Present fears are less than horrible imaginingsIt’s easy to stoke up fear in a crowd of people. Orson Welles did it on a mass scale with his 1938 radio broadcast of HG Wells’ The War of the Worlds when, reputedly, over one million people out of six million listeners panicked when they mistook a drama play for a news bulletin. Or did they?
Fake newsSubsequent research suggests that what really happened was that thousands of people did no more than telephone local authorities and were reassured when they were told it was a radio play. Media reports – including some started by the organisations that funded the radio station – exaggerated the level of panic and even reported suicides and heart attacks. Police were involved but mostly in the capacity of reassuring listeners. Was this the first modern fake news story? Not only because the whole thing was fictional but also because the reporting of it afterwards was exaggerated.
|Antony Byrne as Rumour - "Open your ears" - in Henry IV Part Two|
“Upon my tongues continual slanders ride”Shakespeare starts Henry IV Part Two with the entrance of an actor playing the role of Rumour, a throwback to medieval mystery plays when Vices were personified on stage. “Open your ears,” says Rumour. He boasts
“Upon my tongues continual slanders ride,He goes on to say that he is going to lie about the battle that the audience had seen (in the prequel) and say that those who died were alive and those who were alive had died. Shocking fake news depicted in a play over 400 years ago about an event 200 years before that. Rumours. Fake news. Provoking fear in the general public.…
The which in every language I pronounce,
Stuffing the ears of men with false reports.”