NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A set of controversial subway ads featuring what appear to be Nazi symbols has been removed, following a livid response.
Earlier reports had said Amazon had pulled the ads, but sources later told CBS2 the company was not behind the decision. Sources claimed the Metropolitan Transportation Authority pulled the ads, under pressure from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“It’s the holiday season, to show people what could be really revolting symbols to them and bring back bad memories is not worth selling more viewership on their show, Cuomo said. “And I would call on them to take the ad down.”
The MTA confirmed late Tuesday that Cuomo had wanted the ads removed. A spokesman said that Cuomo’s call came after Amazon had already asked for the ads to be removed, WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reported.
“The shuttle train with the wrapped ad for the show was pulled from service after this evening’s rush hour, and the ad will be removed. Please note that this afternoon, Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the head of the MTA and asked him to ensure the ads came down,” the MTA said in a statement.
The ads for “The Man in the High Castle,” which are running on the 42nd Street Shuttle or S Train, feature what look like Japanese Rising Sun flags and Nazi imperial eagles. The show, based on the 1962 Philip K. Dick novel of the same title, imagines an alternate history where the Axis powers win World War II.
As CBS2’s Emily Smith reported, the ads covered just one subway car in the entire system, but they covered the entire car. The row of seats on one side of the train show an American flag with the Nazi imperial eagle symbol where the stars should be, while the other shows the Japanese rising sun flag with the blue of the U.S. flag and stars added.
State Rep. Jeffrey Dinowitz (D-The Bronx) was not pleased.
“It’s the whole train, and these are Nazi symbols – symbols that glorify Nazi Germany — for somebody to walk into that,” Dinowitz said.
Dinowitz said he is offended as a Jewish man and as a New Yorker.
“There could have been some elderly person who might have been a holocaust survivor, for example. Just to see that, it’s really shocking,” Dinowitz said. “And that’s not the way to get people to watch a TV show.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio also earlier called on Amazon to remove the “offensive” ads.
“While these ads technically may be within MTA guidelines, they’re irresponsible and offensive to World War II and Holocaust survivors, their families, and countless other New Yorkers,” de Blasio said in a statement. “Amazon should take them down.”
But earlier, despite backlash from state lawmakers and city leaders, the MTA had chosen to allow the ads to stay.
“The MTA is a government agency and can’t accept or reject ads based on how we feel about them,” spokesman Kevin Ortiz said in an earlier statement. “We have to follow the standards approved by our board.”
Adam Lisberg, a spokesperson for the MTA, also explained that the public agency had no choice but to allow the ads.
“We cannot pick and choose the way WCBS radio can — whether it likes an ad or doesn’t like an ad,” Lisberg told Silverman.
The MTA recently banned all political advertising, but Lisberg said, “This advertising, whether you find it distasteful or not, obviously they’re not advertising Nazism; they’re advertising a TV show.”
Some subway riders said with the MTA making $138 million a year in advertising revenue, they are not surprised it was denied. Passengers had a variety of feelings about it all.
“I think it could be offensive to some people, yes, but there are a lot of things that are offensive these days,” said Jim Oestreich.
“People can make up their own minds and decisions,” said Randy Helpburn, who said she is Jewish, but not religious.
“I am a fan of the (‘Man in the High Castle’) book and I am loving the show,” another subway rider said. “It’s a parallel universe.”
“I wouldn’t even have paid attention until you just pointed it out,” a fourth said.
But commuter Ann Tobak said when she first saw the ads, “I thought, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.'” She knew right away it was promoting the series, but she still found the ads inappropriate.
“They should go back and look at history and understand why this is something the average subway rider would prefer not to be dealing with,” Tobak told WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman. “Plastering the subway car with Nazi insignia struck me as inappropriate.”
Tobak also disagreed with Lisberg’s contention that the ads were not political advertising.
But Tobak disagrees.
“Being assaulted by images of Nazi insignia is a political statement,” she said.
“The MTA has certainly demonstrated in the past that there are certain ads they just will not run, and while this is not a political ad, it’s certainly an ad that’s in very bad taste,” Dinowitz said. “The symbols that are part of this ad are offensive, not only to Jewish people, but to all people.”
Amazon released a statement late Tuesday in response to the controversy.
“”Amazon Studios creates high-quality, provocative programming that spurs conversation. ‘The Man in the High Castle,’ based on an acclaimed novel, explores the impact to our freedoms if we had lost World War II. Like ‘Transparent’ and the movie ‘Chi-Raq,’ stories that society cares about often touch on important, thought-provoking topics,” the statement said. “We will continue to bring this kind of storytelling to our customers.”
There was no word late Tuesday on how long it would take to strip the subway car of the ad.