The Area 51 Raid was the public getting back at the media for War of the Worlds.

The media was fooled by Area 51 memers just like the public was fooled by Orson Welles

Aaron J. Alford
6 min readSep 20, 2019

The 1938 broadcast of War of the Worlds started as entertainment and quickly transformed into a public hysteria about the coming alien invasion. The America public took what was a joke, or a fake, far too seriously. Back then it was the public who was fooled by the media, because the media had a certain public trust in the past. They felt a responsibility to truth and good faith reporting. Today’s media is susceptible to lies and deceit, because the only thing that matters to them is their profit motive. The media, in 2019, is propaganda and propaganda is vulnerable to public trolling. Now it is the media who is bamboozled by the public.

The September 20, 2019 raid on Area 51 started as an internet meme, which then panicked the media and officials alike. AP news warned of the “humanitarian disaster” that would result from millions of people rushing the desert with limited access to water. The government warned against trespassing and positioned guards along the border of area 51. There were arrests and fear that the viral meme was serious. But in short, no one ever planned to actually rush Area 51.

Agenda setting theory says that what the media talks about, Americans are more likely to think and talk about. In this case, a Facebook joke entered the average American psyche via the media and government took that joke too seriously. Its a great case study to understand that the media doesn’t talk about what is important, or even true. The media exists to get clicks, just like every other random entertainment source in the world. Its all just about the money, so stop taking what they say so seriously, they simply don’t deserve that. The news media does not care about their own credibility, and they haven’t in many years.

War of the Worlds Hysteria

In 1938, The Mercury Theater on the Air produced a radio adaption of the H.G. Welles novel “War of the Worlds.” The novel tells the story of an alien invasion of earth and the subsequent consequences on the environment, human race, and society at large. The radio show was directed by and starred Orson Welles, who was one of the most famous radio directors ever.

The show was laid out as a fake news cast, something which had not been explored in 1938. It turns out that people weren’t really prepared for a fake news cast, and they took it very seriously. Despite the fictional nature of the account, the public panicked. Police officers began to arrive in the studio before the end of the broadcast, trying to shut down the production. Phones were ringing off the hooks, other media organizations were getting calls from the fearful public asking for answers. What started as a harmless joke, a fictional story, quickly became a public relations crisis.

The resulting panic is a well known event in the history of media. Many listeners had only caught a portion of the faux news cast, before grabbing their weapons and readying for an alien Apocalypse. Other listeners called everyone they knew to tell them about the end of the world, folks who may not have even owned a radio.

In an interview later Orson Welles discussed his experience:

Question: Were you aware of the terror such a broadcast would stir up?Welles: Definitely not. The technique I used was not original with me. It was not even new. I anticipated nothing unusual.

Question: Should you have toned down the language of the drama?
Welles: No, you don’t play murder in soft words.

Question: Why was the story changed to put in names of American cities and government officers?
Welles: H. G. Wells used real cities in Europe, and to make the play more acceptable to American listeners we used real cities in America. Of course, I’m terribly sorry now.

Area 51 craze takes revenge on media

On June 27th, 2019 Matty Roberts posted a Facebook event titled “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us.” Within only a week or so, more than a million people had signed up. The event sparked the imaginations of the internet, and hundreds of thousands of memes, shitposts, and internet celebrity hot takes soon followed. The desire to “see them aliens” was obviously a joke to any one under the age of 35. This led to a massive amount of jokes around Lil Nas X made a music video about Area 51 raid.

The American media utilized a propaganda model for filtering information. A key part of that is their profit model. In order for a TV station to make money, they can either ask for donations and recieve public funding, or they can operate on private advertising dollars. In a world where they rely on private ads, their sources, testmiony, and information are brought into question. Who is to say that someone who is bought and sold can’t be… well bought and sold.

Chomsky's Propaganda Model

The media showed their typical ignorance, and reported on the event as if it was real. What actually happened? Well the small inn with 14 rooms in it was completely full, and a few dozen folks showed up at the named location. Definitely national news worthy right? Many visitors were dressed in alien garb, and they all had a nice party together while a bunch of US military and police looked on incredulously. An Area 51 celebration was also held in Las Vegas with the founder of the Area 51 event Roberts in attendance. It appears that whether people went to hang out at Area 51, or to the celebration in Las Vegas, everyone had a great time.

The media probably just wanted in on the clicks that millions of memes and joke pages were receiving. Always jealous for attention, news stations covered the event like it was an actual threat to military security. I saw analyses about how many of the people who joined the event would show up, how armed they might be, and what the military would do. These stories plastered all over the advertisement supported news stations across America.

In response to massive public coverage of a joke, The Air Force threatened violence against anyone who came into Area 51. Warnings were issued, citizens were threatened, all over a joke. Anyone who knows anything about the internet, or area 51, understood it was a joke. The location of the meeting is in a town of 54 people. They don’t have the infrastructure for 2 million people to show up. Area 51 itself is nearly 25 square miles of mostly desert covered in military threats, no one was about to actually storm that place. I mean, of course Americans aren’t going to raid a US military base, that is an insane proposition which is why people liked joking about it. The media is a bunch of corporate schills who are willing to promote stupidity in order to make money, and they got hella trolled by Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter.

Apparently the modern news media isn’t good with jokes, just like in 1938 the public wasn’t good with fakes. Ironically, the position of public and media has switched do to the power of the internet, and the stupidity of for-profit media. Much like the media accidentally pulled over a massive prank on the American people in 1938, the Area 51 raiders accidentally drew the actual notice of the U.S. propaganda machine and U.S. military industrial complex with a Facebook meme in 2019. I for one think that is hilarious.



Aaron J. Alford

Media critique and memes. Writing about rhetoric and society. MA in Communication