Are we more gullible than in the 1938 Martian invasion?

October 30—the day to buy Halloween treats and prepare your vampire, witch, pirate, or another costume.

It’s also the day of a staggering historic event that few people today think or even know about: The day in 1938 when the evening radio broadcast of “War of the Worlds” caused Americans to believe Martians invaded our country.

The hour-long broadcast was, of course, fake news. It was a radio play based on H.G. Well’s 1897 science fiction novel.


Frightened people flooded police departments with phone calls. National guardsmen steeled themselves for dangerous duty. Callers begged electric companies to cut power to keep the source from the Martian invaders. In the aftermath, newspapers reported suicide attempts, heart attacks, and mass evacuations from cities.

How Americans viewed the Martian invasion on the evening of Oct. 30, 1938.

How Americans viewed the Martian invasion on the evening of Oct. 30, 1938. Artist unknown.

In 1968, in my first journalism college class, we listened to the 1938 radio broadcast in analyzing how mass media has huge power in influencing people. The year 1938 was before TV; radio was the influencer, the readiest source of entertainment and news.

I had never heard of “War of the Worlds” prior to my class. The new knowledge opened a world of skepticism for me. Even today, I remember thinking back then, “How can people be so gullible? So stupid? Why didn’t they just change the channel to another station to verify what was going on? To get a different view?”

You would think today’s Americans are more sophisticated in their thinking.

Oh, au contraire. Unfortunately, we seem more gullible. The evidence can be seen in the mass media’s influence over many citizens, particularly where politics are concerned. As a result, too many influenced Americans embrace the philosophy that they are right and you, you jackass, are wrong…and stupid!

So many books and media articles have been written about reasons for this Great American Divide that a library could be filled. From what I can tell in my simple way of thinking, the reasons boil down to two. Some people refuse to admit there are other valid viewpoints. Second, many people are like the gullible 1938 Americans: They believe what they see in the media they are dedicated to and refuse to search out other sources.

I have friends who daily spend hours absorbing right-wing blather from Fox TV, conservative radio talk shows, and Twitter and Facebook postings that reflect their personal views. Other friends are diehard fans of more liberal blather from CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, and social media. When friends from either side begin their blather, I keep mum or, depending on how well I know the people, suggest they broaden their views by listening to the blather of the opposing side. Such a suggestion is usually met with rolling eyes that signal distaste of the mere thought.

The adverse impacts of not looking beyond what you see, read or hear from your favorite news and social media outlets can’t be overexaggerated: Fewer Americans are Covid-vaccinated due to listening to partisan talk show hosts. We face a November 8 general election where the outcome could decrease voting rights or women’s health. Politicians and their families are targets of threats and violence. Results of the Great American Divide at the basic level: Family members don’t speak to relatives; friends avoid friends. The list can go on and on…

The solution? To my own personal disappointment, I don’t have a solution. Can we get the media to change its blather? Oh, Hades no, too many $$$s are on line for talk show hosts, TV networks and other media outlets to not keep the public’s eyes and ears glued solely to rightwing or more liberal media. Sadly, there seems to be no easy solution unless people wise up and switch the channel from “War of the Worlds” to another station to learn and appreciate more information and differing viewpoints.

So, a final thought: Search around, ladies and gentlemen, to discover what others say. And be flexible and smart enough to revise your own opinions. Especially if you hear a radio show host claim Martians have invaded.

{Click here to listen to the 1938 “War of the Worlds” broadcast. Listening time: 58 minutes.}

For more information:

One thought on “Are we more gullible than in the 1938 Martian invasion?

  1. Such a basic solution for us all. Yet, so many don’t think of that as a simple option to ease their anxious lives.

Comments are closed.