The Sky Fall Conspiracy: Chapter 1

The most important part of any propaganda campaign is indulging the people, flattering them, and seducing them so they want to be propagandized. So they come happily, often and of their own accord to well of information and opinion that propagator produces. This is best done by supporting the preexisting ideas of the people, explaining away their problems as caused by an outside source and not their doing, and of course promising greatness in their future[JB1] .

William Stephenson, A Study of Propaganda


Germany, 1938. November 1st

                That Nazi Party installed radios and large speakers at the center of cities and town across Germany so the people could hear the Furer’s voice, and listen their propaganda. Most of the small cities didn’t even have electricity until it was installed to support these new devices. They’d never seen a record player, only on occasion did they witness a car driving through their part of the world. The grand economic boom had left these rural areas largely untouched so when the radio came, and the voices of famous and important people spoke to them directly, the city gathered in shocked awe. Life came to a standstill as they congregated to listen to music, hear stories, and important people. There is no word for radio in German, so they called it a magic box of sound. And what the box told them to do was hate the Jews, spy on their neighbors, and prepare for the great and final war.

                Alan Walus rubbed in shoe over the cobble stones. His glasses dug into his nose leaving red marks on his pale skin. He adjusted them, as he watched the crowd around the radio. “Do you think that’s why it’s so effective? Because the radio is new?”

                William Stephenson stood barely taller than his assistant with stark black hair, and think face and over development muscles in his jaw from working out his anxiety by clenching his teeth. He chuckled for a moment before answering. “Perhaps.” He wandered closer to the group. “If a magic box showed up on my door step and told me to hate the Jews I’d be inclined to listen. Or,” he held up a finger for emphasis, “maybe I’d decide that any box, magic or not, that told me to hate my fellow man was evil and destroy it.”

                Two boys snuck behind the large, black speakers and timidly touched the electrical cord. The bigger of the two held it a few inches from the ground and leaned his ear towards it. “This is where the it comes from. The voices are in here.” His face an blend of pride at knowing more than his friend, and disbelief.

                “No, actually.” Stephenson stepped behind them a pointed to the sky. “The voices are in the air, all around you. This is just what let them turn the radio on.”

                The two boy’s eyes widened and their pupils danced as though trying to see the radio waves moving among the clouds. “How come we can’t hear it? I mean without the radio.” The small one asked.

                “Ah.” Stephenson smiled and directed their attention to the metal tower the Nazi’s had built. “It’s like a dog whistle. You can’t hear, just the dog can and that tower there catches the voices, the music and turns it into a something you can hear.”

                The small looked to his friend and back again. “If I climb it could I hear them?”

                “No. If you climb it, the only thing you will hear is your mother’s scolding.”

                The boy hung his head and the two left. They shook their heads, perhaps in disbelief at the wonders of their new world, or perhaps they simply didn’t believe Stephenson’s explanation.

                That assistant approached, his coat pulled tight against the chill fall air, and it caught a few stray black hairs and kicked them about. “If we already know why Hitler’s propaganda is so effective why are we still studying it?”

                Stephenson frowned and stroked his chin for a moment. “What makes you think we understand it?”

                “Well …” The assistants voice wavered, and he took a step back. “I just thought. I mean you explained it to me. The history the magic box. That’s why it works.”

                “No. I explained what happened. Not why it works. A burning bush told Moses to wipe out the Cainites and he listened, but was it because the voice came a burning bush, or because of what it said? Or was it the miracles that followed.” Stephenson shook his head. “You’ve fallen to one the fundamental flaws truth, Causal Narrative. I told you a story that seemed to explain something to you and so you assumed you understood it, but at no point did I show you a single piece of real science, not a study, not a collection of interviews, no data, no statistics. Hitler brought the radios here, and the technology was new to the people of this town many other small towns like it, but he also did it in the big cities, places where people already had radios in their homes and it worked there too.”

                “Damn.” Alan eyes drifted to groups of people clustered around the radio listening. They didn’t talk to each other, they just listened. “I feel like I just failed a test.”

                “It was a test, just not pass or fail.” A gust of wind kicked up dirt from the cracks of the cobble stones and Stephenson covered his eyes. “I know you’ve studied the scientific method in school. You know all about it, but you’re in the real world for the first time and it’s easy to let your emotions and the natural function of your brain to see patterns guide you, but to be a scientist you have to fight that. You can feel, see the story you brain wants to tell you, but then you ignore it. The scriptures say the natural man is an enemy to God. I say the natural man is an enemy to science.”

                Alan nodded and pulled a notebook from his pocket and pencil from behind his ear. He wrote the phrase ‘casual narrative is not science.’

