Tuesday, 17 May 2016

F For Fake

Before I make a start on volume 2 of Simon Callow’s Orson Welles biography, I’m currently reading the 2015 book Broadcast Hysteria: Orson Welles' War of the Worlds and the Art of Fake News, A Brad Schwartz’s excellent and engrossing account of the “Panic Broadcast” and crucially, the ensuing wave of terror that swept the country. Or perhaps not. In his forensic investigation of the event, Schwartz draws on some 2,000 letters sent by listeners to CBS and the Federal Communications Commission in the wake of the broadcast, the majority, complimentary of the dramatization, while others were critical of the misuse of radio to confuse and in some cases frighten listeners. But this relatively small strata of negative opinion was hardly representative of stories of apocalyptic evacuations or people arming themselves to shoot at marauding tripods. Schwartz makes a compelling case that the press had greatly amplified a few stories of genuine panic to kick-start a slow news day, and more insidiously to score points against the newspaper’s most threatening rival, radio. Elsewhere Schwartz delivers an illuminating early history of the medium thru the prism of the War of the Worlds broadcast, taking in the March of Time series, and influential radio productions like the 1926 BBC show Broadcasting the Barricades, and the 1938 show Air Raid which also married artifice with verisimilitude. Recommended reading.

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