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What if the Balloon Boy spectacle wasn't a hoax? [Updated]

Balloon boy

For a television viewer, the most frightening moment of the whole “balloon boy” story came not when authorities discovered that Falcon Heene wasn’t in the weather balloon they had been chasing all over Colorado, the implication being that he had perhaps fallen out. The most frightening moment was watching “Today’s” Meredith Vieira interrogate the Heene family, all of whom looked as if they had been dragged from their beds pre-dawn, even as Falcon writhed heavy-lidded at his father’s side and then vomited into a Tupperware container held by his mother.

Vieira didn’t miss a beat, hanging on to her stern school marm tone — “Was this all a hoax?” she wanted to know — until Richard Heene, his voice shaking, said he was getting a little ticked off by all the accusations that he and his wife had staged the hours-long manhunt for publicity.

“I’m not a salesman,” he said. “I don’t have anything to sell.”

Vieira stepped back a pace or two, offering Heene a moment to allow his family to collect their emotions before they returned to talk about what the day had been like for them.

Vieira’s accusatory tone stemmed from the fact that Falcon, while being interviewed Thursday night by Wolf Blitzer, filling in for Larry King on "Larry King Live," had said he had been hiding because “we were doing it for a show.” And Richard’s indignation is tainted by his family’s participation in the reality show “Wife Swap,” which led many to suspect the family had developed an unhealthy addiction to publicity.

If the Heenes had been all over the news Thursday, begging for help and inviting sympathy, one might wonder if this weren’t some new media-derived strain of Munchausen by proxy. But that’s not what the nation saw. The nation saw, on every cable news network, endless replays of the latter stages of the balloon flight, caught by helicopter cameras, its landing and the discovery that the boy was nowhere inside.

Over and over, footage was replayed (as if somehow it would alter in repetition), interspersed with commentary from various balloon experts. At one point, CNN had the magic map involved, with volume-versus-mass equations going on. It was so absurd that at times Blitzer seemed almost unable to carry on; several times he hesitantly wondered if perhaps the boy wasn’t just hiding somewhere.

Blitzer, it seems, has actually met a 6-year-old boy, although he too joined the throng wondering if Falcon’s statement on “Larry King” was proof that the Heene family had staged the whole thing.
But even if it were a hoax, the crime was against all those involved in the search, not against the media that chose to follow the story so relentlessly even after it was clear there would be no money shot of Falcon emerging, unharmed, from the balloon. (Actually, that CNN and MSNBC aired real-time footage of the landing of a balloon, which might well contain the injured or dead boy, raises a few publicity-related questions as well.)

After that didn’t happen, the various anchors spent an hour speculating about an attached box that might have fallen with him in it. All of which they softened with occasional asides that they hoped the boy would be found safe somewhere.

When he was, the family was almost immediately accused of a hoax. Because of a comment made by a 6-year-old boy who was looking at Wolf Blitzer. Live.

Authorities are currently investigating whether the Heene family was involved in a hoax. If they were, that is certainly a story. But until that’s proved, maybe the media should back off just a little and not punish a family that may well have just survived the worst day of their lives. 

[Updated at 2:04 p.m.: We originally wrote that Larry King had interviewed Falcon on "Larry King Live." He was interviewed by Wolf Blitzer on the program. We've changed the post to reflect that.]

— Mary McNamara

Photo: Six-year-old Falcon Heene is shown with his father, Richard, outside the family's home in Fort Collins, Colo. Credit: David Zalubowski / Associated Press

Comments () | Archives (36)

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I am thrilled that there is someone who still has some decency left. How it seems to me is that the media and the public were watching a story yesterday - anticipating a happy or a tragic ending. When the story ended in farce, they were enraged, robbed of the shared jubilation or mourning. So now they want blood...and they are insisting on it despite the repeated and repeated and repeated assertions by the professionals WHO WERE THERE that it's their professional opinion that this is not a hoax.

And I ask, if you were to engage in a hoax that could result in a felony indictment and thousands of dollars in fines and assessments, would your co-conspirator be a 6 year old?

The person conducting the interview of Falcon Heene was Wolf Blitzer, not Larry King.

Probably best to research that kind of detail before publishing an article.

