In 1983, working on a spec piece for the New York Times on the 1938 “War of the Worlds’ broadcast which landed Martians in Grover’s Mill, New Jersey, located in West Windsor, part of the Princeton area I was covering, I interviewed Howard Koch, who had written the broadcast, based on H.G. Wells’s novel of the same name, for Orson Welles and his Mercury Theater of the Air. He told me that Welles had selected the area for the Martian landing by blindfolding his eyes and throwing a dart at a map. I also interviewed Sheldon Judson, the eminent Princeton Geology professor who, as one of my predecessors 45 years earlier (that is to say, a student cum news stringer), had been sent out by the Associated Press to Grover’s Mill to investigate the landing.
One of the reasons this dramatic presentation, much of which was delivered as a mock news broadcast, was believed by millions of Americans was because of the lethal combination of fear of foreign invasion and economic insecurity which then cast its shadow over Americans.
Today of course, the real fear is financial and the bogeymen are Muslims, but the fear factor which is our heritage is the same. Welles’s briliant broadcast Svengali has been replaced by a refugee from another horror drama, “The Stepford Wives,” as Sarah Palin tries to make us believe that the Martian, er, Muslim, er, terrorist in our closet is the black man on the ballot. But really, the devil is in the Republican details.