Michael Socolow on Orson Welles's War of the Worlds, Fake News, and False Memories


The War of the Worlds has become a historical Rorschach test. Some people are convinced the legendary radio drama drove panicked hordes into America's streets. Others treat that story more skeptically, arguing that the terror induced by Orson Welles' masterpiece has been significantly overblown. As the years recede, the debate over the events of Sunday, October 30, 1938, often appears unresolvable. In classrooms, online, in print, and in documentaries, everyone seems to use the panic story to validate their preconceptions about media power and mass audiences. The existing historical evidence apparently allows all of us to find the panic, or calm, we believe happened that night. Into this debate, writes Michael Socolow, steps filmmaker A. Brad Schwartz