THE ” WAR OF THE WORLDS ” MYTH – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I went to a presentation celebrating the 80th anniversary of Orson Welles’ 1938 radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds”. The reason this particular broadcast has lived on in history and is still remembered and talked about today is really quite interesting.

Orson Welles broadcasting “The War of the Worlds”

The radio play starts with a typical program playing music from a live band. This fictional program is then interrupted by a realistic sounding “newscaster” reporting an increasingly destructive invasion by Martians. The Martians wipe out New Jersey and proceed to annihilate Manhattan. They are reported to be landing all over the east coast of the United States. The U.S. army is reported to be vanquished and the audience is told that we have no defenses left.

Rehearsal of War of the Worlds

Newspapers the next day, including the New York Times, headlined a nationwide panic that made this incident the most notorious event in broadcast history. The unprecedented mass hysteria was talked about in newspapers, books, articles and radio and TV shows for the past 80 years.

The day after the broadcast

There were reports of thousands of panicked calls to police and radio stations across the country. There were stories of traffic accidents, near riots and hordes of panicked people in the streets and on the roads, fleeing the Martian invasion. There were even reports of suicides and deaths due to the hysteria caused by the broadcast. It was claimed that the stories continued in the newspapers for two weeks, with over 12,500 articles about the panic.

The day after the broadcast

Today, however, this version of history has now been debunked and fallen out of favor. The current belief is that whatever panic occurred, it was small and not widespread. Most listeners understood this was a dramatization. While some may have been scared by the story, few panicked. Evidence shows that at the time of the event, newspaper reports of the story actually stopped after a day or two, not weeks. The story was not the long-lasting, national headline grabber we believed it to be.

In addition, far fewer people heard the original broadcast than most people believed. This fact makes the magnitude of the reported panic much more implausible. A rating service the night of the broadcast reported only 2% of listeners were even tuned in to The “War of the Worlds.” This was true, in part because Welles was scheduled opposite one of the most popular shows on the air – Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy.

In addition, several important CBS affiliates, including in Boston, didn’t even air Welles’ show. Instead, they aired local commercial programming, which further reduced Welles’ national audience.

History does show, however, that the story grew in magnitude and in detail as time went on. So the 1940 claim that one million people heard the broadcast is grossly exaggerated.

Just as the size of Welles’ audience has been inflated, so have the reports of mass hysteria. There is no documentation of any deaths or even hospital visits, as claimed, due to the shock of the broadcast. In reality, there were almost no contemporaneous news accounts of mobs in the streets or highways jammed with fleeing people. In fact, people later reported walking through the streets of major cities at the time of the broadcast and finding them as empty as usual at that time of night.

There is another piece of evidence used to counter the mass panic scenario. If the terror and chaos had been as bad and as widespread as reported, CBS and Welles would have been severely reprimanded or even punished. But no sanctions were levied and no official rulings or regulations were promulgated by the FCC.

Welles facing the press the day after the broadcast

So why was the mass panic story started and why did it survive for so long?

One credible theory is that newspapers were to blame for the origins of the story. Radio was still a relatively new medium in 1938 – only 18 years old. But already radio was taking advertising dollars and audiences away from the newspaper industry. So the newspapers seized upon this opportunity to trash the radio as an unreliable source of news. A newspaper trade journal at the time wrote: “The nation as a whole continues to face the danger of incomplete, misunderstood news over a medium which had yet to prove …that it is competent to perform the news job.”

You can’t trust the radio! Fake news!

People are now debating why this myth has persisted for so long. One answer is a man named Hadley Cantril. He wrote a scholarly book in 1940 that gave academic credence to the panic. He used numbers and statistics that made his story seem plausible, but which have subsequently come into question.

He had no hard facts to back up any of his assertions. And he is the only legitimate academic source that claims there was a sizeable panic. Yet his writing has kept this version of the story in textbooks, as it still is today.

There is a more philosophical explanation of the persistence of the mass hysteria myth. In 2000, Northwestern’s Jeffrey Sconce wrote an article called, “Haunted Media”. In it, he suggests that the “War of the Worlds” myth captures our unease with mass media and the internet’s power over us. We all fear, on some level, the media and the internet “…invading and colonizing our consciousness.” The myth is “…a cautionary tale about the power of the media.”

Jeffrey Sconce

Radio opened up a new means of mass communication and shared experiences. Now the internet is doing the same thing. Sconce states that “…today the internet provides us with both the promise of a dynamic communicative future and dystopian fears of a new form of mind control; lost privacy; and attacks from scary, mysterious forces.”

