"Balloon Boy" hoax teaches a lesson to many in U.S.

10:26, October 21, 2009      

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By George Bao

The "Balloon Boy" coverage last Thursday attracted nationwide attention in the U.S., but when the whole thing turned out to be a hoax, a lesson should be learned not only by the boy's parents, but also by the media, the readers, audience and many more.


Richard Heene (L) reacts as he holds his son six-year-old Falcon Heene outside their house in Fort Collins, Colorado Oct. 15, 2009. (Xinhua/Reuters Photo)

The story started last Thursday when Richard and Mayumi Heene, parents of Falcon Heene, a 6-year-old boy, told police the boy might be aboard a balloon flying high above the Colorado landscape.

The National Guard sent rescue helicopters to search for the boy. Denver International Airport was closed briefly for the rescue. When the boy was not found from the balloon when it was retrieved, law enforcement officials searched for the body along the flight path for hours, fearing he had fallen out.

Major TV networks sent helicopters to cover the event, which became focus of attention through live media coverage.

But On Sunday, law enforcement announced that it was a hoax. The Heene family carefully planned the hoax to draw media attention for their personal gains. The boy was safe at home when the search was going on as the nation watched.

The local county sheriff said he would file criminal charges against the Balloon Boy parents and would arrest them. Their three children could be taken away from them because of their criminal activities.

The whole nation, including the audience, the media and the police, now found they had been fooled.

But a lesson should be learned by many in the U.S., not only the Balloon Boy parents.

The boy's parents had appeared previously on the Wife Swap reality show, and the local county sheriff said the balloon stunt was concocted to land another "reality" TV deal. People began to question the media to confuse news with fiction by presenting different kinds of Reality TV shows.

Ed McCoy wrote to The Gleaner that a careful scrutiny of the news media's recent efforts certainly reveals that a major flaw in news presentation lies not only in getting the facts right, and aswe all know "the devil is in the details," but that a growing emphasis on entertainment rather than information and on sensationalism rather than significance may be destroying society's moral structures and corrupting its loftier goals.

The Philadelphia Inquirer published an editorial entitled Reality Bites to examine the event. It says:

"If the Heenes were trying to exploit their children for financial gain, they will need to answer in court for it. But the sad truth is that their notoriety still could enhance their marketability someday in the increasingly deceptive world of 'reality' TV."

"These television shows are all the rage because they're relatively cheap to produce and they feed the public's illusion that everyone can be a star. But audiences need to start asking themselves more often whether they are being hustled, and whether children are being put through an emotional wringer for the sake of ratings."

Reality TV shows can survive because many Americans like to watch. Without audience, those programs can not last long. Some said that Americans should also learn from the Balloon Boy hoax and change their taste for TV shows. When Reality TV shows turn out to be lies, that will be a problem.

The Heenes couple would certainly learn a lesson for what they have done. They would possibly stay in jail for several years. They would bear the cost to cheat the whole nation. But their three sons aging from 6 to 10 are also victims of the hoax. The parents played a very bad role in teaching them to cheat.

The law enforcement should also learn a lesson. The local county sheriff could blame the show was too real and they paid for the show. But they should be alert and skeptical on what the parents told them.

Kansas City Star carried an article by columnist Yael Abouhalkah that led by the broadcast media, it appears plenty of people in the U.S. were fooled by the alleged "Balloon Boy" hoax.

Abouhalkah said that the Heene family got valuable air time on the major networks, and that's exactly what Richard Heene wanted because the Heenes already had appeared on ABC's "Wife Swap," and may have been looking for other reality shows to be involved in.

One reader named Hekeller wrote on a web site: "It's time that we face the fact that our law enforcement and news organizations simply cannot do simple arithmetic. Bad as that accusation may be, it's even more damning that they cannot even ask the obvious question: could this balloon lift this boy to 15,000 feet?"

Hekeller continued that the entire incident would have been over almost before it started if someone had been more rational or at least somewhat skeptical.

Jonathan Storm from the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote: "Mr. & Mrs. Balloon Boy did it because we will watch." In his opinion, the American audience should reexamine what they want to watch.

Source: Xinhua
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