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Although there were sensationalist accounts in the press about a supposed panic in response to the broadcast, the precise extent of listener response has been debated. In the days following the adaptation, however, there was widespread outrage.
But historians also claim that newspaper accounts over the following week greatly exaggerated the hysteria. There are estimates that about 20 percent of those listening believed it was real. That translates to less than a million people.
At the time, newspapers considered radio an upstart rival. Some in the print press, resentful of the superior radio coverage during the Munich crisis, may have sought to prove a point about the irresponsibility of the radio broadcast.
"The exaggeration of the War of the Worlds story can be interpreted as the print media's revenge for being badly scooped during the previous month," McLeod said.
According to the New York Times, Welles expressed profound regret that his dramatic efforts could cause consternation. "I don't think we will choose anything like this again," he said. He hesitated about presenting it, Welles said, because "it was our thought that perhaps people might be bored or annoyed at hearing a tale so improbable."
Later studies suggested this panic was less widespread than newspapers suggested. During this period, many newspapers were concerned that radio, a new medium, would render the press obsolete. In addition, this was a time of yellow journalism, and as a result, journalists took this opportunity to demonstrate the dangers of broadcast by embellishing the story, and the panic that ensued, greatly.
Robert E. Bartholomew suggests that hundreds of thousands were frightened in some way, but notes that evidence of people taking action based on this fear is "scant" and "anecdotal". Indeed, contemporary news articles indicate that police were swamped with hundreds of calls in numerous locations, but stories of people doing anything more than calling the authorities typically involve groups of ones or tens and were often reported by people who were panicking themselves.
Contemporary accounts spawned urban legends, many of which have come to be accepted through repetition. Several people reportedly rushed to the scene of the events in New Jersey to see the unfolding events, including a few geologists from Princeton University who went looking for the meteorite that was said to have fallen near their school. Some people, who had brought firearms, reportedly mistook a farmer's water tower for a Martian Tripod and shot at it.
Future Tonight Show host Jack Paar
Jack Harold Paar was an American radio and television comedian and talk show host, best known for his stint as host of The Tonight Show.- Radio and films :...
did announcing duties that night for Cleveland CBS affiliate WGAR. When the phone lines to the studio started to light up with panicking listeners calling in, Paar attempted to calm them on the phone and on-air by saying, "The world is not coming to an end. Trust me. When have I ever lied to you?" When the frightened listeners started charging Paar with 'covering up the truth', ...
Pay particular attention to Elinin's position relative to Earth on October 28th, 2011.