Hunger Force bomb scare latest in media misfires

Cartoon Network's Aqua Teen Hunger Force television program includes two extraterrestrial characters called Mooninites whose intentions throughout each episodes are to cause trouble for the show's Earthly stars.

Congratulations are in order to the Boston Globe, CNN, and other major news sources for practically making the fictitious characters' objective a reality. While they're at it, they might as well shake hands with Aqua Teen creators Matt Maiellaro and Dave Willis for giving them more free publicity for the show and an upcoming spin-off movie than they could have asked for.

In what started as a seemingly innocent act of advertising, the construction and installation of light-up signs depicting the cartoon characters in major cities around the United States snowballed into a national incident of paranoia and overreaction by state officials as well as the nation's media after the displays were mistaken for explosives and bomb squads were called in. Much has already been said about the downright silliness of the situation.

Yes, it is an illuminated picture of a cartoon character that had people calling for bomb squads. Yes, out of 10 cities (including New York) where these signs were placed, only those placed in Boston resulted in mass hysteria. Remarkably, Boston is being commended for acting swiftly in its reaction to the placement of these objects, regardless of the fact they had been sitting in plain sight - projecting bright, colorful lights, no less - for over a week before action was taken.

The most distressing thing about this commercial calamity isn't the faux bombs, but what the paranoid reaction they invoked says about our nation's confidence.

The very fact that newspapers are using the word "hoax" in their headlines is inherently poor journalism. For the marketing company's actions to be a hoax, by definition, there must be a proven intent to deceive. For all intents and purposes, this seems to be no more than a marketing ploy gone horribly wrong, and the very usage of the word "hoax" is erroneous.

Whether more discretion should have been used in the planning process of the advertisements is another matter entirely; however, it's hard to believe the marketers' first inclination when looking at a battery-powered image of a polygonal cartoon character was one of terrorist tendencies.

Even more interesting is the poorly-concealed and paltry angles these newspapers are taking in their articles, presenting the two cartoon creators as criminals. The Boston Globe, in its coverage of the incident, includes this downright goofy quote from Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley: "It had a very sinister appearance…It had a battery behind it, and wires."

One publication even uses a source that compares the event to Orson Welles' infamous 1938 radio broadcast, War of the World. It would be na've to think that major publications do wouldn't embrace events like this, but the least they can do is fake consideration.

But back to that crippling weakness. If nothing else, this event shows our clumsy non-skills in the face of a threat, something we were supposed to learn about from 9/11. What will stop a real terrorist organization from planning another attack when America reacts so ineptly to something so harmless?

If a light-up cartoon can shake a city to a standstill, it may be a frightening question to ask what else will cause this kind of stir.