Wrong turns don't make a right
Yardbird told to remove
'No Wrong Turn in Pennsylvania' ad
The instruction to remove the ad
'originated from the governor's office,'
of Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, PR man says
We try our hand at a new PR
campaign for Pennsylvania motoring
by Bill Keisling
Posted May 19, 2005. 6pm -- A controversial and ill-timed travel advertisement paid for by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and meant to increase car tourism in Pennsylvania, has instead touched off a dispute involving public commentary and press freedom.
Eerie, or is it Erie, PA?
Controversial ad faces bumpy road. Click photo to enlarge, or click here (+)
Yardbird Books has been told to remove from our website at yardbird.com a copy of the ad, titled, "You just can't make a wrong turn in Pennsylvania."We were informed that the demand to remove the ad "originated from the governor's office," of Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, says a state public relations consultant, Richard Wright.
A wrong turn in Pennsylvania
The travel ad controversy came to light when an expatriate Pennsylvanian, who works as a college professor, recently spotted the color advertisement in an upscale, limited circulation magazine.
"You should see PA's ad campaign for tourism this summer," the chagrined professor wrote. "The slogan is 'You just can't make a wrong turn in Pennsylvania,' with a photo of a bald guy driving down a familiar-looking road. I'm not sure if it's on their website, but there's a full-page ad in the May issue of Natural History magazine. Eerie, or is it Erie, PA?" the reader asked.
The reader added that the stretch of Pennsylvania road depicted in the ad bore an uncanny resemblance to parts of state park-lined PA Route 192, where Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar mysteriously vanished on April 15, 2005.
I sought out a copy of the ill-fated magazine ad. It depicts a carefree couple, looking like doe-eyed crash-test dummies, motoring down a curvy and tree-lined Pennsylvania two-lane highway. They seem oblivious to recent events. No one seems to have told them that today, for a growing number of Pennsylvanians, there are serious concerns about the wisdom and safety of carefree driving in Pennsylvania.
Sharped-eyed reader notes strange resemblance of road in ad to Rt. 192, where DA Ray Gricar vanished
The ad, at this writing, is of mysterious origins, its creators unknown. It carries a tag exorting the reader to visit the web site of the Pennsylvania Tourism Office, a division of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.
The ad quickly found a place in our hearts. It also earned a place, as sad commentary, on the Yardbird web site, to elicit public review.
Soon more complaints about the ad came rolling in. Readers find the ad variously offensive, misleading, insensitive, badly timed, or just plain inane. "You can't make a wrong turn in Pennsylvania, yeah right!" quickly became a catch phrase used while we covered the unfolding Luna or Gricar mysteries.
Let's get 'Genuine'
Soon Yardbird would be wrongly accused, of all things, of making a wrong turn in Pennsylvania.
On Friday, May 13, 2005, someone left a message saying, "My name is Richard, and I'm calling on behalf of the Pennsylvania Tourism Office." That was pretty much the message.
The caller ID record for "Richard's" call, curiously, reflects it was not placed by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, but from the Harrisburg office of Tierney Communications, a Philadelphia-based public relations firm with offices in Harrisburg and Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
"Genuine. It's not a word that you'd normally associate with advertising and public relations," reads the introductory Flash screen in Tierney Communications own web site, which also features the keystone emblem of Pennsylvania, and those of other entities we're led to suppose are clients.
A few days pass while we go driving
for mysteries without many clues
Wright rang up again on Tuesday, May 17, and I spoke with him. He gave his name, but didn't sound particularly genuine. He wouldn't say who he represented, other than to again say he was calling on behalf of the Pennsylvania Tourism Office.
He had a message, he said, that he was passing along, a message which, he repeated several times, "originated from the governor's office." Once again, the caller ID said he was calling from Tierney Communications.
"I'm calling because of concerns that you are illegally running a copy of a Pennsylvania Tourism office ad on your website," he tells me. He went on to say that certain, unnamed parties objected to the "negative manner of the use of the ad," and "using the ad without permission."
"This is an ad belonging to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania?" I asked.
"That's right," he said.
And it's been paid for by the people of Pennsylvania? I asked.
"That's correct," he replied.
I explained to Mr. Wright that we'd received numerous complaints about the ad. Did he realize prosecutors and others were vanishing on Pennsylvania road trips, some were being brutally killed, while security officials in the state's highway department stand accused of stealing parts off cars, and sundry other horrific offenses.
Under these circumstances, did Mr. Wright understand that the ad seemed offensive, to say the least?
He had a message, he said, that he was passing along, a message which, he repeated several times, originated from the governor's office.'
He nervously said he wasn't going to comment.
Who designed this lame-brained ad? I asked.
He said he did not know.
I asked where he was calling from.
"I'm not going to say."
I pointed out that the caller ID said he was with Tierney Communications. He fessed up, and said he was with Tierney, that he worked as a "public relations counsel" for the state tourism office.
"Did your firm design this ad?" I asked.
"No," he said. "This firm isn't responsible for it. I'm just passing on a message, and it originated from the governor's office."
This was sounding more and more like a call from Kafka's castle.
"What's the message?" I asked. (What would professor Marshall McLuhan think about this conversation? I wonder. In Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, McLuhan wrote that we should study the media, not the message. The message, as we see here, is often ridiculous and makes no difference. The money, media and machine behind the message generates the real controversy, and deserves our scrutiny. The McLuhan estate's own website asks us, when we enter his site, to "enter the medium," so its safe to assume McLuhan, who died in 1980, would say the net is now the medium, and so the message.)
"The message is, you've placed that ad illegally on your website," Wright says.
"A public ad, paid for by Pennsylvanians? Who says?"
"The governor's office."
"Who in the governor's office?"