This is particularly true with today’s epidemic of fake news, foreign intervention, and manipulation of the internet and domestic political dirty tricks. We deal with political misinformation being spread to millions of people every day. A national panic may not have occurred because of a radio broadcast in 1938, but it is more likely to occur today because of the abuse of the internet.

There’s a new demographic, and you better pick a side – REBLOG – SHINBONE STAR

What more is there to say? I wish it weren’t like this, but this really IS where we’ve gone … and I hope I live long enough to see us recover our senses.

THE SHINBONE STAR

Here in the United States of America, we’d grown accustomed to surveys and seeing our beliefs broken down demographically. We would eagerly pore over the results, which usually compared women vs. men; blacks vs. whites; college education vs. none; city vs. rural; and Catholic vs. Protestant.

Well, I’m here to tell you, that none of that matters anymore. Here’s what it comes down to in our modern Disunited States of America:

  • Support for the Mocking of Sexual Assault Victims vs. Those Opposed

Of course for those who have been paying attention, the president’s attack this week on Christine Blasey Ford isn’t our first ride in Donald Trump’s Demolition Derby, it’s just the latest in a series of crashes that have defined our nation’s free fall into hell.

Consider that since Trump’s arrival on the political landscape, you, your friends, your neighbors and your relatives can be divvied up like this:

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REAL REPORTERS – Garry Armstrong

Word Prompt: Credibility

It’s never been a one-man show.

I logged more than 40-years in TV and radio news,  including 31 years at one Boston TV Station.  I’m always flattered when people say they remember me and my work. The body of work is considerable. Usually 3 or 4 daily newscasts, 5 to 6 days a week,  48 or so weeks a year times 40.  That’s a lot of news, good, bad and ugly.

A reporter,  the face in front of the camera,  gets the credit for everything. The images of life, death and the furies of Mother Nature.  Wars and Peace. Happiness and sorrow. You see the reporter, center screen with a name graphic, proof that he or she saw everything in the visuals that tell the story.

It’s a false premise.  It’s impractical. The reporter couldn’t possibly be in all the places seen in the story that has you riveted to the screen.

We’re called “talent” in business lexicon.  That should be a dead giveaway. We’re the human, face connection, to all those images on your screen.

The real reporters are the people behind the cameras.  The men and women who frequently put their lives on the line to bring you the pictures, the video seared into your sense memory.

I’m proud of all the awards I’ve received over the years. I’d be a liar if I said the hardware didn’t mean anything to me. They are reminders of the stories covered across four decades – on the local, state, national and international stages.  The awards have my name clearly etched, front and center. But I can see all the faces of those responsible for bringing the stories to life.

In the 60’s,  I was a green rookie, assigned to the national and international news,  landscapes that ranged from Vietnam, civilian dissent against the war, Civil Rights marches and violent opposition,  assassinations of national leaders,  a historic walk on the moon and a music-culture changer called Woodstock. I was a 20-something, agape at all these events I was covering for Network News.  It truly was baptism under fire.  I survived because of veterans whose careers began with the birth of radio and television news,  The great depression and World War Two.

The 20 something was handed the keys to the news kingdom.  Right place, right time. I may have often been driving the big car but those veterans always rode shotgun,  guiding me through some very difficult mazes of network news closed-door battles with the Pentagon,  the DOD and the White House.  I had a grizzled news manager who always counseled me, “Just tell the truth…make sure you’ve corroborated 2 or 3 times at least.

Don’t let the Pols or Generals faze you…make sure the stories are short, punchy…dump the adjectives”.

All that was behind me when I landed in Boston in 1970. If I thought I knew it all, I was dead wrong.  Boston was just edging its way into a golden era of TV Journalism.  The technology was rapidly changing and changing the way things were done.  TV news was still viewed with skepticism and contempt by many old-school journalists who believed the word was stronger than the picture.

Boston is a highly regarded news market. It can be tricky for a newcomer not versed in the proper pronunciation of towns and cities or the political landmines in seemingly benevolent Norman Rockwell like settings.

I was thrust into local celebrity by being a general assignment reporter covering blue-plate special stories of murders, fires, prison riots,  sexual predators, bad weather, and quirky politics.

I quickly learned to lean on the experience of the people shooting the stories.  They knew the players, the back stories,  the dos and the don’ts.

A news director (one of nearly 3 dozen I survived) told me to keep the camera crews under my thumb.  He said they were just ‘picture takers’, ‘lumpers’ and ‘complainers’.  That news director was history before I figured out how wrong he was.

Those picture takers really were reporters who saw everything around them. They knew when someone was just using his “face time” to dance around the truth and delay legal consequences. They warned me about the “frauds” and “fakers,” political and community leaders who could clean your pockets while shaking your hand.

