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article imageOp-Ed: The media are the real whores in balloon boy saga

By Jason Li     Oct 19, 2009 in World
Richard Heene, the father of balloon boy, is now lambasted as a fame-hungry fraud who would do anything for some spotlight. But the media are not totally innocent either. Here's why.
It had all the trappings of a great news story: a scientist's experiment gone awry with his 6-year-old son stuck in it -- a helium balloon floating miles above the earth. When the balloon landed, the world gasped; it is empty. Turns out the boy was in the attic all along, apparently hiding from Dad who yelled at him earlier in the day. Case closed.
Not so fast. County sheriff reopens case after this interview on CNN's Larry King Live (posted above).
Fast-forward to 00:40. Falcon whispers: "We did this for a show." Very quickly, more reports inundate news-sites, blogs, twitter, TV news etc. Mom called local TVnews channel first before she called 911. Dad, oh, he's just an amateur scientist, had been actively shopping for a family reality show. In fact, mom and dad met in acting class! Sheriff concludes that the entire episode was indeed a hoax.
The blame game begins. The media paints the father as a fame-obsessed media whore, so fixated with getting on TV that he staged such a sick joke.
Meanwhile, news coverage just gets bigger. The family makes its rounds on the networks' morning shows, which were initially planned as typical 'what-happened/how-do-you-feel-now' segments. Now the family's on the defensive, and the father denies everything, insisting that his son's statements were taken out of context. Falcon, the 'balloon' boy, throws up on national TV. More news fodder!
The media lapped it all up like a pack of hungry wolves, which makes me think: who's the real whore here?
Sure, Dad, aka Richard Heene, definitely won't make any shortlists for Father-of-the-Year-Award, but so what if he played the media? The media allowed it, and continue to allow it, with all the constant coverage on the Heene family. From the beginning, they were scrambling for front row seats of the action, so much so that they neglect disturbing information that shed light on Heene's character. All that mattered was getting the footage for the audience.
And even after the boy was found safe and the father started his circus rounds, the media indulged him. There was no real story anyway. But every producer wanted the Heenes on their news shows.
In fact no one suspected anything until little Falcon's blooper on cable news. And instead of quickly pushing him out of the spotlight, the media intensified their glare. Now he's a bad father, she's a bad mother. This is a dysfunctional family. Everything except: we the media covered this, are we just as dysfunctional?
The problem with today's media, as so many are already aware, is that social value is no longer paramount. It's all about getting the scoop. So much so that media outlets will do anything to get an 'exclusive', and that means fewer editors will say: "Wait a minute, is this accurate?" or "Wait a minute, that's very exciting but it's really nonsense, throw it out." Instead, in the attempt to out-claw the competition, everyone caters to the basest of denominators when it comes to accuracy and value.
I'm willing to bet that editors are secretly glad the episode is a hoax, because viewership will definitely climb as people tune in to find out if criminal charges are pressed and what punishment will befall the Heenes. Reporters will be staking out at the Heene's front porch for days to come.
What they should be doing, but definitely won't be, is beating themselves up inside because they let themselves be played by Richard Heene, a self-proclaimed scientist who has nothing more than a high-school diploma.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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