By DENISE LAVOIE and JAY LINDSAY,
Associated Press Writers
In nine cities across the country, blinking electronic signs displaying
a profane, boxy-looking cartoon character caused barely a stir.
But in Boston, the signs -- some with protruding wires -- sent a wave of
panic across the city, bringing out bomb squads and prompting officials
to shut down highways, bridges and part of the Charles River.
Something that may have been amusing in other cities was not funny to
authorities here, the city that served as the base for the hijackers
who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks. Officials defended their
reaction Thursday even as two men charged in the case, and some
residents, mocked the response as overblown.
Young Bostonians familiar with the unconventional marketing tactics
used by many companies tended to see the city's reaction as
Tracy O'Connor, 34, a retail manager, called the police response "silly
and insane," contrasting it with that in other cities where no one
reported concerns about the devices; an advertising gimmick for the
Cartoon Network show "Aqua Teen Hunger Force."
"We're the laughing stock," she said.
Public safety officials and a large segment of Boston's older
generation condemned the publicity campaign as unthinkable in today's
"Just a little over a mile away from the placement of the first
device, a group of terrorists boarded airplanes and launched an attack
on New York City," police Commissioner Edward Davis explained to
reporters from The Associated Press.
"The city clearly did not overreact. Had we taken any other steps, we
would have been endangering the public," he said.
Davis said that as calls were coming in about the electronic signs in
rapid succession Wednesday afternoon, police also received reports of
two devices that resembled pipe bombs and had a confirmed report of a
man walking down the hallways of New England Medical Center making a
rambling speech about "God getting us today" and "This would be a
Davis, who took his job in December, said he didn't know of any calls
coming in to the Boston 911 line.
Officials found 38 blinking electronic signs on bridges, a subway
station, a hospital, Fenway Park, and other high-profile spots in and
around the city.
In New York, officers went to various locations and found only two of
the devices -- both attached to a highway overpass. Police said it did
not appear it was targeting any landmarks such as the subway, Empire
State Building or Brooklyn Bridge.
"People can be smug and say all you have to do is look at this and
know this is not an explosive device, but the truth of the matter is
that you can't tell what it is until it's disrupted," Davis said.
Officials have vowed to hold responsible Turner Broadcasting Inc., the
parent company of the Cartoon Network, which airs the series about a
talking milkshake, a box of fries and a meatball.
Two men who authorities say were paid to place the devices around the
city pleaded not guilty Thursday to placing a hoax device and disorderly
conduct. Peter Berdovsky, 27, and Sean Stevens, 28, were released on
$2,500 cash bond -- apparently amused by the situation, even though they
face up to five years in prison.
They met reporters and TV cameras and launched into a nonsensical
discussion of hair styles of the 1970s. As they walked off, Berdovsky
gave a more serious comment.
"We need some time to really sort things out and, you know, figure out
our response to this situation in other ways than talking about hair,"
Late Thursday, Berdovsky released a statement through a Boston law
firm. It said he "never imagined" the devices would be perceived as
dangerous and he never intended to do anything to frighten the
"I regret that this incident has created such anguish and disruption
for the residents and law enforcement officers of this city," the
The devices didn't prompt calls of concern in any of the nine other
cities where Turner said the devices were placed. Police in the other
cities fanned out to find and remove them after Boston's scare.
Some enterprising people got to the devices before police: At least
seven were for sale Thursday afternoon on the Internet auction site
eBay, ranging in price from $500 to $2,100.
Most of Boston's colleagues in law enforcement in the other cities
chose their words carefully.
"I wouldn't want to give my opinion but in today's world it's better
safe than sorry. Someone (in Boston) clearly thought there was a
threat," Atlanta police Officer Joe Cobb said.
In the Seattle area, authorities thought the devices were "obviously
"In this day and age, whenever anything remotely suspicious shows up,
people get concerned -- and that's good," King County sheriff's Sgt. John
Urquhart said. "However, people don't need to be concerned about this.
These are cartoon characters giving the finger."
Tobe Berkowitz, an advertising professor at Boston University, said
it's easy to understand why there is a generational gap between the
way the target audience for the promotional campaign reacted and the
way older Bostonians reacted.
"For people who are hip and live in the world of blogs and all sorts
of cool alternative media, it's one thing," he said. "But for the rest
of us ... they don't get it as a marketing or a clever event, they see
it as a huge disruption of their lives."
The publicity campaign was conceived by the Adult Swim marketing
department and approved by the head of the Cartoon Network, Turner
spokeswoman Shirley Powell said Thursday. She said the devices had
been up for two weeks around the country and the network had not
received any calls about them.
"We were simply promoting a TV show," she said. "If we had ever
perceived this to be something threatening safety, we would never have
proceeded with it."
The network told the marketing company to decide where the devices
should be placed, with the mandate they should be in places likely to
be seen by young men. Adult Swim's target audience is men aged 18 to
The marketing company that placed the signs, Interference Inc. of New
York City, did not return calls seeking comment and its offices were
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press.
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