By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Media Nation bombs out

Yesterday’s bomb scare is the worst kind of story for a media critic to take on, because it’s hard not to sit, slack-jawed and vacant, and agree with what everyone else has already said. I don’t have much to say, but I’ll try to venture a few observations. (Globe coverage here; Herald coverage here.)

First, I basically agree with those who say the perpetrators and their corporate masters at Time Warner were stupid to do this, and city officials were stupid not to pick up immediately on the fact that this was a guerrilla marketing campaign. I think when both sides are stupid, the tie goes to the good guys.

Perhaps we’ll all change our minds when we cool off, but right now the idea of throwing a few people in prison for a couple of months sounds pretty reasonable. As long as the buck doesn’t stop with local suspects Peter Berdovsky and Sean Stevens. As my man Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. once said, the First Amendment does not protect anyone from “falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.” That’s exactly what happened yesterday.

Second, is this Herald sidebar, by Michele McPhee and Laura Crimaldi, not a significant scoop? According to the report, police have confirmed that two devices that looked like pipe bombs were found yesterday at Tufts-New England Medical Center and stuck onto the Longfellow Bridge were not part of the marketing campaign. Good grief. By tomorrow, this could prove to be the bigger story.

Third, the Herald editorialist who calls for Ted Turner to be thrown into the hoosegow apparently doesn’t realize that Turner’s had nothing to do with Turner Broadcasting for years, and that he left the Time Warner board entirely, under less than happy circumstances, in May 2006. (Sorry to rely on Wikipedia for such an important point, but the article matches my memory.)

On second thought: I don’t need a few days. I’m cooling off already. Although I’m sympathetic to the police and other public-safety officials who took this seriously, I can easily see how the perpetrators thought this was absolutely no different from gluing posters to news boxes promoting an upcoming concert. So no, I don’t think anyone should go to jail over this.

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Molly Ivins, 1944-2007


Head cases


  1. darkness

    But who were the “good guys”, Dan? The local authorities and media who overreacted to a ridiculous and embarrassing degree? Who consistently referred to the ads as “suspicious” and “hoax devices”, well after it was known exactly what they were and why they were there? It’ll be an amazing shame if Berdovsky and Stevens receive any jail time over this.

  2. Stella

    As brain dead as Turner Broadcasting was, it is apparent to all that our city and state employees are fundamentally clueless. One glance at the thing ought to have been enough.

  3. another face at zanzibar

    Dan, In a moment of weakness today, I tuned into Dennis and Callahan on my drive into Boston–my iPod battery was low and I didn’t have my car adapter. I kid you not, Gerry was blaming this thing on the liberals.

  4. Robert David Sullivan

    I agree with almost everything you say, but I think it’s a really bad precedent to throw people in jail for inadvertently scaring people. It’s too easy to imagine the bar going lower and lower. Should someone be arrested for simply carrying one of these devices in plain view on the subway? What if someone has a similar device on their backpack that indicates opposition to the mayor, governor, or president? I can imagine someone claiming to be “frightened” by the object.Imposing a heavy fine on Turner is one thing, but throwing the artists in jail is troublesome — unless there’s some evidence that they expected to cause a panic. Thanks for not using the word “hoax,” which refers to a deliberate, not accidental, action that causes panic.

  5. Anonymous

    Ted Turner being blamed is only one of many mistakes in yesterday’s told us “CNN will apologize” for the stunt, although CNN has no jurisdiction over Adult Swim.Many reports talked about the devices as “billboards.”Mayor Menino wants the FCC to revoke the license for Cartoon Network and its affiliates. Reporters for the Globe and the Herald repeated this threat, without mentioning that Cartoon Network doesn’t have or need a license.So much hyperbole from spokespeople. Channel 5’s general manager Bill Fine tells the Globe the city was “paralyzed.” Sorry, a one hour delay driving around, or a 15 minute wait on the Red Line is not paralysis. Bob Zelnick is quoted in the same story saying the area was “brought to its knees.” Please. Not to trivialize this, but World War 2 brought cities to their knees, not light boards blinking under bridges.You’re right in putting a lot of blame for this on the “post 9/11 world,” but that goes in two directions. The guerilla advertisers should get a big slap – not just for this but many more of their tactics. Oddly, Interference Inc., the primary villain, is hardly mentioned in anyone’s stories.The blame also goes to the terror hucksters in media and politics who have been pimping 9/11 for 5 years to build ratings and support. Does Fox News really need to randomly scatter “Terror Alert: Elevated” graphics every day on its newscasts?Mark

  6. Anonymous

    The imprecise word use is driving me crazy. By my understanding a “hoax” is a deliberate effort to deceive. Piltdown Man was a hoax, a deliberate effort to present something as something else. This wasn’t a hoax, it was a stunt. Unless, as my colleague pointed out, we’re to expect little aliens flipping us the bird are climbing the bridges to plant bombs. Watching the mayor wax apoplectic on TV may be the clip of the year. But come on, hoax?

