The Power of Media: The War of the Worlds, and Hitler's Airwaves

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With the latest developments of hostility between Fox News and the White House, and the general feeling of incredulity within the Media with this open declaration of hostility, my mind has been focused on the impact of media, if any, on the general populace.  This seemed to coincide with an old tradition that I had and I am now resurrecting:  listening to the infamous original radio broadcast of Orson Wells' The War of the Worlds, and coupling it with the propaganda broadcasts made by Germany to England during World War II. 

In both cases, the Radio was the primary method of external communication to a mass audience.  Sure, telephone existed, and people could call each other using a handset, but to reach a large audience Radio was the method of choice.  And, like all methods of communication, information and entertainment were coupled together in one way or another. 

Germany's use of radio gave rise to Lord Haha and his spread of propaganda touting the strength of the German war machine and the futility of England's defense.  He raised the spectre of the Soviet threat, the willingness of the Germans to let bygones be bygones, and the defeats of Allied forces as proof that England needed to get out of the war.  As with all democracies, Germany assumed that England would capitulate if the people were to rise en masse to demand surrender to the Germans. 

The Brits, on the other hand, were more savvy than Germany I think had understood, having had their face slapped after the Munich treaty was completely disregarded and Neville Chamberlain was disgraced.  They instead remained vigilant against the German propaganda, no matter now disheartening it was, and with the assistance of all the Allies, managed to defeat Nazi Germany, ending what began in World War I. 

The broadcast of War of the Worlds was very different, as a small group of actors used the powerful media of radio to induce mass panic across the American countryside and through all of New York through a clever adaptation of H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds.  Because of the realistic presentation, the excellent understanding of their medium, and the credence given to the one mass portal of information, they managed to send the entire East Coast into the hills, running for their lives. 

In both instances, radio was used as a tool, and as a tool to frighten or dishearten people.  What's interesting is the reaction of the target audience.  How much trust can we place in the media, or those feeding information to the media?  It all comes down to where we get our sources of information, and how much we are willing to research those topics in debate. 

Today, with the benefit (or detriment, you decide) of the Internet, first person accounts are more likely to be provided, and collaborative information provided through multiple sources.  If the War of the Worlds were conceived and broadcasted today, Twitter would quickly expose it as a piece of fiction through first hand accounts of people in Grover's Mill stating the lack of a cyllinder in their back yard. 

Does this mean that media has lost it's power?  By no means!  Many people find a single trusted source of information, and makes it their only source.  They don't like getting multiple points of view, because they don't want to take the time or make the effort to do the research themselves.  Instead they trust their news source to do it for them.  Whether they be Liberal or Conservative, the same holds true.

It also means that more complex and devious methods of propaganda, by any group, is easier to distribute.  With the complexity of media outlets now, one merely needs to identify their target audience, and utilize their one favorite method of communication.  It could be Radio, it could be Cable News, it could be Blogs, it could be Google News..  It doesn't matter, because once you find a person's habitual media source, you have them right where you want them. 

So in the end, the more things change, the more things stay the same.