I am especially thankful for the photojournalists who covered “the mean streets.”   They’re the ones I always saw at 3 o’clock in the morning at a devastating fire,  a triple homicide or drive-by shooting.  They always knew more than the eye-witnesses or law enforcement people just catching the case. I apologize to those whose names are omitted.  It’s impossible to do justice to all of you who were there for me and other reporters over all those years.

Boston is a unique TV news market because the competition is benevolent.  Everyone wants to be FIRST with the story, especially with the advent of electronic newsgathering.  Everything is “Now”.  It happens and,  in a few minutes,  you’re expected to be “live with breaking news”.  Truth and facts often become victims in the quest to be fast and first.

Reporters feel the pressure.  They often feel their jobs are on the line if they are not first.  The folks behind the cameras become a calming force.  They’ve observed the scene, the people, possible evidence.  Often, cameramen and women can figure out the story while fielding frantic and demanding calls from newsrooms.  Over the years,  I’ve leaned on camera and tech crews, not only from my station but also competitors.

I’ve been slipped pieces of paper with key information during live shots and looked like the best damn reporter in town.  In truth,  I was saved by a competing cameraman who saw me struggling and threw the lifeline.

I’ve been praised for memorable “standups” — those on-camera appearances where we look you in the eye and deliver riveting reports. The truth is those words often came from the people behind the camera.  Their words, repeated with sincere conviction by me.

The camera folks also correct information that we, seasoned reporters,  are sure is true.  I was often interrupted with,  “Garry, I don’t want to tell you what to say.  You always know what you’re doing…”   The bulb in my brain flashes — “Listen, know-it-all breath”.

So,  this is a thank you to Richie, Andy, Nat, Jack, Premack, Warren, Eddie,  Susan, Leslie, Noot,  Messrs. Richard Chase, “Fast Al”,  Stan The Man and all the other REAL — behind the camera reporters.

These were the journalists who enabled me to have such a long and satisfying career. Thank you!

PLUTOCRACY AND OLIGARCHY – WHICH ONE ARE WE? – Marilyn Armstrong

We live in a have a country full of shallow, if not outrightly stupid people.

They watch “the news” and believe it’s all lies because an orange-skinned bloke says so. As a woman whose husband was a television news reporter for more than 40 years, I’d like to point out that not ONCE in his entire career did my husband haul his tired ass out of bed so he could get up to fabricate lies for the public.

He made mistakes now and then — but not very often — and sometimes made the wrong choice about what story to cover, but never at any point in his long career did he intentionally lie to the public. Moreover, none of his colleagues lied to the public either.


Note that I do not include Fox in this discussion. Whatever it is they are doing at Fox, the news is not it.


The news has always been as truthful as the people who do the job can make it. Are there errors? Of course. Reporters are human beings and we are imperfect, but none of the errors was intentional. It wasn’t lying. Errors are not lies.

What Trump does? THAT is lying.

Garry was never told to tell lies. He was occasionally asked to omit something, but he didn’t do it even when asked. Garry tells the truth and so did his colleagues.

And the other reporters, photographers, directors, and producers? They told the truth, too.

Fact.

Reporters are not liars. They work their asses off trying to spread the truth to the dunderheads who too foolish to listen.

Fact.

The news is as true as the people who research and write it can possibly make it. Do they make mistakes? Yes, but they correct themselves and apologize. They don’t erase the truth about a president. Only an elected pathological liar could do that.

Fact.

The news IS the truth. If you are don’t believe reality, you are going to live with something worse. We are on a razor-thin edge between what we used to think was freedom versus a plutocracy or oligarchy — if we haven’t already crossed that line. Time will tell us soon enough.


Shallow people are stupid. I don’t mean they have a “low IQ.” I mean they are too limited, lazy, selfish, and foolish to find out the truth. It’s so much easier to believe bullshit, isn’t it? You don’t have to read. You don’t need to research. You don’t need to know anything.

You can roll along, believing whatever the current blowhard in power tells you. That’s how we got where we are and that’s how we will keep rolling down the long grassy slope until we become one of those infamous shithole countries.

CREDIBILITY MATTERS – Garry Armstrong

“The media always lies,” she said and I cringed.

Then, I got angry. Why do people believe a president who has never told the truth about anything while failing to believe the fact-based truth?

I’m not talking about “ultimate” truth or the meaning of life or faith. I’m talking about things that can be proved with evidence, science. Stuff caught on tape. Printed, heard, overheard, and to which testimony has been given.