"I can't say. Call Carrie Fischer, in the PA Tourism Office. It's their ad."
"In which magazines is this ad running? Does your firm place it in magazines?" I asked.
"It's a state ad," he says. "The state is ultimately responsible for it, and its placement."
How much public money has been spent on this ad campaign? I asked. "How much money is at stake if the ad campaign is pulled?"
He said he didn't want to comment on any of my growing list of questions, repeating that he and his firm "weren't responsible." He was just the bearer of the message, he steered me to believe.
How can we make Pennsylvania road trips genuinely safe? I asked.
"And who in the governor's office told you to call?" I again asked.
Again, he told me to call Carrie Fischer in the Tourism Office who, he promised, would answer all my questions.
I placed several calls to Ms. Fischer in the Pennsylvania Tourism Office. My calls went unreturned.
Maybe they're all out on a Pennsylvania road trip, I fear.
No wrong turns in Pennsylvania?
Ad detail: Insulting, insensitive, or merely inane?
Complaints about the new state ad campaign come amid recent disappearances-by-Pennsylvania-road-trip involving assistant U.S. attorney Jonathan Luna, and DA Gricar. There has also been a recent legislative call for an investigation into a state turnpike and highway department security provider with alleged ties to prostitution and organized crime.
You wouldn't know any of that to read the glowing copy in the ad titled, "You just can't make a wrong turn in Pennsylvania."
"From small towns aglow with gas lamps, to big cities alive with art and culture. From miles of golf courses to thousands of miles of lakes and streams. Go ahead! There's no better way to indulge your wanderlust than with a 2, 4, or 7-day Pennsylvania road trip."
The ad urges those with a craving to retrace their favorite PA disappearance to log onto visitPA.com.
A quick perusal of the site revealed several suggested road trips, but not the wrong turns experienced by Luna, Gricar, and other notable travelers in the Keystone State, such as Lillie Belle Allen.
Celebrated, if ignored, wrong turns
Jonathan Luna's body was found in December, 2003, stabbed and drowned along rolling country road north of Lancaster. He had earlier made a wrong turn onto the Pennsylvania Turnpike, having crossed the Delaware River from New Jersey. He was found stabbed thirty-six times, laying face down in one of those "thousands of miles" of streams mentioned in the ad.
PA road trip victims Luna, Gricar and Allen
DA Gricar was last heard from on Route 192, having made a wrong turn at Centre Hall on his way toward Lewisburg.
Also noteworthy is the wrong turn taken by Lillie Belle Allen and her family. Ms. Allen, a black minister's daughter traveling in Pennsylvania with her family, made a wrong turn down Newberry Street in York, PA, in July, 1969.
Allen and her family were met, not, as the ad suggests, by "small towns aglow with gas lamps," but by racist cross-burning thugs intent on killing her. While police looked on and did nothing, the Allens' family car was ambushed and Lillie Belle was shot to death by the gang of white street thugs. Court testimony reveals the cops -- including state troopers -- didn't just watch, but helped to instigate and set up the ambush.
A civil suit has been brought in federal court by Lillie Belle Allen's family against several of the policemen close to the murder. The case is expected to be heard by a jury later in 2005. Other police officers alleged to have instigated Allen's murder, including the current sitting York County sheriff, William Hose, have yet to be brought to justice.
Why not take a loooong PA road trip?
There are other well-known problems with Pennsylvania roadways. Allstate Insurance perennially lists two intersections of Roosevelt Boulevard in Philadelphia as the second and third most dangerous intersections in the country. The Conchester Highway, Southwest of Philadelphia, made Reader's Digests list of Most Dangerous Roads in 2000.
Other unaddressed safety and security scandals make a Pennsylvania road trip seem more like a ride through old Mexico.
State Rep. Mark Cohen, of Philadelphia, on December 30, 2004, wrote a letter to Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Colonel Jeffrey B. Miller, in which Cohen called on the State Police to conduct a "full and complete" investigation of Russell Wantz, owner of the Schaad Detective Agency, of York.
"Wantz heads the Schaad Detective Agency which provides security for PennDOT, the Liquor Control Board, and the Pennsylvania Turnpike," Rep. Cohen wrote the State Police Commissioner.
In his letter, Rep. Cohen wrote of long-ignored allegations from concerned Pennsylvanians that, "Wantz was actively involved in a prostitution ring, both in recruitment of women and in financing operations."
Can't make a wrong turn in Pennsylvania? The reality is, we can't seem to make a right turn.
Some among us, sadly, prefer to pay more attention to misleading PR campaigns, than to underlying, and serious, concerns of public well being and safety.
We try our hand at a new PR campaign for Pennsylvania motoring
Of course, not everyone has to see things our way. In the decided minority of reader feedback, I'd have to say, falls the opinion of Susie Steiner of Boalsburg, PA, who writes:
Desolate only in the 'eyes of the beholder'?
"I just finished reading your piece on Ray Gricar's disappearance. As a long time resident of central PA - I take issue with your portrayal of 'Happy Valley' as some sort of isolated country-bumpkin island in the middle of nowhere. Not to mention, Penn State's claim to fame is certainly more far-reaching than the creamery, football and binge drinking! Good grief.... Case in point: DESOLATE is in the eyes of the beholder. This scene could just as easily be described as beautiful, scenic, bucolic.... to describe it as 'desolate' is a little over the top, don't you think?"
Steiner included the photo of Rt. 192 accompanying the article. I did a lot of soul searching, and decided I should at least try my hand at the Orwellian practice of assigning, for public relations purposes, pleasant words to troubling scenes.
And so for those of you who relish a good, rose-tinted PR campaign, may I suggest this pretty post card from your next Pennsylvania road trip: