways it no doubt was, but Schwartz rightly puts things in perspective, noting that the same audience also still appreciated performances of plays from Shakespeare and likes of George Bernard Shaw and Thomas Dekker. By the end, you're left thinking that the Americans in Welles's audience that night were, in some ways, equally as sophisticated, if not more so, than those who today watch mind-numbing amounts of TV and spend hours online being clickbaited. To put it another way, Schwartz makes a convincing case that today's audiences, despite certainly being more media savvy, are not necessarily any less gullible than they were in the 1930s. Reading this book on Oct. 30, 2016, in the midst of this particular presidential election only made his point more self-evident for me. But back to 1938--a time when H.G. Wells was still alive and writing! The voices of the letter writers who responded to Welles's production are very much at the heart of this book, together forming a sort of narrative of their own, and in most of them there's an earnestness that make today's instantaneous online commenters and Tweeters seem sort of regrettable by comparison. As Schwartz presents it, Welles's performance was artful entertainment but not "fake news"--and certainly nothing like the intentionally framed and deliberately distorted news scrolling rampantly and constantly today. He provides an insightful analysis on how broadcasters, following the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, had freedom to tailor news content toward certain demographics: "Instead of keeping everyone informed on the same topics, each audience would get its own information, slanted to reaffirm what it already believes. As a result, on too many issues Americans can no longer agree on which facts are really facts, on which news is true and which is fake." Again, reading this at the height of Election 2016 was perfect. First line: "Like many Americans in the fall of 1938, John and Estelle Paultz had come to depend upon their radio."

  20. 5 out of 5

    Teri Reck

    Thought provoking book about how some of our notions of things can be misleading or just plain wrong, based on what media leads us to believe. And sometimes our studies of such things, or truly of anything, results in conclusions that fit our beliefs rather than the data at hand, let alone data that may come to light after the fact. This book looks at the complexity of the response to Orson Welle's War of the Worlds and how subsequent media coverage over-simplified the response and created a myt Thought provoking book about how some of our notions of things can be misleading or just plain wrong, based on what media leads us to believe. And sometimes our studies of such things, or truly of anything, results in conclusions that fit our beliefs rather than the data at hand, let alone data that may come to light after the fact. This book looks at the complexity of the response to Orson Welle's War of the Worlds and how subsequent media coverage over-simplified the response and created a myth of mass hysteria that has been accepted for ages, but does not really fit the actual data, either then or now. (Wow, did you know that the media uses hyperbole, or even lies, to make people want to pay for it? Sarcasm intended.) Also some good examples of how research can so often "prove" the very beliefs and prejudices of the investigators---sometimes deliberately, and truly sometimes not, even though the judgment of more objective colleagues may or may not alter the interpretation of results. Also a squint at how women researchers, who often did most of the work, who may or may not have been more objective than their bosses, who offered truly keen insight to how procedures should be done, how questions could be answered and how data should be interpreted, could be ignored, or even if men realized the extent of their debt to said women, received little to no benefit from their work, and essentially no credit. Some of the treatment is rather circular in its conclusions, but all in all, a good look at some things that too many people take for granted.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kady

    Heard about this after a fascinating episode of 99 Percent Invisible on fake news, and thought I'd check this out. But unlike that podcast, this novel was a bit of a slog to read. It could have been honestly about a fifth of the length and still served its purpose. There were moments that read like a listless dissertation, less like a novel - heavily researched and filled with quotations, but there didn't really seem to be a particular agenda. Chapters often blurred into one another, what with t Heard about this after a fascinating episode of 99 Percent Invisible on fake news, and thought I'd check this out. But unlike that podcast, this novel was a bit of a slog to read. It could have been honestly about a fifth of the length and still served its purpose. There were moments that read like a listless dissertation, less like a novel - heavily researched and filled with quotations, but there didn't really seem to be a particular agenda. Chapters often blurred into one another, what with their similar structure and intent - and while learning about Orson Welles was fascinating, the ideas Schwartz brought up would have been better solidified if he focused on more than one work. I made it through about eight chapters, skipped some of the middle section, then listened to the last conclusion. One area I felt could have been explored much more were the gendered aspects of hysteria (coming from the Greek word for uterus, hystera) and how that negatively impacts the way we interpret sensationalism if it comes from a woman's point of view. This was briefly touched upon in Chapter 6 or 7, but never again. This would have been awesome and truly unique to see more of discussed.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Fraser Sherman

