Two Held in Boston After Cartoon Bomb Scare

Police have arrested two people in Boston after a guerrilla-style ad campaign went awry. Blinking ads for a late-night cartoon were investigated as explosive devices, sending the city into a mini-panic Wednesday.

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Authorities in Boston have arrested two men in connection with the publicity stunt that backfired big time. The men are charged with planting electronic devices around the city that led to a major terror scare.

NPR's David Folkenflik reports it began as a promotion for a late-night cartoon show.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Yesterday started off on an anxious note for Boston Mayor Thomas Menino.

Mayor THOMAS MENINO (Boston): Early this morning, I received a call from Commissioner Davis of a suspicious form in Sullivan Square in Cambridge.

FOLKENFLIK: Menino was speaking to reporters at a packed press conference yesterday afternoon. Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis and his department had to investigate suspicious packages left under bridges and other public areas throughout the region. Davis said it diverted a lot of police time, energy and money.

Mr. EDWARD DAVIS (Commissioner, Boston Police): Emergency deployment teams were sent into the center of the city immediately upon these reports. There were significant shutdowns of not only highways but rail traffic with the MBTA, and this has created an enormous inconvenience to people in the city.

FOLKENFLIK: The national news followed, such as these reports on Fox News Channel at MSNBC.

(Soundbite of Fox News broadcast)

Unidentified Woman: Breaking news out of Boston to bring to you now. These pictures courtesy of WBZ-TV. Police are now investigating reports of four suspicious devices at four separate locations throughout…

(Soundbite of MSNBC broadcast)

Unidentified Woman #2: Four suspicious devices placed in various locations in downtown Boston. As you can see there, pictures from what we've been following all day. Police presence is thick and heavy as of right now.

FOLKENFLIK: Ultimately, ten suspicious packages were seized, but Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signaled the all-clear at the afternoon press conference.

Governor DEVAL PATRICK (Democrat, Massachusetts): I think we are all relieved that the device that's found so far have proven to be hoax devices.

FOLKENFLIK: Those devices proved to be boards with magnetic lights illuminating characters for a show called "Aqua Teen Hunger Force." And yes, you heard that right. It's a cartoon show with a cultish following. The characters on the electrical boards around Boston were supposed to be two-dimensional aliens from the moon giving the middle finger to passersby.

(Soundbite of show, "Aqua Teen Hunger Force")

Unidentified man: We are the Mooninites. And our culture is advanced beyond all that you can possibly comprehend with 100 percent of your brain.

FOLKENFLIK: Yesterday, people found it hard to understand what executives at the Cartoon Network were up to as well. A senior spokeswoman for its parent company, Time Warner's Turner Broadcasting Unit, did not return calls seeking comment. But a statement from Turner said the marketing campaign was several weeks old and had been carried out in ten cities. The statement said the network was sorry the packages, quote, "were mistakenly thought to pose any danger."

CNN, which is also a division of Turner Broadcasting, had reported repeatedly on the bomb scare and later reported it was part of the marketing campaign. CNN disclosed its corporate ties to the Cartoon Network on the air. A spokeswoman said the cable news channel reported it the same as it would any other story.

Boston Mayor Tom Menino said criminal charges could follow that carry sentences of two to five years in prison for each instance of a bomb hoax.

Mayor MENINO: We're not playing around. It's about keeping the city on edge. It's about public safety. When it comes to public safety, we're throwing everything at you.

FOLKENFLIK: The Associated Press reported last night the consultant that created the campaign is Interference Incorporated, a self-described guerilla marketing company based in New York City. Detailed messages left last night by NPR for Sam Ewen, the company's CEO, were not returned for comment.

No word on what marketing campaign Turner has planned for an expected "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" movie expected out later this spring.

David Folkenflik, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

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