Stephenson pointed down a side street at shop with a large yellow star painted sloppily over the door. The large front window was broken and a pretty young girl no more than twelve swept the glass shards, a similar star clung to her coat. A cluster of men stood next to a garbage heap. They smoked and laughed. One with a thick dark beard gingerly pulled a rotting apple from the pile and hurled it at the girl. It struck her back and tumbled to the ground. Her entire body tensed at the impact, and head twitch slightly as though she was going to look where it came from but stopped herself. She swept it into her dust pan along with the glass.

Stephenson gestured for his assistant to follow as he headed towards the damaged shop. “The voices from the box have taught these people to not see Jews as other people, as their neighbor, or co-existent human.” Stephenson examined his own hands. “They have hands, just like our, skin, eyes, a nose and yet once they are marked with a star these German no longer see another human.” He stopped next to the girl and placed his hand on his assistant’s shoulder to position him so the backs of the two men formed a wall protecting the child from any more filth begin flung at her. He pulled a notebook from his pocket and started scribbling.

                “What’d you notice?” The assistant nodded towards the writing.

                “Nothing. I just thought we should have a good excuse for standing here. Once the hecklers move on so  can we.”

                “Shouldn’t we help?”

                Stephenson frowned. “Sadly, the science must come first. If we appear to be intervening directly, the people of this city will see us sympathizers. They will hate us, or be too afraid to be around us. They will cease to act naturally, and we could no longer study them.”

                “Seems wrong though. Letting grown men mistreat this girl.”

                “It is wrong, but the science must come first.” Stephen made a sweeping motion to the city. “This entire country is rotting from the inside because Hitler and Gerbbles have mastered propaganda, and with the use of the radio, they can reach every citizen. The people don’t even need to be literate. They don’t get too chose to buy it or not, like a newspaper. It’s simply thrust on them through the magic black box the government has placed in every city. In the places where they reach the most people. He’s even subsidized the cost of radios so more Germans can buy them. It’s propaganda like the world has never seen, and it works. I want to know why, and how.”

                “Then what?”

                Stephenson shrugged. “Fire cooks our food, warms our homes, but if you stick your hand in it, you will get burned. Same here.”

                “So, you want what?” He paused his eyes dancing as though looking for the answer in sky, and next words came in a halting unsure stagger, “To … cure… propaganda?”

                “No. I want to stop people from putting their hands in the fire, but first I want to know how it works. I want to know why they believe it.” Stephenson held up his hand. “And don’t say they are idiots, or uneducated. Some of Germany’s brightest minds who have fallen for Hitler’s box. In fact some of his greatest success has come on the campuses of secondary schools. It’s has nothing to do with education.”

                The unshaven German shouted, his voice gruff and aggressive, “Hey, move. You’re ruining our game.”

                Stephenson’s body went ridged and he clenched his jaw before turning around. When he spoke, it was in a crisp perfect German with a Berlin accent, and the overly loud volume he’d heard the Nazi’s use so often, “We are working. We are helping to build the Reich. And you are playing games at …” He checked his watch. “Ten in the morning. You think it is us that should move?” He stared hard at the three men.

                They hung their heads and after a moment wandered off.

                The girl stopped sweeping at looked up the two Canadians. “Thank you.”

                Stephenson scanned both sides of the street. The people had heard the little girl offer her gratitude, and it threatened his work. He held his notebook up closer to his face. “We do not talk to Jews.” He heard the girl leave the street and was almost certain that she had started to cry. Perhaps she would tell the story to her mother, and she could explain what it all meant, why they had stood there, and whey they couldn’t talk to her. He hoped the mother could explain the simple truth that it mattered more what a man does than what he says, and yet at the same time he hoped none of the Germans on street could put it together. A twinge of regret twisted in Stephenson’s stomach. He wasn’t giving these people the credit they deserved. They were smart and could understand what had really happened in the street. He’d let his emotion get the better of him and lost another city as source of information for his studies. He could come back, but it would probably be a waste of time.




                Stephen let out a sigh. “That’s why we don’t get involved. The science must come first.” He placed his hand on his Alan’s shoulder. “It’s hard to be so cold all the time, but if we can put it together, then we can take it apart, and all this hate will end.” He guided his assistant back to the main square and sat down the stoop of the courthouse along with several men smoking. A few of them wore the red swastika of the Nazi political party on their arm. “Have you been listening to the radio as we moved about town?

                “No.” Alan shook his head. “I’m fairly fluent in German, but it’s not like English. I can’t track two conversations, and the static of the radio alone makes it difficult to understand.

                Stephenson nodded. “It’s a radio play. This one is about a young milk maid in the country who rapped and they are trying to find the man responsible. Can who guess who the villain is?”

