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75th Anniversary of “War of the Worlds” Broadcast

Mass Hysteria and Widespread Panic From Event Was Just a Myth

WHO: American University Professor W. Joseph Campbell

WHAT: American University Professor W. Joseph Campbell has written extensively on the media myths surrounding Orson Wells’ “War of the Worlds” broadcast that took place 75 years ago on October 30, 1938. “The notion that the War of Worlds radio dramatization in 1938 caused nationwide panic and mass hysteria is exaggerated,” says Campbell. 

“Surveys showed that listeners, in overwhelming numbers, recognized the program for what it was—an imaginative and entertaining show,” Campbell said. “In addition, while newspaper reports indicated mass panic and hysteria, none of those same reports indicated deaths or serious injuries were associated with the program. Had the program caused mass panic and hysteria, many deaths and serious injuries surely would have ensued.”

WHEN: October 28 and on-going

WHERE:  In-Studio, via Skype, via telephone, or at American University

CONTACT: American University Communications at 202-885-5935 or ricktodd@american.edu

W. Joseph Campbell is a Communication Studies professor. He joined the AU faculty in 1997, after more than 20 years as a professional journalist. Campbell is the author of five books, including most recently Getting It Wrong: Ten of the Greatest Misreported Stories in American Journalism. The book won the 2010 national Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi award for research about journalism. Campbell has many different courses at AU, including Media Myth and Power, Censorship and Media, and Foreign Policy and the Press. Professor Campbell wrote about the War of the Worlds broadcast for his book on some of history’s biggest media myths: Getting it Wrong. He discusses the truth behind claims that the broadcast convinced people to flee in terror.



American University is a leader in global education, enrolling a diverse student body from throughout the United States and nearly 140 countries. Located in Washington, D.C., the university provides opportunities for academic excellence, public service, and internships in the nation’s capital and around the world.

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