Ok. I can’t keep quiet about this any longer. It’s driving me nuts. I just read a story titled $2 million US settlement in Boston TV ad bomb hoax. This is a fine example of how the wrong words can do damage, even when intending to inform.

“Bomb hoax” implies intent to deceive people into believing a bomb was present. People who engage in hoaxes (“perpetrators”) aren’t nice people. Just the phrase smears the characters of the men who placed the ads around Boston.

In a real bomb hoax, someone calls a building and says “There’s a bomb!” In this ad campaign, they put boxes with lighted cartoon characters around the city, where they stayed unmolested for a couple of weeks before being noticed. The same boxes in a dozen other cities produced only calm amusement. That doesn’t sound much like a bomb hoax.

A more accurate headline would be, “$2MM paid to Boston to compensate for ad mistaken for bomb.” Or, if you want the language to correctly specify who did what, “Turner pays $2MM to compensate for Boston Mayor and Police mistaking ad campaign for bomb.”

The Mayor, Governor, and emergency response people kept saying that “in a post-9/11 world, [Turner] should have known” that police and bomb units would mistake glowing cartoon characters for bombs. That’s absurd. In a post-9/11 world, police and bomb units should be well-trained to notice something wrong, investigate it, quickly identify what is and isn’t a threat, and only shut down the city if there’s danger.

I live in Boston. It took the city’s emergency response team a couple of weeks to discover brightly-lit ads that were designed to be noticed. Is this supposed to make me feel more secure? Once they noticed the ads, it took them hours to figure out the difference between a light-bright and a bomb. And in an oft-overlooked postscript, while investigating the cartoons, they found two real pipe-bomb hoaxes that they’d not have found if they weren’t looking for the Turner ads. Oh, boy. I feel like they’re really keeping me safe in a post-9/11 world. Not.

Our emergency response team screwed up, big-time. They’ve successfully shifted the blame using words like “hoax” and “perpetrator” so they needn’t take the responsibility for their slow response, their extraordinarily inept discovery of the real situation, and their missing the real hoax pipe bombs. Now, they’re showing the same lack of skill in identifying and fixing their contribution to the problem. All so they needn’t say “we screwed up.” I only hope they perform better if we ever have a real emergency.

“Bomb hoax” hoax undermines our real e…

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