Friday, October 16, 2009

Was "Balloon Boy" Really Just A Publicity Stunt?

By now I'm sure you've heard about the frantic couple of hours yesterday afternoon during which all three cable news networks breathlessly followed the home-made weather ballon pictured above as it floated across the Colorado plains toward Denver, apparently with a six year old boy named Falcon Heene trapped inside. Soon after the balloon finally landed and Falcon was not, in fact, found inside, the little boy was revealed to have been hiding in the attic above the garage in his family home all along.

When I first found out that the little boy had been hiding at home the whole time, I placed most of the blame for the "much ado about nothing" on the cable news networks themselves, who seem increasingly willing to leap to dire conclusions about live events and to cover them in a non-stop, sensationalized way as "breaking news." (Remember a few weeks ago on September 11th when CNN broke into its regular programming with live coverage of what it said was a potential terrorist attack by speedboats on the Potomac River, only to have to admit later on that it was actually just a Coast Guard training exercise?)
But then as the evening wore on last night, it was revealed that the Falcon's parents had previously been on the ABC reality show "Wife Swap." And the description of the father's profession in various news reports ("amateur scientist" or "retired weather chaser," for example) seemed very vague and sketchy. Could this have actually been a big publicity stunt cooked up by the parents? No way, I first thought.
But then the family was interviewed on CNN's "Larry King Live" last night. In the 2 minute clip embedded below, Wolf Blitzer, who was sitting in for Larry King, asked the boy (through his father) why he had hidden for so long in the attic, despite hearing his parents calling out and looking for him repeatedly. "Um, you guys said, that,um, we did this for the show" he says to his father, Richard. Richard Heene's fumbling response on live TV to this embarrassing admission by his son is very telling, I thought, and almost (but not quite) painful to watch.

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