Syringes in sodas? The only winner is Geraldo Rivera


June 21, 1993|By MIKE LITTWIN

As hoaxes go, the Diet Pepsi scare was pretty darn, well, scary. Can I get an uh-huh?

It wasn't quite "Jurassic Park," but for days, the entire country was on its guard because, face it, if they can stick a syringe in a soda can, who knows where it might end?

One day it's needles in your Diet Pepsi and the next it's body parts in your Miller Lite.

I haven't seen anyone this scared in connection with a Pepsi product since Michael Jackson's hair caught fire doing that commercial.

Now, the FDA and the Uh-Huh Girls think they've got this thing cleared up. They're telling us the first syringe report was probably an honest mistake and suggesting all the claims that followed were apparently fabricated. These are known in the trade as copy-cat reports, although cats, as far as I can tell, don't seem to actually copy -- unless you stick them right on the Xerox machine.

This latest Pepsi challenge is great news for overweight people and also for Ray Charles.

There have been similar hoaxes, including the staples-in-the-Girl-Scout-cookies hoax of some years back. But, come on, staples? Can we get a little a more imaginative?

I mean, how scary are staples?

Let's put it this way. Say you're walking down the street, and a mugger comes up to you armed with a staple gun. You're not handing over the wallet, right? What's he going to do -- staple your pants legs together to prevent you from running away?

A syringe is the death symbol of our times.

Plus, what makes the Pepsi case so special is that it involved an entire generation, although I've never been able to place exactly who is and who isn't a member of the Pepsi Generation. We can agree, however, that Al Gore certainly doesn't make the cut.

In any case, you suspected it was a hoax all along, didn't you? Or at least once the Uh-Huh Girls hit town to plead Pepsi's case.

I needed a little more convincing. I bought a few cases of the stuff, and while my lawyer was on hold, I popped more tops than Norm Peterson and came up with nada. Which is why I'm writing this column today instead of sunning somewhere in the South of France.

It was too bad for Pepsi, which, as you know, already has this Coke problem. Even in the best of times, Pepsi is to Coke what Avis is to Hertz and the Rolling Stones were to the Beatles.

This has bothered me for a while because, years ago, I took a strong moral stand never to drink Coke again -- ever since the "I want to teach the world to sing" commercial. Which, to me, was far scarier than any fake dinosaur. Here's a definition of the Pepsi Generation: No one from that generation would ever sing that song.

The unanswered question in all this is why people fake reports in the first place, as at least some of the folks have admitted doing. There were more than 50 reports in 23 states, meaning that all sections of America were represented. That has to make you feel good. There have been a few arrests and a few more admissions and a distinct slowing of the reporting process.

Some people were actually videotaped while trying to stick a needle into a Pepsi bottle. They were caught on a grocery store camera, which is usually used to nab people who might, however inadvertently, stick a few pounds of lamb chops in their shorts.

One woman from Davis, Calif., said she made up the report so she could be on TV. I can see this as an Geraldo show, either way. People Who Got More Than One Calorie From Their Diet Pepsis. Or, People Who Would Stick a Needle in Their Soda to Get on TV.

There is a long list of other possible motives.

* You wanted to be part of the crowd. You felt left out. Everyone you knew had found a syringe in his can of Pepsi and you thought, what the hell.

* You thought it was funny. Yeah, we know people like that.

* You thought it would be a good way to meet lawyers. In another week, Steven L. Miles would have had a Diet Pepsi hotline.

* You really believed there was a needle in there. After all, people believe in many things. As an example, I believe in Yoko and me.

* Oh, and I guess there's greed.

Of course, it could have been worse. The reports could have been true.

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