BOSTON – Turner Broadcasting System apologized to Boston-area residents on Friday for a security scare that had bomb squads checking out electronic signs that were part of a nationwide marketing campaign for its subsidiary Cartoon Network.
Phil Kent, Turner's chairman and CEO, made the apology in full-page ads in Boston newspapers for "the confusion and inconvenience" caused as highways, bridges and river traffic were shut down in several areas while police checked out the signs, some of which had protruding wires.
"We never intended this outcome and certainly did not set out to perpetrate a hoax. What we did is inadvertently cause a great American city to deal with the unintended impact of this marketing campaign. For this, we are deeply sorry," Kent said.
"Our focus today and in the days ahead is on demonstrating to you the sincerity of our desire to do what is right. What happened in Boston is a humbling reminder that reputation is something we earn every day. We are working to regain your respect," the letter said.
Turner spokeswoman Shirley Powell told The Associated Press that the company is in discussions with Boston city officials on how to best make amends.
The blinking electronic signs were placed in nine other cities across the country, displaying a profane, boxy-looking cartoon character. They caused barely a stir.
But in Boston, the signs sent a wave of panic across the city where hijackers launched the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Boston officials angrily vowed to hold Turner responsible.
Kent's letter said Turner, a unit of Time Warner Inc., has "pledged to them our full cooperation as we work to understand what happened, and why, and then to act responsibly on that information."
Two men who authorities say were paid to place the devices in Boston pleaded not guilty Thursday to placing a hoax device and disorderly conduct. Peter Berdovsky, 27, and Sean Stevens, 28, were released on $2,500 cash bond — apparently amused by the situation. They face up to five years in prison.
After getting out of jail, they met reporters and television cameras and launched into a nonsensical discussion of hair styles of the 1970s. But as they walked off, Berdovsky pleaded for privacy to "sort things out."
"I regret that this incident has created such anguish and disruption for the residents and law enforcement officers of this city," he said in a statement issued Thursday night. "I certainly never intended to do anything to frighten this community, which has welcomed and nurtured me for 10 years."
Officials found 38 blinking electronic signs on bridges, a subway station, a hospital, Fenway Park, and other high-profile spots in and around the city.
By contrast, in New York City, officers went to the various locations amid the hysteria in Boston and found only two of the devices — both attached to a highway overpass. Police said it did not appear any were placed on the subway or landmarks such as Empire State Building or Brooklyn Bridge.
Young, hip Bostonians who are familiar with the unconventional marketing tactics used by many companies tended to see the city's reaction as unmitigated hysteria.
Tracy O'Connor, 34, a retail manager, called Boston's response "silly and insane," contrasting it with the response in the other cities where no one reported any concerns about the devices — an advertising gimmick for the TV show "Aqua Teen Hunger Force."
"We're the laughing stock," she said.
But public safety officials, as well as a large segment of Boston's older generation, condemned the publicity campaign as unthinkable in today's post-9/11 world.
"Just a little over a mile away from the placement of the first device, a group of terrorists boarded airplanes and launched an attack on New York City," police Commissioner Edward Davis said in an interview with The Associated Press.
"The city clearly did not overreact. Had we taken any other steps, we would have been endangering the public," he said.
The publicity campaign was conceived by the Adult Swim marketing department and approved by the head of the Cartoon network, Powell said Thursday.
"This was never intended to be a marketing campaign designed to create fear or public safety concerns," she said. "We were simply promoting a TV show. If we had ever perceived this to be something threatening safety, we would never have proceeded with it."
The network told the marketing company to decide where the devices should be placed, with the mandate they should be in places likely to be seen by young men. Adult Swim's target audience is men aged 18-to-24.
The marketing company that placed the signs, Interference Inc. of New York City, did not return calls seeking comment and its offices were closed Thursday.