Today's suspicious package that forced evacuation of the Wilshire Boulevard office tower that houses KNX and other media outlets brought back to mind the great Mission:Impossible III debacle of 2006. In that incident, the Los Angeles Times attached little red plastic devices with wires hanging off to 4,500 news boxes (remember news boxes?) They would play the Mission:Impossible theme when the news box was opened. Or sometimes they would detach and be sitting on the stack of papers when someone walked by.
Now, you'd think that one might have to be pretty stoned or have the terrorism jitters pretty bad to mistake the little toys for an actual threat. But people did, bomb squads were called, and at least one of the promo items was blown up as a precaution. “This was the least intended outcome. We weren’t expecting anything like this,” said John O’Loughlin, then the Times’ senior vice president for planning.
Guess who was not amused: the feds. The following year, the Times, Paramount Pictures and Allied Advertising paid $75,000 to settle federal claims over the promotion gone awry. From a U.S. Attorney's Office release at the time:
On April 28, 2006, the L.A. Times, Paramount and Allied caused digital musical devices to be placed in coin-operated L.A. Times news racks in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. The musical devices, which were made of red plastic with two protruding wires, were designed to play the Mission: Impossible theme song when the racks were opened.
Shortly after 3:00 p.m. on April 28, a patient at the VA hospital became alarmed when he saw what he thought was a bomb in an L.A. Times news rack. The patient’s suspicions were reported to the VA Police, which in turn contacted the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which responded to the scene. Because of the potential safety hazard to patients, staff and visitors, the hospital administration ordered an evacuation of part of the building. At no time prior to the evacuation did the L.A. Times, Paramount or Allied notify the VA Police or hospital administrators about the promotional campaign. The evacuation at the VA hospital lasted approximately 90 minutes and had a significant impact on hospital operations for at least another 90 minutes.
This matter was negotiated by the United States Attorney's Office on behalf of the VA. The L.A. Times, Paramount and Allied agreed to pay the settlement without admitting any wrongdoing.
Today's incident began when beeping packages showed up in the mailroom for KNX, KTWV and KRTH-FM, three CBS-owned radio stations. The entire 27-story tower was evacuated for a time. The package turned out to contain clocks helping to promote BET's upcoming late night talk show, "Don't Sleep!" with T.J. Holmes.
2006 photo: Bryan Kneiding/The Signal; Today's clocks, Jonathan Serviss on Twitter