Publicity Stunt in Boston Reveals Generational Divide Two men in Boston pleaded not guilty to charges Thursday that they planted devices around that city that prompted a day-long security scare. The devices turned out to be part of a publicity campaign for a TV show. Younger adults say the police overreacted.
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Publicity Stunt in Boston Reveals Generational Divide

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Publicity Stunt in Boston Reveals Generational Divide

Publicity Stunt in Boston Reveals Generational Divide

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR news. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Boston authorities are looking into whether a New York marketing company tried to cover up its connection to a publicity stunt, a stunt that led to a massive security scare this week.

Officials say at the very least the company and its client, Turner Broadcasting, should have told the city sooner about the electronic light boards they hung on roads and bridges to promote a cartoon show. Turner has accepted responsibility for the advertising campaign and says it will cover the cost of the police investigation into whether the devices were bombs.

As NPR's Tovia Smith reports, the incident has exposed a disconnect between young adults hip to guerilla marketing and law enforcement officials who may be less familiar with unconventional publicity campaigns.

TOVIA SMITH: The generation gap couldn't have been more apparent yesterday. As Boston Mayor Tom Menino angrily scolded Turner Broadcasting and threatened consequences for the company's irresponsible behavior, the two young men accused of planting the devices seemed to thumb their noses at the whole incident as they stopped to talk to reporters after being released on bail.

Unidentified Man #1: We really want to talk about it today. It's kind of importance to some people. It's (unintelligible) cops in the '70s. Yeah. We really want to discuss this dialogue.

SMITH: Twenty-seven-year-old Peter Berdovsky and twenty-eight-year-old Sean Stevens ignored all questions about the devices. But before their arrest, Berdovsky reportedly called the police response ridiculous, suggesting anyone with common sense would see the devices as art.

Caitlin Joyce(ph), one of about a dozen young people gathered outside court, agrees that police overreacted to the now notorious Mooninite cartoon characters depicted on the devices made from "Lite-Brite" toys.

Ms. CAITLIN JOYCE: It's ridiculous. Anybody who looked at them knew what they were and that they weren't dangerous.

SMITH: The idea of what people would think of the devices is key since the men are charged with setting up a hoax that someone would reasonably expect to cause panic. That of course can be very different for Internet savvy 20-somethings and mostly middle-aged law enforcement authorities.

Mr. JOHN GROSSMAN (Assistant Attorney General, Boston): This device looks like a bomb.

SMITH: In court yesterday, Assistant District Attorney John Grossman called it common sense in a post-9/11 world to expect that circuit boards and batteries hung in bridges and subway stations would be seen as a threat.

Mr. GROSSMAN: The fact that this was a cartoon character, whether somebody on the Cartoon Network or Bugs Bunny or something that might be more familiar to the general populace doesn't mean that somebody with nefarious intent wouldn't do that on top of a bomb.

SMITH: Grossman argues that the fear factor was part of a deliberate strategy. But even the judge, Paul Leary, was skeptical that the young men intended to cause panic.

Judge PAUL LEARY (Boston Municipal Court): Isn't that a key element of this particular chapter?

Atty. GROSSMAN: I believe it is, your honor.

Judge LEARY: Didn't you just tell me that the intent of them was to be able to advertise this for a marketing purpose and (unintelligible).

Atty. GROSSMAN: Their intent was to get attention, your honor.

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

Unidentified Man #1: (As a Mooninite) Hey, Cliff. Boo.

Unidentified Man #2: (As Cliff) Aaahh.

SMITH: The Mooninite's boxy animated figure star alongside a talking milk shake, a goateed box of french fries and a meat ball in the "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" cartoon. The flashing signs were meant to promote the show in advance of a movie due out next month.

(Soundbite of show "Aqua Teen Hunger Force")

Unidentified Man #3: Oh, look what just did.

Unidentified Man #4: (As a Mooninite) That was bad. You're in trouble.

SMITH: The so-called guerilla marketing campaign has been running in nine other cities besides Boston. The fact that only this city panicked is either something to brag about - Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff offered Boston his congratulations - or it's something of an embarrassment, as area residents like Dan Giangregorio(ph) see it.

Mr. DAN GIANGREGORIO: It's an overzealous knee-jerk reaction. It's ridiculous.

SMITH: Outside court, Giangregorio and others carried pictures of the Mooninites light boards that have now all been removed. Some have shown up on eBay, selling so far for thousands of dollars. And perhaps inevitably, the cult-like fans of this cartoon are now making t-shirts. One big-seller uses a popular slang term for the best. It says, "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" is the Bomb.

Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston.

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