                The assistant furrowed his brow in confusion. “How would I know. I haven’t been listening.”

                “He’s a Jew. The villain is always a jew. The rapist, the murders, thieves, and corrupt leaders are always Jewish in these stories. The Nazi’s learned early on that the two things that captivates people attention best are music, and stories.” He point to the damage shop where the little girl had been sweeping earlier. “The radio has been in this town for almost four years. So, nearly every memory that girl has is a day filled with endless stories, where she and people like her are monstrous, and despicable. What do think does to a child’s mind?” He made a gesture indicating everyone gathered to hear the radio. “What do think that does to people who don’t really know any Jews, have no close association, or have never even met one?”

                “That’s it isn’t. The stories, the entertainment keeps the people listening, and each one ends with a Jewish villain, and they though to be villainous not because of any individual trait but because they are Jewish. It’s both terrible and brilliant all at once.” He rubbed a barely forming pimple on his nose. When you mentioned the magic box, it made perfect sense, but this I can really understand.”

                Stephenson chuckled. “It’s a good idea, and seems logical, but again have I shown you any science, studies, research? Or have you once again fallen for your own emotions. The pattern and story your heart keeps trying to tell you. It does make perfect sense, but that doesn’t mean it’s correct. For thousands of years doctors bled their patients and they got better so it made perfect sense that bleeding them help heal them.”

                “God damn it. I fail again.” Alan pressed his palm into his forehead. “I even have it in my notes. Causal narrative is not science.”

                “Don’t be too hard on yourself. I brought you hear because work needs to be done, but also because everyone fails when they see it first hand. When I explain what’s happening, and the history. They all tell themselves the same story, that because of the magic box people believed, because of barrage of story and the lack of personal experience they believed. It’s easy to reach those conclusions and everyone does. I need you to know that is how your brain works. Accept it, and then refuse to believe until you can prove it with the science. Until we then we can’t interveen or else we might be do just as much harm those ancient doctors who bled their patients.”

                “You a plan for that?” Alan asked. “Just a month ago Hitler threatened to start a Second World War because he wanted a few more Germans to live in Germany. If you find out your messing with his propaganda machine he’ll send of bomb shell he has at England.”

                “I’m a not a fool.”

                “I didn’t mean that. It’s just …”

                “It’s alright,” Stephenson said. “You know, during the Great War the idea of the Homefront was created. Armies were so large that an incomparable amount of food was needed to feed them. Most burned their nations ammo reserves in the first month. An ammo reserve that was suppose to last an entire war. So, to sustain their efforts the army was supported each day by the efforts of civilians back home. The generals on both sides decided that it was battle front of it’s own, and military action against was it within the laws of war.”

                “That doesn’t sound right. Soldiers can bomb a factory of civilians just because it makes bullets.”

                Stephenson shrugged. “I didn’t make the rules of engagement. Anyway, we started training saboteur spies to infiltrate the German factories. The best of them had been insure adjusters because they knew how things broke, how often, how long and expensive a repair would be. So, they could shut down the factories at regular intervals and always it simply looked like a run of bad luck, that things that were most at risk for breaking down, broke down. That’s what the science will give us. Power to make it look like a predictable and regular accident. When we are done Hitler will think that the mistake is his, or the those he put in charge.”


                A car rattled over the cobble stones. It axle straining audibly against the reverberation of road. The smooth baby like face of the man driving it jiggled in a rhythmic fashion until he pulled to a stop. The vehicle drew the attention of the crowd and the driver waded through them his head pivoting and twisting as though searching for someone in sea of people. They stroked the rims admiring the workmanship and polish, they touched the tires, and the unfamiliar rubber.

                Stephenson recognized the driver. His name was Charles and he mostly worked at the office in Berlin that served as the headquarters for the studies they were conducting. He worked in the office was because his German was terrible, a dead giveaway that he was from across the Atlantic, but he was good with statistics and he could run them faster than anyone Stephenson knew.

                Now, the driver’s face reddened with frustration and Stephenson rushed towards him, not wanting to call out less the boy should be dumb enough to answer in that God forsaken Canadian accent, or worse call the two scientists by the English names.

                The murming of the crowd grew louder and competed with the voices on the radio blaring into the open streets. Stephenson reached his young college and whispered, “What in God’s name are you doing here. This is an active study site. If they hear you speak a single word it could ruin everything.”

                The driver cupped his hand over his mouth to keep anyone else from hearing, “I know, but you have to see this.” He unrolled the paper he’d carried from the car.

