Who CARES whether the balloon thing was a “hoax?”

You may have noticed that I did not write about the famous missing balloon boy when he was allegedly aloft — or when he was “missing,” or when he was “found.”

That’s because it never struck me as real news (and also because, since I don’t watch TV news and God is merciful, I missed most of it). It was not anything about which you or I needed to make a decision as a voter or a citizen. It did not give any of us “news you can use” — seriously, how many of the suckers who watched that “drama” unfold on the telly took away any useful, cautionary information from it? (“Hey, Martha, before we cut loose that helium-filled balloon in the backyard, let’s make sure none of those pesky neighborhood kids have crawled into it. Boy, am I glad I saw THIS!”)

Yes, weird occurrences are a legitimate (although lesser) form of news. And in a saner day, before 24/7 TV “news,” before “news” outlets maintained small air forces in such markets as Los Angeles, ready to go aloft and stay aloft in a tacky modern mockery of the Strategic Air Command’s mission in the Cold War, all in the mad pursuit of live, but meaningless, video (the O.J. Simpson “chase” being the definitive example of such “news” that told us exactly nothing that we needed to know), such a tale would have been reported — once the facts were in. You might read a news feature on a boy’s terrifying drift into the Wild Blue, if he turned out to have been on board. You might even read of how law enforcement was taken in by a crazy story, as you are now doing. But you would not have had breathless live, real-time coverage of what turned out to be nothing. Or perhaps I’m idealizing a better time that wasn’t really better. Perhaps. (“Why, back in my day we didn’t know when our kids drifted off in balloons, and we LIKED it!…”)

The 24/7 TV “news” culture and its twin, “reality” TV, created the Heenes. People like them could not exist in a world without those media forms. And that same culture, by the way, has infected the “serious news” of politics. Otherwise, the Joe Wilson “You lie!” story would have ended with his apology that night. But instead, his supposed “defiance” went viral, and he pulled in $2.7 million (so far), which made him a whole lot less sorry. And thus another media monster was created.

By all means, charge the Heenes with a crime. But remember that from the beginning, this was a bogus story, whether the Heenes were lying or not.

10 thoughts on “Who CARES whether the balloon thing was a “hoax?”

  1. Anne

    I know this sort of comment is very boring, but I agree.

    As for the whole Joe Wilson fiasco, most of my friends got to hear me rant about how no one has any money for organizations that actually help humans, but their wallets are magically full when they get cranky and fired up about something they saw on tv. Which is one of the reasons I don’t have a tv.

    That is all.

  2. Brad Warthen

    Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for the Shop Tart…

    (Since I will never get to stand on the stage of, say, the Concert for Bangladesh and say, “… and on lead guitar, Mr. Eric Clapton…,” etc., I make the most of such opportunities as this. Seriously, though, it’s exciting to have Anne right here on our stage, further testimony to the welcoming power of my new comments policy. You’re going to start seeing more and more comments from previously silent readers. Perhaps even Ringo Starr. Or failing that, perhaps Klaus Voorman…)

  3. Susanna K.

    I’ve been a little out of touch lately (thus the reason I haven’t commented here until now) and only heard about this story because a friend made a joke about it on Facebook.

    I get all my “news” from Facebook statuses and editorial cartoons!

  4. kbfenner

    Okay–I don’t watch “reality” TV, unless you count What Not To Wear, and that only b/c my dad tapes it for me. We don’t have cable, satellite or decent antenna reception, so if it isn’t on Hulu or Netflix…I didn’t follow the story in real time, but then the only story I did in the last five years or so is the inauguration, b/c it was on the internet.

    …but if a little boy is aloft in a balloon, isn’t it at least as interesting to some of us as what some college football team in Washington or Oregon did (the battle of the Rotary Jacks)? I mean, there have been recent fictions–short stories, plays and films on this very topic. Doesn’t happen, or purport to happen, very often, as opposed to the relentless sports merry-go-round.

    Then when it turns out that his whack-job parents have wasted expensive rescue resources and shut down a commercial airport, for Pete’s sake, that sounds like news to me, somehow….but I’m not a professional journalist or anything. I don’t write about important topics like science fiction, and all. 😉

  5. Brad Warthen

    Ah, you’re supposing I care what a college football team ANYWHERE did. I don’t. Not even a little bit.

    Here’s the thing that sort of creeps me out, and I have trouble explaining why: A kid allegedly missing — not even allegedly missing long enough for the authorities to take it seriously, usually — instantly becomes a national story for the simple reason that it has “picture.” Which is a factor the hoaxers understood, and took advantage of.

    There used to be a separation between things that were LOCAL stories — missing persons, homicides, disturbances of the peace — which are now inflated into NATIONAL stories when there is nothing particularly distinguishing them beyond the availability of video, or the fact that the missing woman is young and blonde and cute and there might me the implication of something sexual in the disappearance.

    The idea that a story isn’t worth the play it’s getting is admittedly going to matter more to me, because I used to sweat over GETTING IT RIGHT for a living (I was in charge, at one time or another, for deciding what went on the front page at three different newspapers in my career). I don’t expect it to matter as much to others, I suppose — even if, to me, it seems like upending the Laws of the Universe. When perspective is askew, I feel like the world is out of shape…

  6. Burl Burlingame

    But a growing number of Americans want to know what really happened on 10/15, and why the government and the media are covering it up.

  7. Brad Warthen

    I’m covering it up because the Heenes are paying me big bucks. That, and the fact that my space alien masters said they’d take me up and probe me again if I didn’t.

    How about you, Burl?

  8. kbfenner

    Burl, you make me laugh a lot.

    Brad–I didn’t say YOU cared about football, but it is front page news on The State paper so often, I wonder why we don’t just call it The State Sporting News.

    You really don’t think an event that results in the closing of Denver airport is national-newsworthy?

  9. Burl Burlingame

    My feeling — it wasn’t news until taxpayer money got involved.

    Brad gets probed by his space alien masters? Lucky guy. Mine do horrible things to my (DELETED FOR REASONS OF COMMON DECENCY).


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *