Friday, October 16, 2009

“Balloon Boy”: The News Media At Its Worst

News coverage exploded yesterday when it was believed that a young boy, Falcon Heene (AKA Balloon Boy) was thought to be flying high in giant Mylar balloon that was accidentally released from its mooring. Not only was the news coverage over the top, but also various emergency services pitched in to try to bring the balloon down and bring the boy to safety. When the balloon made it to the ground on its own, the boy was not in it. While some worried that the boy had fallen out, there were also many who felt that the boy was never in there to begin with. The latter turned out to be true – Balloon Boy was hiding in the attic at home , afraid because his father had yelled at him earlier in the day.

As I was watching some local news coverage on the matter – I had no choice, all the national and local news channels were full of it – and it was announced that the boy was found safe in his own home, one reporter commented that the whole matter seems to have been blown out of proportion, and asked “how did that happen?”

One answer to that question – The news media happened. The news media’s need to follow any story just to grab viewers, even before the story has played out, left them with no tragedy to cover and with a little egg on their faces. While I can certainly understand the parents concern for their child, there was no reason for every national and local news channel to provide literally blow-by-blow coverage as the balloon sailed overhead.

It was no surprise that the family showed up on the morning news shows today. But. as live TV can sometimes be unpredictable, it was a little surprising to see Balloon Boy upchuck right on camera on The Today Show. While the camera pulled back, his father Richard didn’t seem to miss a beat. Rumors abound that the whole incident was a publicity stunt, which Richard Heene denies. (Update October 18 - it has been ruled that the whole incident was, in fact, a hoax.)

If the parents made police and other rescue people think that their son was in the balloon, I am not going to criticize the involvement of other people who were attempting to rescue him. I do think that the kid vomiting on national television during an interview may indicate that the kid is under stress from the situation and while mommy and daddy may want all the media attention, the Balloon Boy may not.

But the real “suckers” here are members of the news media, who seemed all too eager to cover the story, almost if they were hoping for the worst ending possible – a balloon crash with the boy inside. While Balloon Boy’s suspected plight was unusual, it wasn’t a threat to 99.9999% of the population and did not deserve such extensive TV coverage. Maybe next time, the national news media should wait until a story like this actually plays out before they give it so much air time, especially for a story that affects so few people.

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Anonymous said...

While I personally loathe "tabloid TV", I believe you're mistaken in trashing the media for the wall-to-wall coverage of the balloon flight/"rescue" operation.

Attention Whore Heene even fooled law enforcement so why blame the media? It appeared to be a situation unique in U.S. history -- a 6-yr-old child trapped helplessly in flight.

And at least CNN (don't know about other news outlets) kept stating that their coverage was time-delayed because if 'the horrible' happened they didn't want to show the boy's death.

The Frequent Critic said...

I don't fault the media for being duped as much as I fault them for the wall-to-wall coverage. This story was not of national importance and didn't require such attention. It was getting heavy coverage on our local news, which was just crazy, since the incident was hundreds and hundreds of miles away. I don't have a problem with the national networks covering local stories,but they should put it in perspective when it comes to the time they devote to it. If it were an airplane flying with no pilot and ready to crash, that I can see getting heavy national coverage. A small mylar balloon with "maybe" a boy inside? A story yes, but not one that requires nom-stop coverage.

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