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Mooninite media mash-up

Praise and (mostly) blame for Boston’s Fourth Estate
By ADAM REILLY  |  February 7, 2007

PURITAN VEIL: as if this Mooninite were just waving “hi.”

Slowly, mercifully, the agony of Mooninite-gate is fading away. But don’t celebrate just yet. After all, the local press was as much a part of this whole absurd story as the marketing wizards who came up with the problematic promotion, the law-enforcement officials who took ominously long to figure out what was happening, and the politicians who tried to outdo each other in the outrage department. So far, though, we in the media haven’t received our fair share of scrutiny. Hence, this modest attempt at a scorecard.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FORMERLY OBSCURE MAJOR-MEDIA OUTLET: At about 3:30 pm Wednesday, a story written by two Globe reporters and posted at still termed the Mooninites “suspicious objects” — or, alternatively, “electronic circuit boards with LED lights attached.” Over at the Globe’s Brainiac blog, however, Joshua Glenn was calling the “suspicious objects” Mooninites, identifying them as part of a guerilla ad campaign, and crediting the local bloggers who figured things out first. Then, on Thursday, Brainiac attributed the over-the-top behavior of local law enforcement to embarrassment; suggested, provocatively, that Bostonians have a kind of terror-envy of New York; critiqued the media’s awkward descriptions of the objects, and provided the technically correct phrase (“LED throwy”). Plus, he tied what happened in Boston to the inexorable metastasis of non-traditional advertising. Kudos. (The glass-half-empty take is that the Globe and need better integration, but that’s another story.)

CRAPPIEST HEADLINE: THE HOAX ON US, which fronted Thursday’s Boston Herald. It’s been widely noted by now — and was evident long before Thursday’s Herald went to press — that this wasn’t a “hoax” at all, but an ill-conceived PR stunt gone horribly wrong. The Herald isn’t the only blameworthy party here; others, from Governor Deval Patrick to the Globe editorial page and Channel 5, have used the word incorrectly as well. But the Herald’s misuse was the most egregious. Yes, it’s funny that “hoax” rhymes with “joke’s.” The headline still sucks.

MOST CONFUSING FRONT PAGE: This honor goes to Thursday’s Globe. Above the fold, we had this explanation of why law enforcement took so long to ID the Mooninites: “For much of the day, police treated the signs, which measured about 1 by 1-1/2 feet and feature protruding wires on one side, as potentially dangerous. But their investigation shifted when they happened to move one of the signs into a darker area. The sudden lack of sunlight prompted the lights forming the character’s image to brighten into color. Sometime between 2 and 3 pm, according to a public safety official, a Boston police analyst recognized the image as a cartoon character, and police concluded it was likely a publicity stunt.” Gotcha. But what about that big photo to the left? The one of a Mooninite being removed from McGrath highway — in broad daylight — in which its cartoon-character-ness is perfectly evident?

The explanation, I’ve been told, is this: when the Mooninite was moved into darkness and lit up, law-enforcement personnel finally realized what the wiring and batteries on the back were for. If so — and if that’s what it took — God help us if a real bomb is ever discovered in this city.

OLD MEDIA HUSTLE AWARD: WBZ-TV posted a high-quality picture of the Sullivan Square Mooninite on its Web site at 12:27 pm on Wednesday. Granted, no one at WBZ knew what the thing was, but this was the photo that allowed local bloggers to figure out what was going on, which allowed Turner Broadcasting to figure things out, which (finally) allowed the local media, politicians, and law-enforcement personnel to do the same.

LEAST COMFORTING BIT OF TV REPORTAGE: Stay right there, WBZ. Your news spot on the Sullivan Square incident at noon Wednesday featured this kicker on the bottom of the screen: “Bomb squad detonates package found near Sullivan Square.” Co-anchor Scott Wahle quickly explained that the device “didn’t pose any danger,” which raised the question: if it didn’t pose any danger, why did the police “detonate” it, exactly? (If something can be “detonated,” most of us think it’s “explosive.”) A bit later, reporter Dan Rea described the item in question as a “device or suspicious package, whichever term you prefer.” (Thanks, Dan.) Rea also said that, after the item was lowered to the ground, a water cannon “disrupted the suspicious package and rendered it safe.” So it wasn’t safe before?!? You’re giving us a headache here.

MOST INFURIATING EXAMPLE OF GROUPTHINK: Everyone who implied the Mooninites were “public art” is a winner here, starting with Mooninite perpetrator Berdovsky. “It’s pretty commonsensical to look at them and say this is a piece of art and installation,” he told the Globe. Don’t flatter yourself, Peter. You were sticking up a bunch of ads, not creating something with any kind of aesthetic value.

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  Topics: Media -- Dont Quote Me , Peter Berdovsky , Sean Stevens , Dan Rea ,  More more >
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