  7. Anonymous

    Apparently, they haven’t found ALL of the Mooninites yet… hunt, anyone?-Chris E.

  8. Anonymous

    Count me among those who think the city and state grossly over-reacted to this. There are pictures online of these ads up in Boston at least as far back as 1/15. The media’s consistent reference to this being a ‘hoax’ just isn’t accurate and is misleading.The marketing company (and not Berdovsky and Stevens) should get nothing worse than whatever fine one gets for illegally posting fliers, ads, or graffiti. And I’m with Dan: what was up with the two fake pipebombs?-Mike P

  9. Anonymous

    Imagine if the controversy over the “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast has occurred in the “age of terrorism.” People would hang for it. And people like Dan Kennedy would say they deserved it.

  10. Anonymous

    Sorry Dan and Mike P., But it seems pretty obvioius that there is quite a bit of difference between gluing up flyers or posters and hanging up electronic devices with batteries and wires. That doesn’t mean I think the two arrested “performance artists” should go to jail, but it certainly rises above your typical littering, vandalism, etc. incident.adam

  11. mike_b1

    anon 1:34: That’s a funny but wholly imprecise comparison.

  12. man who thinks adult swim is overrated

    I disagree that jail time is not necessary, but for a very cynical reason: Time Warner will see a tidy profit from all the free publicity out of this.Sure, the Mayah wants TW to cover all the extra expenses (supposedly anywhere from $500k to a million, IIRC). But that’s a drop in the bucket to TW. If, instead, there are arrest warrants waiting for all the members of TW’s board of directors should they ever set foot in Boston. And they’re charged under that felony hoax law (2-5 yrs) the Metro mentioned this morning? Now THAT’S a deterrent against future idiotic stunts like this.

  13. Anonymous

    Adam – How does it rise above that? When I see an “Andre the Giant has a posse” stencil on a light pole, how do I know the light pole hasn’t been rigged to explode? Does this mean we should arrest that guy? And blow up all the light poles? There’s a lot of these still around, and they’ve been around for years. In the late afternoon yesterday, I was wondering what Adult Swim was thinking – “batteries and wires? What are they doing in this post-9/11 world?” Then I saw the offending item, heard how long they’d been up, and I couldn’t believe how far this had gone. -Mike P

  14. Lynne

    Dan,I think the big story here might be the terms being bandied about by the media and our political leadership, including Patrick – that this was some sort of hoax. That word has very specific legal and connotative meaning, and it simply doesn’t appear true.I think that hysteria is the one part in all this that scares me. The rest – well, I posted about it, but I was pretty amused. Also, I think the people on the BPD and other places ought to pay more attention to what their kids are watching…for all our sakes.

  15. Dan Kennedy

    Lynne: Well, yes, “hoax” does have a specific meaning, and perpetrating a hoax is exactly what the two suspects have been charged with. I agree, it doesn’t look like the word fits. But let’s see what tomorrow brings.

  16. o-fish-l

    It seems wholly appropriate that just days after Ted Turner’s third ex-wife (Hanoi Jane) again gave “the finger” to our troops, a company founded by Turner would use a different cartoon chracter to give the finger to the rest of us. Now you know how the troops feel, both Vietnam and Iraqi Freedom vets.Also, after seeing the press conference featuring the two buffoons charged in this, why weren’t 30 days of psychiatric evaluation ordered?

  17. Anonymous

    Dan you’ve made a smart connection between yesterday’s mooninite scare and the pipe bombs. but take it one logical step further and you’ll understand why the cops had no choice but to take this mess seriously through late afternoon.if you’re a cop chief and homeland security team and you have crews out searching for these silly wired devices that grin and light up and then you also get calls AT THE SAME TIME about two real bomb scares involving real simulated exoplosives, you have NO CHOICE but to err on caution’s side and treat the whole matter seriously. Why? because for all you know the smiley faces are a subterfuge to tie up the bomb squad so the other bombs can go off … you have to assume this scenario until it is disproven. that is the very nature of police work. hope for the best; plan for the worst. finally, the barking about how the cops said nothing at the afternoon presser is misplaced. It ignores the basic fact that they NEVER say nothing while pursuing suspects, lest said suspects get away by seeing on the tube that they are being pursued. (this rule is different for bolos and escaped cons and such, but this wasn’t the case.) i know we can’t all be as smart as the average blogger, but they are welcome to come out of their basements and inhabit the real world for a spell if they believe they can manage something like this better.