    Next to Citizen Kane, Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" broadcast and the panic it inspired is what he's best known for (as the book notes, there were comic books written years later still referenced the broadcast as something everyone would know). Schwartz shows that the panic was a myth: some people were scared but most of them didn't do anything beyond call the media or the authorities for confirmation, or share the news with their neighbors (as opposed to fleeing, committing suicide or shoot Next to Citizen Kane, Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" broadcast and the panic it inspired is what he's best known for (as the book notes, there were comic books written years later still referenced the broadcast as something everyone would know). Schwartz shows that the panic was a myth: some people were scared but most of them didn't do anything beyond call the media or the authorities for confirmation, or share the news with their neighbors (as opposed to fleeing, committing suicide or shooting up what they assumed was spacemen). Many thought the broadcast was about Nazis attacking or a natural disaster, rather than an invasion from space. The newspapers, however, jumped on the story that there'd been widespread panic, then a serious scholarly book made the same claim, establishing the legend (the author was trying to warn people how easily a dictator could manipulate everyone via radio). This became gospel for years. Schwatz does a good job drilling down to the truth and situating the broadcast, and the myth, in terms of the radio of the day.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I got this book as a gift and I was unsure about it at first. I am very glad I read it. If you enjoy American or media history, this is a must read. I really enjoyed this book for two reasons: 1) It painted a portrait of history that is usually skipped in history class. The 1930s was a time of change in the U.S. - and radio (instant communication) was central to that change. This book explores how radio influenced the moment and the rest of the century. 2) 2018 might as well be 1938... and if you I got this book as a gift and I was unsure about it at first. I am very glad I read it. If you enjoy American or media history, this is a must read. I really enjoyed this book for two reasons: 1) It painted a portrait of history that is usually skipped in history class. The 1930s was a time of change in the U.S. - and radio (instant communication) was central to that change. This book explores how radio influenced the moment and the rest of the century. 2) 2018 might as well be 1938... and if you don't believe me you really ought to read this book. It delivers an interesting message about parallels without becoming media hype - which is eloquently discusses. Spoiler moving forward. The conclusion of the book talks of open web (net neutrality). It is a pity this book wasn't shared with congress prior to the legislative changes. It will make you understand the critical difference and it explains how government can be an asset to broadcasting.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Rosann

    I found this work to be well written, thoroughly researched, and incredibly timely. At a time when the internet seems to be supplanting cable news, which shouldered aside television news, which proceeded radio and print media as the trusted source for news for many, Schwartz gives us one of the most well known, and possibly most misunderstood American news 'hoaxes'. All of the personalities are there, Orson Welles, H.G. Wells, John Housman. But more importantly, the times, the environment, the r I found this work to be well written, thoroughly researched, and incredibly timely. At a time when the internet seems to be supplanting cable news, which shouldered aside television news, which proceeded radio and print media as the trusted source for news for many, Schwartz gives us one of the most well known, and possibly most misunderstood American news 'hoaxes'. All of the personalities are there, Orson Welles, H.G. Wells, John Housman. But more importantly, the times, the environment, the rise of radio, the reaction to the "War of the Worlds" broadcast are described, debunked, and finally compared to the rise of our own day's fake news.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie

    This book was absolutely fascinating. It makes you really appreciate what happened (and didn't happen) with the broadcast. Despite all the details it goes at a very quick clip (although the ending drags a bit). The Whys and technical Hows were spot on and it really weighed the sources and data. At times it was a bit revisionist or plays devils advocate but all of the reasoning is very well supported by looking at all the angles to try and tease out the 'truth' of the matter. The historical conte This book was absolutely fascinating. It makes you really appreciate what happened (and didn't happen) with the broadcast. Despite all the details it goes at a very quick clip (although the ending drags a bit). The Whys and technical Hows were spot on and it really weighed the sources and data. At times it was a bit revisionist or plays devils advocate but all of the reasoning is very well supported by looking at all the angles to try and tease out the 'truth' of the matter. The historical context was very helpful too.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Alan Pringle

    "I am not afraid of an invasion from Mars. I am afraid of a non-intelligent public in a democracy."—a letter written to Orson Welles after the broadcast of The War of the Worlds Meticulously researched book busts myths about the "panic" the broadcast caused. Newspapers exaggerated the reactions to the radio show to sell papers. The great history lessons in this book are being ignored today. How little things have changed since 1938! "I am not afraid of an invasion from Mars. I am afraid of a non-intelligent public in a democracy."—a letter written to Orson Welles after the broadcast of The War of the Worlds Meticulously researched book busts myths about the "panic" the broadcast caused. Newspapers exaggerated the reactions to the radio show to sell papers. The great history lessons in this book are being ignored today. How little things have changed since 1938!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    This documents and bunks most of the hysteria supposedly created by Orson Welles' radio broadcast of "War of the Worlds." It covers Welles' career as a star of the stage, radio and the screen and his reaction to the "hysteria." All interesting and insightful. It also covers the timely topic of "fake news," from its first recorded appearance up through modern times (but not all the way through today's manifestations). Also interesting. A smooth read, worth the time. This documents and bunks most of the hysteria supposedly created by Orson Welles' radio broadcast of "War of the Worlds." It covers Welles' career as a star of the stage, radio and the screen and his reaction to the "hysteria." All interesting and insightful. It also covers the timely topic of "fake news," from its first recorded appearance up through modern times (but not all the way through today's manifestations). Also interesting. A smooth read, worth the time.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Brianne

    Schwartz presents his research on how the famed "War of the Worlds" panic was really quite sensationalized and reveals the tip of the iceberg on "fake news" throughout history. It was interesting and informative, but all in all a little too long for what it needed. It definitely read like someone's final research project and so I'm not sure I would recommend it necessarily to anyone in particular. It was interesting, I enjoyed it, but I just can't think of anyone that I would recommend it to. Schwartz presents his research on how the famed "War of the Worlds" panic was really quite sensationalized and reveals the tip of the iceberg on "fake news" throughout history. It was interesting and informative, but all in all a little too long for what it needed. It definitely read like someone's final research project and so I'm not sure I would recommend it necessarily to anyone in particular. It was interesting, I enjoyed it, but I just can't think of anyone that I would recommend it to.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Lady

    This book detailing the October 1938 broadcast of 'War of the Worlds' and the debunking of the 'mass panic' induced by it started off as an academic work and boy, it reads like it. Luckily, the underlying story and arguments are compelling enough to make this a worthwhile read. And given today's political and media climate, the 'fake news' discussion strikes a hell of a relevant chord. This book detailing the October 1938 broadcast of 'War of the Worlds' and the debunking of the 'mass panic' induced by it started off as an academic work and boy, it reads like it. Luckily, the underlying story and arguments are compelling enough to make this a worthwhile read. And given today's political and media climate, the 'fake news' discussion strikes a hell of a relevant chord.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Christine Maguire

    There was so much squandered potential in this book. The subject matter is very interesting, it’s an almost universally misunderstood event, and there are current implications. BUT the writing is so dry and repetitive! There’s no narrative that keeps the story going. I had to muscle through the second half, and there’s only 230 pages of actual book. Very disappointed.

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