Beginning in the 1920s, Henry Luce's media empire—including Time and Fortune magazines—reached an audience of millions and offered a trend-setting new format that blended news and feature-writing exposition. Luce expanded his empire by creating The March of Time, a radio show founded in 1931 primarily to advertise Time magazine and later Life magazine. In 1935 Luce further entrenched The March of Time brand with a dramatic monthly newsreel of the same name, which by 1937 played in over 9,800 theaters in America and was seen by as many as 26 million people each episode. Part drama, part journalism, the radio show and newsreel—and the pictorial Life magazine—may have had unprecedented influence over its audience, and indeed presented its makers' semi-objective pro-Americanist point of view in the documentary tradition established during the 1930s. With its over-the-top dramatizations, the radio show courted fictional presentation hemmed in by basic fact, while the newsreels, made in monthly installments, offered more real footage, but filled in gaps as necessary with re-enactments or with participating newsmakers. The ever-present narrator of both formats, the Voice of Time, guided audiences in how to think about the facts they "saw" and "heard."

The shows' distinct points of view are evident in its treatment of international events in the lead-up to World War II, from 1935 until the war began. While cautious and reflective of Americans' desires for neutrality during the mid-1930s, the programs steadily built toward an indictment of the Axis countries' values and made the threat of war and suffering overseas seem more real than print coverage possibly could have offered during World War I. Radio audiences heard whistling bombs bearing down on them as the Spanish Civil War was underway overseas; theatergoers saw the dead bodies (carefully re-enacted, of course), of Chinese civilians killed by the Japanese. Dramatic audio and visual clues led audiences to consider the threat presented by Germany, Italy, and Japan, while its discursive role criticized European counterweights for failing to act in time to halt the onset of war. The League of Nations and Great Britain had failed to stem the tide, and who would? By June 1940, 67 percent of Americans were in favor of aiding the Allies, but only 27 percent were ready to go to war. To some extent, March of Time was writing its own script about who Americans were, and preparing them for the role they would soon take on. Their message propagandized America to Americans and to democratic nations abroad. The March of Time ensured that when Americans were finally ready to go to war to defend their scripted values—freedom of speech, freedom to assemble, freedom of religion, democracy, equality—they knew why.