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Media Scaremongering

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500pt headline. On a word processor, this setting is called Daily Planet.

Caboose, Red vs. Blue Fire Safety PSA


In fiction, the media is often depicted as relentlessly fear-mongering for ratings, and will take any story or event, no matter how innocuous or harmless, and make it look like The End of the World as We Know It. In the case of real-life media drumming up fear, this one goes hand-in-hand with the Made-for-TV Movie which sensationalizes the topic of discussion. Whatever the latest media-induced paranoia is, like crime, typhoons and the best show on Earth, we're going to get a show or special report about it. Think Everything Trying to Kill You applied to Real Life and you have the idea.

If children are allegedly in danger, then it's a case of Think of the Children! (with Harmful to Minors being when it is actually dangerous to children). If it's about new technology, then it's probably because Science Is Bad. If it's a new minority or subculture, then lock the doors and hide your daughters — it's the Subculture of the Week! Expecting volcanic eruptions in the midwest? Then it's likely a Disaster Movie. New diseases or health issues like high cholesterol and cancerous artificial sweetener? Then it's probably a Hallmark Channel Made-for-TV Movie about a Pollyanna and her family going through something truly Glurge-y.

Often involves a Clueless Aesop. May evoke Poe's Law if its parody status is unknown. Let No Crisis Go to Waste is often implied or stated to be the reason for telling people to panic.

Compare If It Bleeds, It Leads. Contrast Bystander Syndrome, when situations that people should be rightly concerned about are dismissed as nothing important. See also: Axes at School, Disaster Movie, Glurge, New Media Are Evil, Pædo Hunt, Ripped from the Headlines, Subculture of the Week, Tabloid Melodrama, The New Rock & Roll, Western Terrorists.


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  • This is such a common advertising trope that listing each occurrence would eat up an entire page of its own. In fact, one of the most basic ploys in advertising is to convince people that the lack of their product/failure to vote for their candidate/etcetera will RUIN YOUR LIFE FOREVER and lead to THE END OF THE WORLD!!! Subversions, aversions, and/or deconstructions are much less common and far more interesting, so please post only them or the most extreme examples of this trope.
  • Played straight: Vote for me or you'll get nuked! The ad was only aired once and his campaign got criticized for it, but it helped Lyndon Johnson win the 1964 Presidential election.

    Comic Books 
  • Spider-Man: The Daily Bugle is almost never without a banner headline proclaiming how the latest thing to hit New York is somehow, inevitably, Spider-Man's latest villainous scheme. Bank robbery? Spider-Man. Alien invasion? Spider-Man! Bad weather? SPIDER-MAN!
    • Though one issue of Hawkeye has a non-Spidey banner headline... still proclaiming doom and terror.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Fatal Contact Bird Flu In America was a Made-for-TV Movie about Bird Flu coming to America, while, at that exact same time, suddenly mutating into a form more easily communicable to and between humans. On the inverse side, very few people realize that Swine Flu actually is a pandemic already, because the definition of pandemic doesn't actually include death toll in the criteria, just how much it's spread and how hard it is to stop it from spreading further. The fact that it's spread just about everywhere but proven no more lethal than the regular flu is probably why a similar movie doesn't exist for it.
    • Not that the media didn't try, but it's hard to get scared of something when the vast majority of the deaths are innocent pigs.
  • Reefer Madness: The Musical: The Lecturer says "When danger's near, exploit their fear." The one parent who objects to these Red Scare tactics is labeled un-American.
  • Michael Moore:
    • Bowling for Columbine: Seen in a news segments montage during the film. Although he is not quite as scathing towards them as the NRA or gun manufacturers, Moore criticizes the news media for stoking non-stop fear to boost ratings, and sees this as a major contributing factor to the number of gun deaths in the United States.
    • Fahrenheit 9/11: Moore replays a female scream after images of destruction to emphasize how the government exploited the 9/11 attacks to manipulate people.
  • Pretty much the whole point of The Host (2006) was satirizing this. Giant tadpole running around Seoul, eating people? It must be carrying A HIDEOUS NEW DISEASE! Let us completely focus on this possibility, and ignore the fact that it's eating people!
  • Played for Laughs in The Music Man. Salesman "Professor" Harold Hill's standard procedure is to work up a town into a frenzy by turning some trivial incident into a full-blown moral panic, so he can sell them on the idea of starting a children's band (and buy instruments from him).
    Oh yes, we got trouble! Right here in River City! With a capital T and that rhymes with P and that stands for POOL!
  • Rollover. The public panics and riots after banks fail worldwide.
  • Night Watch (1995). After the Hong Kong stock market computers are destroyed by a virus, economic chaos spreads across the globe. The stockbroker that is interviewed says: "Once Joe Average decides the market's unstable, they want out, at any price. They were telling me sell, sell, sell; but nobody's buying." Another report says the market has fallen 3000 points with no end in sight.
"Gentlemen, time to spread the word. And the word is panic."

  • Parodied in The Areas of My Expertise, when one character is smugly worried that terrorists will attack the Mall of America.
    "You know what?" I say. "Fuck you."
  • State of Fear, as quoted, manages to make a good point about this despite being mostly an Author Tract about why Michael Crichton thought Global Warming was a sham.
  • Street Ninja, arguably a self-defense guide, tries to play up the idea that every gangster, skinhead, and drug dealer is killing each other so they can have the honor of killing you, personally. To protect yourself learn the secrets of the ninja. It says things like it's impractical to dress up in body armor...then suggests how to make homemade body armor.

