I’ll briefly mention that the Mirror has an article claiming that the first ever UFO sighting occurred in Kingston upon Hull, in Yorkshire, England, in 1801, which is clearly untrue since strange things have been recorded in the sky for thousands of years. Anyway, city historian Mike Covell uncovered newspaper reports from July 1801 describing a large “moon” with a bar across it that divided into five smaller orbs and then seven still smaller and fainter lights before vanishing. It sounds like a textbook case of a meteor breaking up in the Earth’s atmosphere (not to mention a close cousin of other premodern UFO sightings), but Covell, who feels that ancient astronaut claims for earlier sightings are too ambiguous to use as evidence, is pretty sure it must have been an alien spacecraft. “This is real evidence,” Covell said.
Moving on: Apparently there is nothing that the evil Illuminati haven’t had a hand in. According to a post yesterday on the conspiracy blog called the Nexus Illuminati, which I came across because of its references to Atlantis in Antarctica, the mysterious sect of “world controllers” were behind the infamous 1938 “War of the Worlds” episode of Orson Welles’s Mercury Theatre on the Air, which media reports at the time claimed sparked a nationwide panic when credulous listeners mistook the play, based on the H. G. Wells novel of the same name, for a news report of an alien invasion of New Jersey. Later research suggested that those reports were greatly exaggerated. Anyway, here’s the conspiracy in all its ungrammatical glory:
CBS “War of the Worlds” is radio broadcasted by Orson Wells who was funded indirectly by the Rockefeller Foundation through the Princeton Radio Project and guided at every stage by the CFR [Council on Foreign Relations] and psychologist Dr. Paul F. Lazarsfeld. Frank Stanton who later became head of CBS radio and television and Dr. Hadley Cantril hired Orson Wells to adapt the story of H.G. Wells (who happens to have been also a 33° Freemason) classic science fiction book into a radio drama format in order to study the behavior of citizens. Orson Wells apologized and said it was only meant as a Halloween prank. But it was crafted to create terror and analyze the reaction. Allegedly Orson Wells received death threats from the Rockefellers should he ever reveal that the unforeseen reaction to this broadcast is precisely what its perpetrators had hoped to achieve and analyze, demographically, psychographically and statistically.
As I understand it, this conspiracy theory has been around for a while and traces back to a claim made in the Hour of the Time conspiracy website back in 1999 which asserted that “The broadcast was a psychological warfare experiment conducted by the Princeton Radio Project. The Rockefeller Foundation funded the project in the fall of 1937.” You can tell which sources derive from this one since the actual name of the radio group was the Radio Research Project, which was headquartered at Princeton University but was not exclusive to it. They started out studying soap operas and their effects on mostly female audiences, but no one in the male-dominated conspiracy community cares about that.
The interesting thing is that the conspiracy theory is based on a few facts that happen to be true and several interpretations that are not. The true facts are that the Princeton Radio Project existed, that it was funded in part by the Rockefeller Foundation, and that Hadley Cantril studied the effects of the War of the Worlds broadcast on their dime after it occurred.
The warrant for the entire conspiracy is the claim that Orson Welles once admitted that he intentionally designed the drama to scare people in the hope that it would convince them not to believe everything they heard on the radio. This story gives the conspiracy theorists warrant to see in the events a multipronged plan that did not exist.
The facts are, as always, more mundane. The “War of the Worlds” broadcast of the Mercury Theatre on the Air was no different than any other radio play from the Mercury series and was not funded by the Princeton Radio Project or anyone else besides the Columbia Broadcasting System. Mercury Theatre was a sustaining program, meaning that it carried no advertising, and was funded entirely from the network’s own coffers. In the early days of radio this was a common way for networks to fill time in slots not purchased by sponsors. CBS aired Mercury Theatre as a sustaining program because they had difficulty competing in the time slot where NBC’s Red Network aired the popular Charlie McCarthy show, the Chase and Sanborn Hour.
We also know that the Council on Foreign Relations didn’t have anything to do with the broadcast because the various drafts of the script and the notes the network handed down about them still exist. CBS, for example, forbade the use of 28 specific place names to ensure that the play wouldn’t be too realistic and risk scaring people. The author of the script, incidentally, wasn’t Welles, but Howard Koch, whose original draft was more of a straightforward drama before John Houseman and Paul Stewart helped to shape the story into a series of news bulletins, following an idea Welles had borrowed from his own earlier play “Julius Caesar,” airing the month before. Since the entirety of the writing process started on October 24 for broadcast on October 30, with the final and famous form slapped together only in the last day before broadcast, it hardly speaks to a carefully orchestrated plot. In fact, Welles only decided to make the drama into a full-scale fake “breaking news” broadcast (as opposed to the original, more staid packaged news report format) on the evening of October 27, after hearing Columbia Workshop use the technique for “Air Raid,” according to memoirs and biographies published over seven decades.
Cantril’s 1940 study of the panic, incidentally, hardly qualifies as a preconceived effort to analyze a planned experiment. Cantril scrambled to collect information after the fact, while the C. E. Hooper ratings agency was busy collecting information on the night in question, telephoning 5,000 people, only to discover that virtually none had been misled. Cantril, by contrast, waited until after the play caused a media sensation to determine that he should study why audiences allegedly panicked. Because he waited so long, his data were unduly influenced by the media firestorm surrounding the broadcast, leading him to incorrectly estimate the show’s audience at double the number Hooper found, and significantly more than anyone else estimated. He concluded that 1.2 million people had been frightened into thinking aliens had invaded, but he drew conclusions from the memories of people who were likely influenced by media coverage of the panic rather than the original broadcast itself. This hardly speaks to someone who preplanned a comprehensive study of terror. Frank Stanton, accused mastermind of the plot, concluded that the audience considered the whole thing a prank.
But in the field of things that never change, it’s worth noting that Jack Parr, then a staffer at a CBS affiliate in Ohio, later recalled that on the night of the broadcast those who called into the station upset over the play often refused to accept the fact that the play was fictional and accused him of “covering up the truth”!
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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