Move over, Obama - the networks found a REAL newsmaker: a 6 year old boy who wasn't inside a runaway balloon.
By Lee Pfeiffer
In yet another example of America's cable news networks jumping on any story to fill air time, yesterday wall-to-wall coverage was devoted to a bizarre story centering on a home made hot air balloon that was accidentally launched from a family's backyard in Colorado. A 9 year old boy in the family said his 6 year old brother was inside a small basket in the balloon when it took off. The networks began streaming live video of the balloon's 80 mile flight, breathlessly speculating as to whether the kid was somehow inside the balloon or whether he was in a basket that had dropped off somewhere. Everyone but Lassie was called in for the rescue attempt, and when the balloon finally landed, the kid was nowhere to be found. Reporters spoke breathlessly about his presumably horrible fate- perhaps he was struggling to survive in some desolate patch of wilderness. This went on for three hours virtually uninterrupted. This on the same day as the President's visit
to New Orleans and as the health care debate continued to heat up. At
6:00 PM, I tuned in to political commentator Ed Schultz's nightly news
analysis program on MSNBC - generally a compelling and informative show. I was
distressed to find that Schultz, who never engages in sensationalist
stories, was carrying over the "Boy in the Balloon" tale. It was then
revealed that the story was a non-starter because the little brat was
found hiding in his attic, having possibly set the entire thing up as a
joke with his brother.
This should have been the end of the story, but even the normally sober Schultz continued to exploit it, bringing on a woman named Sheree Silver who - get this- had been a contestant with the boy's family on the nutcase ABC reality show Wife Swap. She described her adopted TV family as a bunch of eccentrics who were obsessed with amateur science projects with the intention of proving the existence of extraterrestrials. The father is apparently a combination of Caractacus Potts and The Nutty Professor, who dabbles in building the kind of home-made contraptions that always end up transporting hapless people to the moon in B sci-fi movies. According to Silver, the young boy (whose first name is Falcon!) was a foul-mouthed prankster who was rarely disciplined by his family. If you thought it couldn't get any crazier, Silver then revealed herself to be a self-proclaimed psychic! Schultz kept driving the story even after introducing political commentator Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post. To her credit, Huffington quickly chastised Schultz and asked why the hell they were still discussing this non-story even after it was proven to be a possible hoax. Amazingly, Schultz dug in his heels and tried to defend the relevance of the story on the reed-thin premise that it would teach parents to better keep an eye on their kids. (Yeah, there's been a rash of kids in runaway helium balloons in my neighborhood - how about yours?) Huffington was not having any of it and kept criticizing Schultz until he was embarrassed into switching the topic to the war in Afghanistan. If only someone with Huffington's good instincts could show up on cable news every time network ninnies decide to abdicate real news in favor of unproven, but sensational stories, the medium might enjoy some respect once again. (Click here to watch the debate) The bad news? Now we'll be inundated by thousands of reports of UFO sightings from naive people who observed the runaway balloon.
Update: Speculation is growing that this story was a hoax from the start, possibly caused by parents who simply wanted to get media attention. Disgracefully, even though the networks knew yesterday the kid was never in the balloon, the family has been rewarded by being given coast-to-coast interviews on TV. This morning on two TV shows, little Falcon vomited on air. The kid is clearly sick, but the family keeps shuffling him in front of TV cameras - with the full co-operation of network brass who would rather endanger a child than pass up the opportunity for ratings.