  18. Rick in Duxbury

    Personally, I think a Singapore-style caning would straighten out these two bozos, after listening to their “hair” interview. Astoundingly self-absorbed. (GlitchCrew indeed.) Unfortunately, we all know that won’t happen. More realistically, given the roles played by college students and their demographic group in Boston, this points to a real disconnect between City Hall and our largest industry. (A bit like moving to Miami but refusing to learn Spanish.) Mix in a whole lot of kids who prefer asking forgiveness to seeking permission and you have the recipe for even more events like yesterday. NYC can handle this type of orchestrated chaos. Boston proves regularly that we cannot.

  19. Neil

    Adult Swim put up a pretty detailed apology on a couple of those white-on-black screens that they usually use for their obscure, not-very-funny jokes, just before the Futurama rerun at 11:00 PM last night.

  20. A.J. Cordi

    Let’s not forget that these “hoax devices” have been up for about three weeks and nobody took them seriously.If this is a “dangerous situation” then those accused are not to blame, the people in charge of protecting the 10-major U.S. cities these were found in are.Dan – I’m glad you don’t think they should go to jail. Did you get to catch the two speaking to the media about hair? Classic!

  21. o-fish-l

    Aside from the entire scare and subsequent response, can anyone comment on why all of the local TV outlets found it necessary to “cloud” the video showing the cartoon character’s extended middle finger? I mean, really.

  22. Anonymous

    Is Boston, like, the dumbest-assed city in the whole universe, or what? Funny how Seattle and NY weren’t “brought to their knees” by this “bomb hoax.”

  23. Anonymous

    Dan, do you know what this Herald headline means?Hub jake arrested in drunken wrong-way crashBy Jessica Van SackThursday, February 1, 2007 – Updated: 01:38 AM ESTI think it means “firefighter,” but I can’t find anyone else who uses this word, besides the Herald.Just a Boston thing? A Herald thing? An NYPost thing? What.

  24. Anonymous

    everyone is laughing at boston! HaaHaa

  25. Anonymous

    I have a question for those who think there was an overreaction to a cute but obscure cartoon character: What kind of harmless shoe was Richard Reid trying to ignite on that flight?And for the dude with the dreads, do you think that smirk will disappear when he’s told by a competent attorney that a felony conviction could ship his hairy ass back to Belarus?

  26. Dan Kennedy

    Yes, the Herald uses “jake” as headlinese for firefighter, but I’ve never seen it anywhere else. It’s like “solon” for legislator. As long as it’s short, who cares if it’s cryptic?

  27. mike_b1

    Let’s not leave our our TV “friends.”David Wade from Fox25 News last night became the latest to wrongly blame Ted Turner.Bianca de la Garza needs to wise up and dump his ass.

  28. Anonymous

    The advertisers were stupid not to notify city officials about this before they engaged in the shenanigans, and to obtain permission from the city before engaging in them. The two minions who were apparently arrested probably were not to blame–it was their superiors who were and who should be taken to task. And, if what they did amounts to, for example, disturbing the peace, thrown in the hoosegow.–raj

  29. o-fish-l

    anon 11:04 and Dan: Here’s a long-winded but interesting definition from urbandictionary.com12. jake – New England affectionate slang for Firefighter. This word was first used as a reference to firemen in the early 20th century in the Greater Boston area, and it’s origins are recognized as officially unknown by several authors. While it is now a widely accepted term in the fire service, it is almost exclusively used in New England, and almost exclusively used to bestow great praise and the highest levels of respect. To be called a “Good Jake” is the highest form of praise a Boston area firefighter can possibly receive from a peer.The term “Jake” is most probably derived from the term “J-Key”. The first street-corner fire alarm box system was invented and constructed in the city of Boston, and was based on a telegraph system, novel in its day. Inside each box, next to the automatic alarm mechanism that tripped when someone pulled the hook, there was a small telegraph tapper, called a telegraph key, that firemen could use to communicate back to headquarters once they arrived on scene. As time passed, many World War One veterans had become Boston firefighters, and the telegraphs that these men were familiar with were the U.S. Army issue J-3 portable telegraph key (known as the WWI “trench key”), as well as other military J-Series telegraph keys, which were all known commonly as “J-Keys”. These veterans probably used this as a common slang for the keys they used inside their fire alarm boxes. Being a “Good J-Key” probably meant a fireman who was cool under the pressure and could send clear morse code. “J-Key” was eventually shortened to “Jake”, and when spread to the public, “Jake” came to be a common term for firemen in general.

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