From William Randolph Hearst's ginned up hysterical stories about marijuana to the "10-cent plague" comic book scare of the 1950s to The New York Times warning of "cocaine-crazed Negroes" raping white women across the Southern countryside, the media has always whipped up anxiety and increased readership via thinly sourced exposes of the next great threat to the American way of life.
And since the British sociologist Stanley Cohen defined the moral panic phenomenon in the early 1970s as hysterical overreactions to imagined threats to social order, no publication has done a better (by which we mean worse) job of scaring the crap out of post-baby boomer America than Time, the top-selling newsweekly that's dropping subscribers like the mythical meth mouth drops teeth. (Hot tip to Time: If you're looking for a cutting-edge panic to get those ad rates up again, we hear people have been freaking out about "sexting" lately.)
10. June 19, 1972: The Occult Revival
Why So Worried? Time warns that bizarre occult rituals involving black-draped altars, flashes of fire, and "goat-shaped images superimposed on purple pentagram[s]" are "being re-enacted all across the U.S. nowadays." The article describes "sex clubs that embellish their orgies with Satanist rituals," takes note of the Satanic followers of Charles Manson, and recounts two anecdotal news stories about a grave robbery and an alleged stabbing inspired by Lucifer.
Cue Ominous Music: "There is a danger...in taking the Devil too lightly, for in doing so man might take evil too lightly as well. Recent history has shown terrifyingly enough that the demonic lies barely beneath the surface, ready to catch men unawares with new and more horrible manifestations."
Oh, Just Settle Down: Time's warning that devil worship was sweeping the country was short on supporting evidence. While exact figures are difficult to come by, most estimates put America's satanist population in the range of 10,000-20,000 people. The 1980s saw an explosion not of Wiccans and sorcerers, but of evangelical Protestants. But that only fueled the fear of Mephistopheles, as the decade saw America overcome by scares over the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, Satanic messages inscribed backward on heavy metal albums, and the persistent urban legend about the satanist origins of Procter & Gamble's corporate logo. In the early 1980s, a "Satanic ritual abuse" (SRA) panic swept America and Europe, during which Christian fundamentalists and repressed memory psychiatrists claimed Satanist cults were subjecting children to animal sacrifice, scatology, sexual abuse, and murder. Dozens of questionable prosecutions followed, including the infamous 1984 McMartin preschool molestation trials, in which seven people were charged with 321 counts of child abuse based only on questionable memories psychiatrists claimed to have recovered from children who attended the school. Subsequent studies showed the SRA phenomenon to be without merit.
9. April 5, 1976: The Porno Plague