It’s a Sunday evening in late October 1938. Television has yet to become the focal point of family entertainment, for in this pre-World War II America, the radio is the media king offering news, culture and commentary to the inquisitive masses yearning to stay informed.
On this particular evening, the Columbia Broadcasting System interrupts its fare of Latin- themed orchestral music with an urgent, breaking-news bulletin. Astronomers and other official- sounding commentators begin to advise the listening audience of an alien event that has taken place in a small town in New Jersey.
The news announcers report the ongoing intergalactic events with trembling concern, and the American people huddle around their radio consoles to consume the details of this alien invasion.
The incidents being reported seem so authentic that many listeners begin to believe the world is coming to an end, and a palpable hysteria begins to manifest itself among the nationwide audience.
It isn’t until after the first 30 minutes of the broadcast that the true nature of this radio program comes to light.
An imaginative young director and radio star named Orson Welles had manipulated the fictional H.G.
Wells story; War of the Worlds into a reality-based format, which he believed would be more engaging and dramatic than a more traditional radio interpretation.
He was right and wrong at the same time. It was certainly engaging and dramatic, but the American people felt duped, hoodwinked and bamboozled. Welles received death threats and public criticism for the panic and hysteria caused by the broadcast.
What did we learn from that? The American people do not like being manipulated by the media powers that should be disseminating truth.
Almost 72 years later, the American public is still being manipulated. Instead of War of the Worlds, it has become War of the Political Ideologies.
The perpetrator of America’s most recent media manipulation is conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart. Using the Internet rather than radio as his weapon of choice, Breitbart presented a selectively edited excerpt of USDA official Shirley Sherrod addressing attendees at a NAACP awards dinner.
Using the divisive and controversial subject of race as his ammunition, Breitbart sought to take
Sherrod’s message of racial redemption out of context, and propose that the NAACP condones and provides a platform for anti-white sentiment and racist rhetoric.
The American people, NAACP and the Obama administration reacted to the cleverly crafted Breitbart misrepresentation with a collective rush to judgment much like the naïve radio audience who fell victim to the broadcasted “alien attack” that never happened in 1938.
With all of our technological advances, I find it more than interesting that a conservative con artist with access to a laptop was able to manipulate America’s sensitivity to race as a means by which to defame and force the resignation of Shirley Sherrod and expose so many in the Obama administration, the NAACP and the mainstream media as being more beholden to YouTube than the truth.
The current climate of America’s political landscape is one that fosters this brand of media manipulation. With the extreme, but constitutionally protected, conservative fanaticism of the tea party waging a war of ideology with the Obama and Democratic agenda, the American people are the ones caught in the political crossfire of misrepresentation and tainted information.
We, the people must stay ever vigilant in our quest for truth, despite the best efforts of those who would manipulate the facts to serve their own ulterior motives.
Though conservatives such as Breitbart and the Fox News empire seem to be the most skilled perpetrators of media manipulation, especially when it comes to all things Obama, we must always exercise due diligence in evaluating media-generated information.
Let’s face it…media manipulation is an equal opportunity tool of politics, not just exclusive to a singular directional ideology. Today, it may come from the right, but tomorrow it is just as likely to come from the left.