Misconstrued Publicity Stunt Shuts Down Boston Commuters were re-routed and terrorism fears rose in Boston when a publicity stunt for the cable TV show Aqua Teen Hunger Force went wrong. Authorities shut down roads and a part of the Charles River, fearing "suspicious" objects.
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Misconstrued Publicity Stunt Shuts Down Boston

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Misconstrued Publicity Stunt Shuts Down Boston

Misconstrued Publicity Stunt Shuts Down Boston

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I'm Robert Siegel.

Roads, bridges and part of the Charles River in Boston were shut down today as police investigated several suspicious packages found in and around the city.


A very serious response to what turns out to be part of a marketing campaign for a cartoon. Turner Broadcasting says it placed the devices as part of an advertising campaign for a show on the Cartoon Network.

Joining us now from Boston is NPR's Tovia Smith. And Tovia, what can you tell us about these devices and how they turned up?

TOVIA SMITH: Well, the very latest, Melissa, interestingly enough comes not from police or authorities here, but from Turner Broadcasting, which is basically saying it's a big whoopsie. And it's truly a bizarre end to a very scary day here. Turner says that these packages in question are magnetic lights that pose no danger. They say they're part of an outdoor marketing campaign in 10 cities for this animated television show called "Aqua Teen Hunger Force."

I may be dating myself, but these little characters look a little bit like Pac-Man figures with legs. And they were lighting up at night. And during the daytime they were just these circuit boards that look suspicious. The Turner statement goes on to say that these things have been in place for two to three weeks in Boston as well as many other cities - New York, L.A., Chicago, Portland, San Francisco. And the statement says, the company says, we regret that they were mistakenly thought to pose any danger.

BLOCK: Well, clearly in Boston they were thought to pose a danger. This stunt shut down a pretty good chunk of the city today.

SMITH: Absolutely. And even as we've been learning all day that these were not explosive devices, police were also saying that they had electronic circuit boards and some components that were consistent with an improvised explosive device. So it was a serious alert and still rattled many in Boston. They deployed extra police here. As you said, they closed bridges and roads and part of the river way. Teams in full gear detonated at least one of the devices.

By mid-afternoon, the governor, Deval Patrick, called them a hoax and said it wasn't funny. And authorities were still taking this seriously even at a press conference at about 4:30 in Boston, when Boston mayor Tom Menino basically warned of the seriousness of planting hoaxes.

TOM MENINO: These individuals who might have placed these bombs, or these packages I should say, should be warned that this is a - there's a heavy penalty. It's imprisonment - two to five years for each one of them. So it's not - we're not playing around. We're throwing everything at you.

SMITH: That was Mayor Menino. Again, it's still unclear whether he was aware at that moment that he was speaking that the devices are part of this marketing campaign. You have to believe he didn't know. It was just minutes after that, that Turner Broadcasting released its statement saying basically, sorry, didn't mean to scare anyone.

BLOCK: And was it that statement that, that allows them to make the connection to Turner Broadcasting?

SMITH: Police officials have still not commented at all on the investigation ongoing, except to say that they are talking to some individuals and they expect to have some information later on. But even when the question came to them about Turner, they refused to comment on that.

BLOCK: Tovia, you mentioned that Turner had said that these devices had been planted several weeks ago in a number of other cities around the country. Have you heard of any places where they found them and had a similar police response?

SMITH: I have not. And it's a question as to why Boston took them this way. And why Boston kind of got scared and rattled by them, other cities didn't. And also a question why police didn't make the connection sooner to these things that were found in other cities. They have been in other places. Apparently bloggers have made the connection.

Earlier today, many were talking about this on the Internet, about these devices, saying they had seen them elsewhere and suggesting that they were really just this innocuous thing, part of this marketing campaign and nothing to worry about.

BLOCK: Okay, NPR's Tovia Smith in Boston. Thanks very much.

SMITH: Thank you.

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