The Great Boston Lite Brite Terror Hoax of 2007 made waves throughout much of the mainstream media, the Boston Police department, and many an Internet watering hole, as the entire city was shut down by a marketing campaign on behalf of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, a mildly entertaining show (come on, Robot Chicken is SO much better) on the Cartoon Network. Meanwhile, CNN made a recent reporting blunder that received little to no coverage except online, but also illustrates, not precisely a gap, but rather a yawning maw that separates old media from new.
Boston, January 31, 2007. Traffic tangled in angry snarls, police detonating blinking images of cartoon characters, and national news outlets embarrassing themselves in attempts to describe the events in a way that didn't embarrass themselves.
Let's do a quick update, on the hoax that was not a hoax, two months later.
Turner and Time Warner
Cartoon Network's parent company Turner Broadcast System, Inc. (also the parent company of CNN) shelled out over two million dollars in restitution to the city of Boston -- one million for real expenditures, one million for "good will." Time Warner, Turner's parent company, is worth about 78 billion. A loss of roughly .000026 percent.
Jim Samples, CEO of Cartoon Network, resigned soon after the fiasco. Meanwhile, the company is preparing for the big screen premiere of Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters. One career down, one movie to promote.
Not a lot of people have heard of the aptly named Interference, Inc. -- the guerilla marketing company that came up with the campaign and implemented it in cities around the US. Interference hired two local artists for $300 each to set up the displays around town and then, reportedly emailed one to ask them to keep things quiet (on the "DL" in fact -- these are some cool cats) as the crisis unfolded. Interference displayed an apology for a short time on their website. Now, it looks like it's back to the daily grind for them -- which involves hip hop beats and gritty urban visuals, demonstrating their ability to exploit youth culture for commercial purposes.
We were introduced to the delightful duo of Peter Berdovsky and Sean Stevens who used their first -- and hopefully not last -- press conference to wax at length about hairstyles and their place in history, and to not so subtly convey their opinion on their arrest for pranking the city of Boston. The pair were later bailed out by friends and family, NOT by Interference, the company that hired them. Two months later, Attorney General Coakley keeps Berdovsky and Stevens under the threat of jail time for installing the setups around the city. Seriously?
"It's a hoax, and it's not funny," was the response from Governor Deval Patrick after the scare was over. Actually, it WASN'T a hoax -- nobody involved intended for these displays to be mistaken for bombs. Especially since similar devices were planted in cities all around the country and nobody else had a bomb scare. And since pictures of the devices were up on Digg for quite a while before the scare and continue to be. And I think we can all agree assuming the devices were bombs WAS funny. Why can no one in the mainstream media or in the city of Boston admit this?
CNN and teh Internets
We now turn to a little irresponsible reporting by Paula Zahn and company over at CNN. Media outlets love a good poll. In fact, most, if not all pollsters include a few questions that they hope will provide a soundbyte for news reporters, who throw them in as supporting evidence for a trend story or context for a news item. Let me demonstrate: 76 percent of six year olds choose a picture of Knut over a picture of their mother, demonstrating a surprising trend amongst youngsters in favor of polar bears. Experts predict that one day, polar bears will mother all six year olds. Or, a Pit Bull attacked its owner, a 44-year-old woman in Poughkeepsie yesterday. Research shows that Pit Bulls attack 112 women in their forties from Poughkeepsie each year, making Poughkeepsie the most dangerous place for forty-something female Pit Bull owners in the country.
So it's no surprise that CNN used the occasion of a new poll on 9/11 to do a segment on conspiracy theories, always a popular draw. According to the recent poll -- which is given no source or description of methodology -- one in every three Americans do not believe the terror attacks were the work of America's enemies, but instead, believe they were some sort of inside job. Paula Zahn goes on to say that an even smaller percentage believe an even uglier truth. This "smaller percentage" goes without an actual number of course -- there is no number, it's just an excuse for a crackpot conspiracy theory segment!
The conspiracy theory -- found in crevices on the Internet -- claims Jews are behind the 9/11 attacks. Surprise! Farfetched anti-Semitic theories abound online! The actual ugly truth here is that CNN uses the parody conspiracy site jewsdidwtc.com as a LEGITIMATE source for the piece, proof of the legions out there who buy into this theory. A cursory click through the site, aided by a sense of humor, quickly makes it clear that this is a joke site, particularly as it is owned and run by the GNAA (visit at your own peril -- contains humor some will find distasteful and NSFW).
The blunder made all kinds of news online, on Slashdot, Something Awful and Digg. Mostly saying ha ha, the GNAA trolls CNN. The ultimate troll, LOLZ!! It's true, it's hilarious, but it's also very very sad. Neither Boston nor CNN officials are willing to admit their mistakes. The state of Massachusetts could easily ruin the lives of two individuals who are at the bottom of the heap of responsibility, despite the fact that two million dollars in fines have already been paid. And CNN will continue to sensationalize extremists to garner more ratings, while not acknowledging shoddy research and reporting.
I guess I'll just keep getting more of my news from the Internet.