Cartoon Network Fiasco Just Latest in Long Line of Bad Bomb Stunts and Jokes

Since 9/11, officials have understandably lost their collective sense of humor about things like bombs and weapons in heavily concentrated public areas. The serious reaction to even the lightest passing comment became apparent almost immediately after terrorists struck in the United States. On September 23, 2001, an Irish man in Juneau to work on a cruise line was arrested at the Juneau Airport when he joked about having a bomb in a missing piece of luggage. That man, James Longcroft, was charted with the felony of making terrorist threats, which carried a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $50,000 fine.

Many subsequent travelers who made similar jokes were charged with lesser criminal offenses – and there have been many of them. Just a few examples include:

  • A 50-year-old Air France pilot was arrested in 2003 after joking that he had a bomb in his shoe. No bomb was found, but the flight was canceled and the plane searched. The pilot was charged with falsely reporting an incident, a charge that carried a possible 7 years in prison;
  • A 21-year old British woman was charged with making a false bomb threat after she told screeners at Miami International Airport that she had three bombs in her luggage. The charges were dropped after the woman agreed to make a contribution to the families of the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks;
  • Just weeks after a Continental Airlines flight from Glasgow to Los Angeles was grounded after a warning that Al-Qaeda were planning to use the flight in a suicide attack, a 22-year-old man flying from Glasgow to Geneva responded, “Nothing – except the bomb” when asked what was in his luggage. The flight was delayed while the man’s luggage was removed, and he was charged with breach of the peace;
  • A 48-year-old woman was arrested for “communicating false information” after telling check-in staff at Newcastle Airport that she had a bomb in her luggage;
  • A 20-year-old soldier flying from Manchester to Dusseldorf was arrested in April of 2005 when he joked that he had a bomb in his oversized duffel bag;
  • A 42-year-old businessman was arrested at Cape Town International Airport when he responded to an airport employee asking if had any flammable materials in his bags by saying, “No, I only have a few bombs”.

These are only a few of the widely-reported arrests related to jokes and passing comments that officials couldn’t afford to ignore, yet such incidents continue to occur, planes continue to be delayed, and ordinary citizens continue to face arrest and sometimes prosecution for poor judgment in their humor. It’s surprising that travelers continue to make this mistake, but it’s even more surprising when a major corporation with scores of lawyers at its disposal and highly-paid marketing teams charged with considering every possible ramification of a campaign does the same.

That little incident last year in which a local police department’s bomb squad blew up a newspaper box that had been fitted with an electronic device intended to promote Mission Impossible III could have served as fair warning that unidentified electronics in public places just don’t work out these days, but somehow Cartoon Network and its outside marketing corporation missed the memo. And the news coverage. And a little dose of common sense. Maybe since no one was arrested over the Mission Impossible III fiasco, it didn’t seem too serious to Cartoon Network and its marketing team.

Whatever the reasoning, the station’s marketing company, Interference, sent a couple of guys out last week to place 38 electronic devices under bridges and in other strategic locations. The devices were harmless: they were intended to flash cartoon characters at drivers. Unfortunately, no one clued in the transit police, who treated one of the devices as a possible bomb, crippling traffic in Boston and costing the city thousands of dollars.

The outcome shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, and Cartoon Network says it’s taking “full responsibility”. It’s true that the station’s parent company, TBS, has agreed to pay significant restitution to the city. Unfortunately, the only criminal charges filed with regard to the incident thus far are against the two men hired to place the devices-quite possibly the least culpable participants in the whole mess. The outcome of their cases remains to be seen.