I really hate it when I hear that cliché – “The media doesn’t tell the truth. They always lie.” It demeans all the passion and belief I put into more than 40-years as a working reporter. Moreover, it demeans the careers of so many others who give their lives in pursuit of the truth. Many, literally died in pursuit of the truth.

Photo: USA Today

I am not romanticizing my career. I’ve made mistakes. I’ve gotten it wrong. It happens when you’re covering multiple stories a day, 5 to 7 days a week. With deadlines breathing down your neck.

I always tried to clarify mistakes by accepting my culpability up front and being clear with viewers. There were many days when I hated what I had to do. Usually, it was in pursuit of a truth which would be ugly, demanding, tedious — and require a good deal of soul-searching. The truth isn’t simple, or black and white. Despite what you usually see on television or in movies about reporters, there aren’t many clear “wins.”

180-Graphic-Photographs-2-MOB-Party-04212018_036
The old days

Often, we’re lambasted for telling the truth by the same folks who call us liars. Jack Nicholson’s “You can’t handle the truth” line should be crayoned on the skulls of those who insist the media always lies. Those critics are the same pilgrims who gobble up the pablum offered by the current White House Tenant who doesn’t know what the truth is. It’s like a foreign language to him.

I fervently wish that Those People who belittle the media and law enforcement officials spend some time, real-time — like 24/7 on the streets. The real streets, not just their cozy neighborhood. They might see life closeup without any of the public relations filters. I suspect those critics would change that tune and maybe sing a different song. They might think before they speak and see our world in three dimensions instead of whatever propaganda they accept in their biased, insulated worlds.

Finally, I’m proud of what I did for a living. For 40 plus years, I fought to tell the truth.

It was a privilege!

TRUTH THROUGH A PRISM – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Prism

Prism is a complicated word with a variety of meanings, mathematical, optical, and figuratively. I use the term figuratively — to see something through “the prism of a camera,” would be a common usage.

What is it?

In geometry, a prism is a solid geometric figure whose two end faces are similar, equal, and parallel rectilinear figures, and whose sides are parallelograms. (Got that? Really? Well, please explain it to me!)

In optics, it is a glass or other transparent object in prism form, especially one that is triangular with refracting surfaces at an acute angle with each other and that separates white light into a spectrum of colors. You can buy prismatic filters for a camera and many modern cameras come with some version of a prism built into them.

Prism is more commonly used in figurative speech. In this case, it is referring to the clarification or distortion of a viewpoint, as in “They were forced to imagine the disaster through the prism of television” — which would inherently change the natural viewpoint. I often think that is what people really mean when they say “reporters lie.”

Reporters don’t lie, but they force the truth through the prism of their format — television. This requires cutting down long commentaries to find the “nugget” without the longer speech. Although this is intended to sharpen the meaning of the comments, it doesn’t always do that. The personal point of view of the editor or reporter can affect the way the subject is presented.

But reporters don’t lie. They present information in a particular way which requires editing and shaping. Without this “shaping” of the news for presentation in a half-hour or hour news broadcast, there would be no television news at all.

For that matter, the same process is used in any form of print media. No one presents the full context of a speech in any form of news. Even in full book presentation, most commentaries are substantially cut. Why? Because you would fall profoundly asleep before you got to the main point of the discussion.

It’s all well and good to have long arguments which find you still haggling over details at dawn the following day, but reporting news in a format anyone can follow and understand takes a lot of understanding of the subject matter. Finding the “important nugget of information” in a cloud of context is a skillful occupation. It isn’t performed by people who get up in the morning planning on lying to the public — unless they work for Fox News, in which case reality bears little resemblance to their version of “news.”

So when you argue the prism of a format, remember it is done so you can make sense of it. If it isn’t a complete version of the whole truth, do your own research. Look for the truth. Find it. Read it. Search for more if that’s not enough.

ABC News

No one — least of all the people who report the news — suggests the versions they report are the uncut truth. That type of knowledge requires you.

Find the truth — then believe it after you discover it. If you start out with pre-conditions of “what truth should be,” you won’t find anything but your own opinion.


NOTE: The expression “through a prism darkly” refers to spying.

3.2.1 ME CHALLENGE: INSPIRATION, WITH HELP ALONG THE WAY – Marilyn Armstrong

INSPIRATION” VIA SUE VINCENT AT DAILY ECHO


I was invited to take part in the 3.2.1 Me Challenge the other day by Sue Vincent at the Daily Echo. The rules, she said, were simple:

1 – Thank the person who nominated you.

Thank you Sue, not only for the invitation, but also for always writing unique and beautiful posts that make me think and remind me of all the things I usually forget.

