A light bulb just came on in my head. Since Richard Polawski murdered three police officers over the weekend and it became apparent that he had been influenced by right wing propaganda, Glenn Beck and the rest of the right wing echo chamber has pushed back hard against any charges that they were responsible for Polawski's actions. Just the fact that they have been so defensive shows in my opinion a guilty conscious but I have been very dissappointed that most of the mainstream media has not really picked up the story or really fully examined the role that right wing fear mongering rhetoric is having on influencing these kind of situations. Then it occured to me, this is much like Orson Welles' radio broadcast of "War Of The Worlds"
crossposted at SmoothLikeRemy
On Sunday, October 30, 1938, millions of radio listeners were shocked when radio news alerts announced the arrival of Martians. They panicked when they learned of the Martians' ferocious and seemingly unstoppable attack on Earth. Many ran out of their homes screaming while others packed up their cars and fled.
Though what the radio listeners heard was a portion of Orson Welles' adaptation of the well-known book, War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells, many of the listeners believed what they heard on the radio was real.
Basically what happened back then was that people were listening to the radio and caught some part of the broadcast and then thought it was a real news report. Back then it was common for the radio to carry important messages to the citizenry. When major events were going on the radio was usually how you found out. Besides that everything about the broadcast was made to sound like a real news report.
Orson Welles then went on the air as himself, setting the scene of the play: "We know now that in the early years of the twentieth century this world was being watched closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own..."
As Orson Welles finished his introduction, a weather report faded in, stating that it came from the Government Weather Bureau. The official sounding weather report was quickly followed by "the music of Ramon Raquello and his orchestra" from the Meridian Room in the Hotel Park Plaza in downtown New York. Actually, the broadcast was all done from the studio, but the script led people to believe that there were announcers, orchestras, newscasters and scientists on the air from a variety of locations.
The script specifically attempts to make the interview sound real and occurring right at that moment. Near the beginning of the interview, the newsman, Carl Phillips, tells the listeners that "Professor Pierson may be interrupted by telephone or other communications. During this period he is in constant touch with the astronomical centers of the world . . . Professor, may I begin your questions?"
During the interview, Phillips tells the audience that Professor Pierson had just been handed a note, which was then shared with the audience. The note stated that a huge shock "of almost earthquake intensity" occurred near Princeton. Professor Pierson believes it might be a meteorite.
Another news bulletin announces, "It is reported that at 8:50 p.m. a huge, flaming object, believed to be a meteorite, fell on a farm in the neighborhood of Grovers Mill, New Jersey, twenty-two miles from Trenton."
Now what does this have to do with Glenn Beck? EVERYTHING. You see he has a show on a cable news station and he presents himself as someone who is telling the truth. He probably doesn't believe half of what he says but what he does believe is that scaring people over dumb shit will help the political party (Republican of course) that he aligns himself with. He sees nothing wrong with claiming President Obama will take everyone's guns or that we are on the edge of facism or that our whole way of life is going to crumble and we will turn into a third world country all because he doesn't like the fact that we now have a Democrat as President.
Many people of course dismiss the things he says because he is obviously a little touched in the head (he has referred to himself as a rodeo clown) and most of what he says doesn't even sound possible let alone probable. Yet and still right now he has the second highest rated cable news network show and he gets millions of views each day. Many of those viewers DO take him seriously and DO believe that he is bringing them the truth that "nobody else will". So what happens when you believe that a person is presenting the news to you truthfully and that person warns you every single day that you are under attack and that people will be coming for you and your kids soon and that you have to rise up against these unseen liberal forces? Well, just like with the Orson Welles broadcast, you react.
All across the United States, listeners reacted. Thousands of people called radio stations, police and newspapers. Many in the New England area loaded up their cars and fled their homes. In other areas, people went to churches to pray. People improvised gas masks. Miscarriages and early births were reported. Deaths, too, were reported but never confirmed. Many people were hysterical. They thought the end was near.
Hours after the program had ended and listeners had realized that the Martian invasion was not real, the public was outraged that Orson Welles had tried to fool them. Many people sued. Others wondered if Welles had caused the panic on purpose.
The power of radio had fooled the listeners. They had become accustomed to believing everything they heard on the radio, without questioning it. Now they had learned - the hard way.
So you see the question at this point really shouldn't be whether Poplawski was influenced by the right wing echo chamber to commit his crimes, there really can't be any doubt about that anymore. There are two questions that remain for us though,
- How many more people will die as a result of someone reacting to all the right wing fear mongering by reacting with violence?
- How much longer will the rational people in this country put up with this kind of hate rhetoric being spewed everyday on Tee Vee and in some cases by sitting Congresswomen?
I am not talking about restricting free speech here. People can feel free to say what they like. However even with free speech there is a prohibition against inciting panic and violence like yelling "fire" in a crowded theater. What I am asking is when will we start holding people responsible for the things they say? And by responsible I mean criminally AND civilly. Jason Linkins over at the Huffington Post pointed out yesterday that Michele Bachmann is still taken seriously and criticized with kid gloves by mainstream media types when they should be calling her batshit crazy. In the time since the shooting in Pittsburgh Poplawski's story has been carried by the local Pittsburgh media and the national media. It is striking how the local papers have no qualms about pointing out Poplawski's ties to right wing talking heads and far right websites but you won't see that in ANY national publication. Has our media gotten so afraid of being called liberal that they now refuse to report the truth when it comes to the right wingers in this country? If so its sad and just another indication of why many of the newspapers are dying a very quick and painful death. I am usually not one to call for people to get fired but when you aren't doing your damn job anyway what good are you?
Maybe more journalists should think about that last question.