War of the Worlds:
Could It Happen Now?

It is tempting for us to sit here in the media-soaked 1990s and think back to the 1930s as a simpler time. People back then were not savvy, we might tell ourselves. We could never fall for such a hoax as Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast.
Why do we think that? Is it because of our increased awareness of media? The channel-surfing mentality which we take for granted now but which fewer radio listeners would have understood? Contemporary technology makes such hoaxes easier, not harder to perpetrate. CGI graphics, digital retouching, sound effects -- how easily could such technology be used to make an unsuspecting public believe in an alien invasion, as Welles made his listeners believe?
Of course, a modern hoax is unlikely to come from such a distinguished source as CBS. After seeing the power of the media to create a panic in 1938, the media of today have foresworn such applications of technology through internal guidelines. Media outlets have acknowledged more openly their responsibility to the public. After all, the media would be the first to recognize that any question of their credibility undermines their future effectiveness.
And it might not be Martians. Today, any number of millennial concerns ranging from the Y2K bug to biowarfare could take the place of Welles' Martian invasion. Throughout the history of the War of the Worlds story, the aliens have always taken the form of what we feared most.
Watch the skies....