    Live Action TV 
  • Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura: Every episode is about some threatening conspiracy with nefarious plans that always involve massive harm to the human population. The show will run clips of disasters while the narrator informs us that we'll die any day now thanks to yet another paranoid conspiracy.
  • The Leverage takes on a TV reporter who makes a career out of this in "The Three Days of the Hunter Job". She actually turns down a fake story they feed her about secret terrorist prisons in the US because she doesn't think it will scare her viewers enough.
  • Stephen Colbert is proud to be a fearmonger.
  • Mock the Week also ran a story about Bird Flu, showing the scare-mongering of the English media. Also from the show is a rather famous monologue by Russell Howard about scaremongering in British newspapers.
  • The Animal Planet series Infested makes it look like infestations are caused by unstoppable pest species that will overwhelm the people dealing with said pests. In reality, such infestations are rare and most infestations can be treated rather efficiently.
    • A couple of episodes have focused on bats. Said episodes went out of their way to remind people "Bats have rabies! Your children could be in danger!". While rabid bats are very dangerous, you're more likely to be bitten by a rabid dog due to bats being nocturnal and encounters with them being quite rare.
  • Tonight, an ITV Documentary/news show, swings between this mode and sensible, reasoned attitudes - if it's a subject like banking, petrol crisis, the war in Libya, then they'll have Shown Their Work, but if it comes to The Internet or New Media Are Evil, then You Can Panic Now is in full effect.
  • Inverted on That Mitchell and Webb Look with a sketch about the news declaring that major disasters, explosions, and serial killings are all "fine" because they're over now, or because there isn't any violence except in the few minutes the serial killer is actually murdering someone, so there's no need to worry at all and it's all fine. However, their preview of the next day's newspaper headlines takes a shot at the Daily Mail's habit of playing the trope straight with its headline "Everything's fine, fear it, fear it."
  • Drop the Dead Donkey. When Globelink News decide to make a crimewatch program, Gus Hedges assures the police liaison officer that it's not going to increase the public's fear of crime for cheap ratings. Cue the title sequence showing a couple moving fearfully through a darkened street, while an ominous voiceover accompanied by creepy music tells how crime is lurking everywhere, waiting to strike... The music stops as the couple make it to their car, lock the doors and sigh with relief, only for a blood-stained man wielding a huge knife to rise up from the backseat. We then cut to a 'recreation' of a postal robbery, which involves grinning hoodlums knocking an old lady's teeth out and splattering a clerk against a wall with a shotgun.

  • The entire point of Eminem's song "Without Me" is to parody this trope. Within the song, he makes a Take That! at the FCC, teases paranoid parents that he's "infecting in your kids' ears", and invokes The New Rock & Roll trope by alluding to the fact that the Moral Guardians also reacted with You Can Panic Now when Elvis premiered.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Parodied in a Calvin and Hobbes strip where Calvin's dad was watching "Eyewitness Action News", which aimed to tell its audience ''why YOU should be paralyzed with helpless fear!"
  • This is a common subject in Candorville, as part of its general dislike of "Mainstream Media." Typically, honest information is presented, but certain panic-inducing words are written larger than others.
  • Though not technically in featured in a Dilbert strip, Scott Adams has noted that whenever humanity has become aware of a serious problem years in advance, it has been averted. When the Powers That Be said, "Panic!", people went out and solved the problem.
    Can anyone give me an example of a potential global disaster that the general public saw coming, with at least a ten-year warning, and it actually happened as predicted?

    Video Games 
  • Grand Theft Auto: The radio news tends to run along these lines. San Andreas has WC-TR with its host declaring things like "IS SKATEBOARDING MAKING YOUR SON GAY?"
  • We Become What We Behold has this as a central concept. It puts the player behind a camera of a news site photographer, who starts out taking pictures of interesting things. But then the headlines start becoming more inflammatory, stoking tensions between the two groups in the game further and further until everything eventually goes to Hell.
    News ticker: BE SCARED. BE ANGRY.

  • Sluggy Freelance: During the Storm Breaker Saga, the evil book (The Book of E-Ville) goes missing on the battlefield between good and evil. The monk who'd had custody of the book tells everyone not to panic and it has to be there somewhere — when it turns up in the hands of one of the story's biggest idiots. The monk reverses course. Seen here in the archives.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • The parents in South Park, frequently.
  • From The Simpsons:
    • One episode features a hidden media conspiracy to actually release a disease and do reports on it blaming the imminent outbreak on cats.
    • In "Homer the Vigilante", Kent Brockman's initial report on the string of cat burglaries ends with him asking a professor if the town should panic. He nonchalantly agrees that they should. Later, Kent brings in the same professor after a large number of townspeople start searching for the cat burglar's loot.
      Kent Brockman: Hordes of panicky people seem to be evacuating the town for some unknown reason. Professor, without knowing precisely what the danger is, would you say it's time for our viewers to crack each other's heads open and feast on the goo inside?
      Professor: Mmm, yes, I would, Kent.
  • In the first episode of Rocky and Bullwinkle, the eponymous characters are mistaken for invading aliens (It Makes Sense in Context...more or less). The radio announcement to this effect concludes with the line, "This is not a play, repeat, not a play. Feel free to panic."

There are no more examples! YOU CAN PANIC NOW!

Alternative Title(s): You May Panic Now, You Can Panic Now, Media Fearmongering, Scaremongering Media