The hoax story was created and perpetuated by a local media affiliate of NBC in Denver. I think they expected for the kid to crawl out of the balloon waving an Obama flag or to be seriously injured but that never did materialize, hence the hoax story. They wanted more "meat" to the story to keep it alive while they dig into the families past for more dirt.

It is so easy to prove this was a hoax: They kept talking about the kid climbing into a basket and the basket might have fallen off while in-flight. Yet it is perfectly clear that there was NO BASKET at launch.

Just give the parents a lie-detector test. If they refuse the test and own up, so much the better; but they should pay restitution. If they fail the test, restitution is certainly in order AND a public apology. If they pass the test, that should be it: end of story.

Guess you didn't see the home video of the balloon launch they uploaded to youtube before you wrote this?


I'm just glad that it diverted us from the usual hoaxes (Rush Limbaugh/Keith Olbermann) that the news media saturates us with.

Hooray for backyard science!

If it not be a hoax then I bes Napoleon

Your theory is no different than the rest of the media, in that this family should still bare a great portion of the costs associated with this event, hoax or not, and not the tax payer. It's still a drain on resources that these colorado counties can ill afford... they can begin by collecting any future interests in book deals or any other media associated with this 'accident'.

Regardless - this is a family who seeks attention between two appearances on Wife Swap and whirlwind media tour the last two days talking endlessly about the issue.

I don't understand what's happened to 'average' people. When I have a family trauma the last thing on earth I'm interested in doing is booking one interview after another in my living room LET ALONE dragging my young children through it.

Even if this family really intended no harm, we've now learned they are on the unseemly side and I, for one, am very worried about the welfare of their children.

If my son had done that, I would appear once, thank people and police and close doors. I would feel a little embarrass. Everything was a joke. Everyone want their 15 minutes of fame, the octomom, the guy who kidnap the plane in Mexico, now this. Is ridiculous.

I feel very sorry for this little kid, Falcon! He is carrying such a heavy accountability. He got sick and vomited! Whether this is a hoax or not, let's help the kid first. After all, this whole thing is about a poor innocent six-year-old kid!

Ummm...who cares?

A) The "escape" was recorded on video by someone in the family. B) The family immediately calls the media and NOT the police? Come on. These people are attention-starved.

If it was not a hoax, why did their father call the local news before he called 911? That seems to be the most damning piece of evidence -- because come on, NO parent calls local news before they call 911 if they think their child is truly in harm's way. But okay, say for the moment you believe it wasn't a hoax -- then WHY are these parents putting their children (including poor vomiting Falcon) on TV again and again and again after such an ordeal? Whatever way you look at it, these kids need to be protected form their fame-seeking parents. I hope Child Services is looking into the safety of that home.

IF they were involved in a hoax? It was unquestionably a hoax.

The dad launched the balloon. He knew the kid wasn't in it!

The dad deflected the police away from searching the attic.

The dad did not chase the balloon.

The dad knew the balloon was incapable of lifting a human being.

The sheriff and media are terribly embarrassed that they were fooled for a little while so some are pretending it could have been legit.

Are you kidding? Hello!! the balloon was filled with Helium - NOT Oxygen. If that child "was" in the ballon, there is no doubt that he wouldn't have lived very long and not once did the father mention this in the 911 call.

And.. maybe the CO Police don't really want to look like idiots to the rest of the world.

Come on, liberals!! Try some skepticism for a change.

Oh please!

I think the person who wrote this article, like the sheriff who gave the briefing this afternoon, did not see the blunder footage from CNN.

They need to watch the fathers response as well as the moment the kid realizes he messed up and he does a like a little shake.

The fathers response was more damning than anything. He wouldn't ask his son what he meant, and looked so busted, he couldn't speak!

It was just the WRONG response for people who weren't lying.

@ Justrumor

Why are we charging those people for helping them. Its already payed by our taxes. Hoax or not we shouldn't charge anyone for those kind of services, it will discourage people from seeking life saving help because of financial reason.

Besides it shouldn't matter anymore and the media should stop interviewing them already and move to the next drama. Besides I want to hear more of Lindsay Lohan.

This is a strange family. Even if it was a hoax...letting your kid puke while you talk to cameras is a bit strange. I'd be too embarassed to go on national television and talk about thinking I lost my kid and then calling in the authorities only to find out my kid was in the house.

Gives new meaning to, "It's 10 PM; Do you know where your children are?"

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