Up, Up and Away in my Beautiful Balloon Hoax

by Kris Olson

On Oct. 15, the earth stopped. Despite being in the midst of contentious debates about health care reform, economic recovery and troop levels in Afghanistan, Americans everywhere stopped what they were doing when the fateful news hit the airwaves.

Indeed, no one will forget where they were when they learned that a boy in a balloon had, in fact, been trapped in Colorado.

I kid, of course, because the balloon boy saga raises serious questions about the mainstream media’s competence. To discuss these issues further, I sat down with an old friend, MSNBC political analyst Michael Conning.

KO: Thanks for being here, Michael. Can I call you Mike?

MC: No.

KO: The non-stop coverage of six-year-old Falcon Heene’s then-supposed departure in a helium balloon seems to discredit mainstream media’s ability to filter news stories. Despite the momentous decisions America must soon make, the balloon story passed for legitimate news.

MC: In the networks’ defense, we thought the runaway balloon might be reminiscent of the O.J. Simpson car chase, which was nothing short of ratings gold.

KO: It was a four-hour, unchanging shot of a silver circle against the Colorado landscape. I think the coverage of the America’s Cup is better television.

MC: But Dorothy flew back to Kansas in a balloon. And don’t forget that Kansas is right next to Colorado. That was a popular movie, you know.

KO: Are those how editorial decisions are made now?

MC: Usually, and now that R. Kelly isn’t trapped in that closet anymore, we had to find someone with a similar predicament.

KO: You’re missing my point. Was the endless coverage by cable news anything more than a waste of time?

MC: Absolutely not. After all, wasn’t it during Wolf Blitzer’s interview that the kid screwed up and said they
did the balloon launch for a show? Were it not for that slip-up on live TV, the sheriff may not have grown suspicious of a hoax.

KO: It was also possibly the first time in the history of television that someone named Wolf interviewed someone named Falcon.

MC: Sounds like a chapter from “The Wind in the Willows.”

KO: Perhaps, but everything about the Heene family’s presentation was so phony. I mean, they called a local news outlet before calling 911. Even their acting was terrible during the cable interviews.

MC: Yeah, … Falcon could have been better than Baby Jessica but has to settle for being worse than “Baby Mama.”

KO: That’s rough.

MC: Especially when the kid vomits on the “Today Show.”

KO: See, that’s part of my issue. Moments like that become fun YouTube hits, but why was the family granted an interview on the show to begin with? The networks have such power to shape public debate and share vital information with us. What of the poor in this country? The hungry? How about the millions without health insurance?

MC: Let me channel Socrates and throw the question back at you: Are those millions of uninsured people trapped in a helium balloon right now?

KO: Are they what?

MC: Those poor, uninsured Americans you mentioned. Did they float away in a helium balloon?

KO: Unfortunately for Mitch McConnell, no.

MC: I’m afraid you just don’t get it, then. You simply don’t understand our duty to cover such stories.

KO: And I’m afraid I never will. Anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up?

MC: Yes, but it’ll have to wait – I’ve just been told that a boy in Iowa is trapped in a tire swing.


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