2 – Provide two three (but you can use two — I just found three I liked) quotes on the subject you are set by that person.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, Dream, Discover. –Mark Twain

We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light. –Plato

When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life.  When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I wrote down ‘happy’.  They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life. –John Lennon

3 – Invite three other bloggers to take part (if they so wish) in the challenge.
The subject Sue gave me was ‘inspiration’ and I really need to thank her for making me take the time to think about it. Because oddly enough, I had been thinking about it anyway, so this was remarkably timely.

I always have trouble with this part of any challenge. I don’t like to ask because they may feel obliged to say yes, even if they don’t really want to. So please, if this sounds interesting to you, I offer you the subject:


TRUTH

Given the way life has changed, how do you feel about it? What’s your version of it? How important is it?


Inspiration: On your own but not alone

We all start college — or at least most of us do — pretty young. In our teens, generally. Some of us start even sooner. I was just barely 16, but I thought I was terribly sophisticated and mature.

I was sophisticated and mature for someone my age. Which was 16. I had zero vision of what I would be on this earth. I was socially inexperienced and emotionally volatile. My knowledge went exactly as far as the books I read.

Working in California from Boston – Dawn of a new age in telecommuting

I had read a lot of books (for my age). I had also not read a lot more books. It isn’t, as my father said, what you don’t know that gets you. It’s what you do know that’s wrong.

I knew a lot of wrong things. They weren’t wrong because I thought them wrongly, but because much of what I read was inaccurate, closer to guesses and opinions than facts. Possibly much of what I know now is still wrong, but I think most historians and scientists are working more closely with original sources today. That may be one of the best things to come from the Internet and sharing of information across the world, that you don’t necessarily have to travel the world to find original sources (though it certainly doesn’t hurt, either).

I had only the fuzziest idea what I was going to do with myself. After I gave up my dreams of playing the grand piano with an orchestra at Carnegie Hall, then deleted my “great American author” fantasy where I lived on a cliff in Maine overlooking the ocean while writing unforgettable novels,  I had no idea what I would do.

It turned out I was not a novelist. I had great ideas, but no ability to turn them into books. I could write dialogue easily and still do, but I had no talent for “action.” Even the most chatty novel requires that characters sometimes get off the sofa and do something. Anything. My characters never did anything — except talk and think.

Not unlike me, come to think of it.

I needed help along the way and I got it.

Dr. Herb Deutsch needed to point out while I loved music, I was not sufficiently involved with it to make it my life’s work.

Mr. Wekerle (pronounced Weh-ker-lee with the emphasis on the first syllable) was the head of the Philosophy Department at Hofstra University. I adored him. Not because he was “hot,” but because he was so incredibly smart. He was the only professor could always tell when I was bullshitting and hadn’t really read the books. He was also the only teacher to give me D-/A+ as a grade for a 50-page paper.

The A+ was for style, the D- for content. I treasured the A+ because somehow, I was sure that style was going to be more “me” than content. I was wrong. It was both.

He taught me that even if you know it, you can’t assume your audience does. You have to write it all out, Alpha to Zed. I had an editor in Israel who reinforced this by making me rewrite all the sections of a book I was working on — the parts I didn’t want to write.

Garry was deeply influential too at a time when he was figuring out where he stood in terms of work and his future. He came to realize that for a variety of reasons, he had gone as far as he was going to go. He didn’t want to move to a different city and that alone was some degree of a “game ender.” He knew he didn’t want to move into management and he didn’t want to be an assignment editor, producer, or director. He liked what he was doing. He liked doing it in Boston. He had found his place — and his walls.

I was finding my walls, too.  I knew I wasn’t cut out for management. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do it, but I hated it. I didn’t want to edit other people’s work. I wanted to write it. I was not sufficiently ambitious to “go corporate” and try to head a department. I knew my personal life had always been more important to me than my professional life. I knew this was unlikely to change. Effectively, I had reached my limits.

As Garry talked about how he felt about his own work and I talked about mine, we both recognized because you’ve gone as far as you are going to go professionally, you are not facing defeat.

Success does not mean you need to reach the top, the pinnacle, the ultimate level of success for your field. Not everyone needs or wants to climb to the top. We don’t all want to be the most ambitious to be exceptional at what we do.

It was a realistic assessment of what we were able and willing to do. I could have fought my way into corporate life and probably made more money. So could Garry. We didn’t want to.

I think my point is a twofer.

On one level, we make it on our own, but we don’t make it alone. We get all kinds of help along the way, often from unexpected people in unusual places. The help might be a simple question, or a mentorship. Or, maybe someone who knows you and recognizes when you need the right words to work through whatever is going on.

Inspiration usually comes with help. A little help can go a long way.