                Stephenson’s face twitched. “It’s a British newspaper.” How could the man be so foolish as to bring it here. Everyone on the team had to be fluent in German, and they only allowed to visiting study sites if they could produce a perfect accent from one of the major area in the country. The driver knew that. Knew he was not allowed out of the office and dormitory, and yet here he was, with a British newspaper.

                The driver “spoke in an apologetic tone as though he could hear the anger rising in his employer’s voice. “Just read it. It’s one of the most important things to ever happen. It will change everything.”

                The radio finished it’s play and short propaganda commercial began talking about the German ideal. That he was hard working, and knew that his work built a better nation and world for all Germans, even if he simply plowed a field that day.

                Stephenson scanned the paper and saw that headline that caused the driver to act so recklessly. It would indeed change everything. It read “Orson Wells radio play causes millions of Americans to panic.”

 [JB1]The power of narrative: we must tell a story that will change what they believe, but the science must come first, so that what they will believe will also be true.

How Fake News Started an American War

In late 1897 and early 1898, Spain and America experienced rising tension over the Cuban revolution. William Randolph Hearst owned one of the largest newspaper organizations in the world and knew that war sold papers. When an accident sank the US battleship Marine, Hearst used his newspapers to blame the Spanish. He sent photographers, and reporters down to capture what he thought would inflame the American public. When they responded, “Everything is quiet. There is no trouble here. There will be no war. Wish to return.” Hearst replied, “Please remain. You furnish pictures, and I’ll furnish war.” His newspapers began to publish artistic drawings and cartoons of Spanish soldiers murdering unarmed men, raping women, and slaughtering children. On April 23rd, 1898, the US declared war on Spain.

-from ‘When the Sky Falls’ available on Amazon

Yellow Journalism and Fake News

The quote cited above is one that Hearst denies having ever said, but we can look at what he did, why it worked and how the trend of Fake News today is very similar.

In response to the idea that Hearst urged America into war, congress said that his ‘yellow journalism’ (their term for Fake News) had no impact on their decision to declare war.


The Fake News Plan of Influence

Hearst knew that it was unlikely that congress would read his articles pertaining to the war, they knew what he wanted and why. It was even possible they avoided reading his papers at all, but that didn’t’ worry him. After all, America was a democracy, and every member of congress was beholden to the voice of the people, and influencing them was his life’s work.

The plan for leading America into war broke down the population into three groups: the literate that read his newspapers, the semi-literate, and the illiterate along with those who didn’t buy his papers.

For the educated literate who bought his paper, he appealed to their self-interest. For some, he presented the wealth that was the byproduct of war; an endless demand for materials, weapons, ammunition, uniforms, and food that could only be satiated by victory. For others, it was an appeal to their human decency in helping the Cuban people obtain their freedom in the same way America had. The Cuban people were oppressed by imperial tyranny, and it was the duty of America to see them obtain their independence.

The second group of people read slowly, and rarely bought newspapers, but like all men, they craved attention. Today people stand around the water cooler and talk about sports, or prime time television, or comment on Facebook posts and tweet. In the late 1800s, the stories and topics discussed came from the newspapers. These semi-literate intentionally wandered past the newspaper stands, taking in the headlines and concocting their own stories to tell at the bar that night, or over lunch. Each hoped for the best version of events, to win the attention of their audience. In the same way that posts on social media hope to get a lot of likes, or better yet ‘go viral.’ Indeed, if there was an early version of buzz feed, it was the headlines Hearst directed at this group of people.

Headlines and Pictures: the Real Power of Fake News.

The final group refused to read Hearst’s paper or simply didn’t know how. For them, it was a combination of pictures and headlines. It’s true he might never sell them a paper, but they could contribute to the overall mood of the country. When members of Congress ate at a restaurant they might hear their waiter talking about it or the boys who shined their shoes. They heard working men discuss it on the street, or could be fed the same pieces of gossip by their wives and girlfriends.

To reach this difficult audience Hearst needed an army of propagandists. Fortunately for him, he already employed one, the newspaper boys. They shouted his headlines through the streets, brandishing his artistic images of atrocities, and the people filled in the blanks. He gave them something to talk about. In their own personal fictions, these people competed for attention as they do now; to be the story most liked, most shared, most repeated.


As a result of Hearst work, congress felt that the opinion of the American people was clear, they wanted war. The people believed his yellow journalism, and in turn, congress believed the people.

Fake News uses the same tactics today. An upsetting headline and disturbing image and most people become so upset that they stop thinking logically and just react. They comment, they share, but don’t verify.

The article above is an expansion of one of the many ideas discussed in the book “When the Sky Falls,” a novel that looks at the history of fake news, yellow journalism, fictional broadcasts and the psychology of why people believe them, all wrapped up in a gripping thriller. Available now on Amazon.