Balloon boy soars into media spotlight

Family builds a flying saucer-balloon, which accidentally takes off with a six-year old boy believed to be on board. Local and international media relay constant coverage to millions of viewers while helicopters and the military are called in to help with the search effort. The balloon finally lands and the boy isn’t there. The search for the missing boy, who is later found to have been hiding in the attic , continues (and ends). Three days later, the local sheriff proclaims the whole thing a hoax and prepares to press criminal charges. How utterly embarrassing. This incident highlights two problems in our society. The first is that there are certain people in our society who are attention-starved, driven by their egos and fame, and their antics should not be encouraged. The Heene family had been on ABC’s “Wife Swap” program twice and was itching to get back on TV. There were no takers to their pitch for a reality show about their storm-chasing, death-defying family, so they plotted an incident that would be sure to land them back on TV. Unfortunately, nobody knew that young Falcon’s perilous flight was a fraud. The local media followed the story the whole day, and CNN even cut away from a speech by President Obama to air coverage. The Colorado Army National Guard sent a UH-58 Kiowa helicopter and a Black Hawk UH-60 to take part in the search and rescue efforts. How much time and money was wasted on this story? Consider that, according to Capt. Troy Brown of the Colorado Army National Guard, the Kiowa helicopter costs $700 an hour to fly and was airborne about an hour. The Black Hawk helicopter costs $4600 an hour to fly and was up almost three hours. So, on the National Guard’s part alone, almost $15,000 was squandered. The Heenes should definitely be required to reimburse the state for the cost of the rescue operations, and the local sheriff has indicated that he plans to do so. People who pull such publicity stunts should at least concoct a believable story and follow through. Daddy Heene, after the balloon drifted off, called the local news agency before he called 911. Little Falcon said to his parents, in an interview on CNN’s “Larry King Live”, “You said we did this for the show.” He then puked on two other national TV programs when his family was asked to explain his comment. Hey, at least Daddy Heene tried to uphold the physics of the craft’s flight, telling officials that the balloon weighed twelve pounds lighter than its actual weight, which would make it and Falcon capable of flight. But he was outwitted again when the sheriff’s department later determined the balloon’s actual weight and that the balloon could not have held Falcon without breaking. The Heenes now face stardom gone sour, including general opprobrium and ridicule. The local sheriff has said that in addition to seeking compensation, he might press, among possible others, charges of conspiracy, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, attempting to influence a public servant (felonies), and filling a false police report (a misdemeanor). The other and more important point is that we, and the media, focus too much on trivial and sensational issues. Sure, people were probably legitimately concerned about Falcon’s safety, but as bad as it sounds to say this, he’s only one child. There are millions of young children around the planet suffering and dying from famine, malnutrition, and other crippling ailments, but is this in the news? How banal is it to inform viewers of humanitarian issues gripping masses of people? In today’s age of television, without a specific face, a specific picture, people will not be moved.