The Lure of False Narratives: Martians and Election Day

waroftheworlds1It’s only fitting that a truly memorable demonstration of human gullibility will mark its 70th anniversary just before Election Day. On the night of October 30, 1938, thousands of radio listeners concluded that Orson Welles’ adaptation of The War of the Worlds was the real thing: a live account of Martian invaders landing in Grover’s Mill, New Jersey. Those fooled by the show’s air of authenticity exhibited signs of panic and hysteria. Some called the police for guidance on how they could protect themselves. Some fled their homes for greater safety farther from the invasion site. And some listeners fainted beside their radios. Within hours the hoax was fully revealed, and public outrage swiftly followed.

Today, Sen. John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin seem intent on creating similar mass confusion for their own purposes. Because in promoting themselves as agents of change, they’re clearly hoping that voters will mistake fantasy for reality. After all, during a 2005 Meet the Press appearance McCain himself claimed, “On the transcendent issues, the most important issues of our day, I’ve been totally in agreement and support of President Bush.” And according to the non-partisan Congressional Quarterly, last year he voted in line with the president 95% of the time — more than anyone else in the entire Senate. But given the president’s abysmal approval ratings as the election approaches (29% in a recent USA Today/Gallup Poll), it’s really no surprise that the McCain-Palin campaign is working so hard to spin their “maverick” yarns.

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