A Guide to Pop Culture’s Biggest Hoaxes

This week, 177 years ago, a series of articles were published in the New York Sun that reported on the discovery of life on the Moon, attributed to well-know astronomer Sir John Herschel. Stories about unicorns, strange humanoids, and entire civilizations described a strange, new world — and newspaper sales skyrocketed. What was intended as a satire — believed to be crafted by a Cambridge-educated reporter — became one of the earliest hoaxes in history, the truth not revealed until weeks later. Since then, and thanks to that lovely invention called the Internet, we’ve become far more jaded and skeptical when it comes to outlandish claims in media. Still, there have been many elaborate hoaxes over time that duped us for fun, profit, and sometimes accidentally. We shared several of pop culture’s biggest hoaxes past the break.

The War of the Worlds Radio Drama

On Halloween in 1938, future filmmaker Orson Welles directed and narrated his radio teleplay adaptation of H.G. Wells’ earth invasion novel The War of the Worlds on the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS). The first part of the 60-minute broadcast was presented as a real-life news bulletin, which launched widespread panic and terror by listeners who thought Martians had actually taken over the planet. When people realized they had been tricked (mostly accidentally), outrage followed, leading to sensational press headlines and securing Welles’ legacy. Since then, Wells’ story has been adapted and re-broadcast, but nothing has matched the large-scale hoax by the Citizen Kane filmmaker.