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Balloon Boy Blitz

19 October 2009

Before I get to the purpose of this article, I think it is necessary to summarize the last four days with regards to the Heene family.

FORT COLLINS, CO — On October 15th, 2009, a six-year-old by the name of Falcon Heene was reported missing.  Richard Heene, the boy’s father, claimed that not only was his son missing, but also a large Mylar balloon from the family’s backyard.  The boy’s brother said he witnessed Falcon climbing inside the balloon before he cut the strings which tethered it to the ground.

Authorities followed the balloon as it floated nearly 90 miles away from it’s departure point.  The balloon, twenty feet long and five feet high, reached an estimated altitude of 7,000 feet before it eventually came to a gentle landing in Keenesburg, CO.  When it finally landed, rescuers were on-site to take care of any injuries the boy may have received.  They immediately moved in to care for the six year old…  but no one was inside.

This revelation prompted the Colorado Air National Guard to deploy a UH 60 Black Hawk helicopter in an area over the balloon’s flight path where it was believed a box fell from the balloon.

As it turns out, Falcon was found in his attic.  “I played with my toys and took a nap,” said the boy to the ever-growing media frenzy outside the family’s home.  Richard Heene, the boys father, claimed his son was hiding from him because he yelled at the boy earlier in the day.

The Heene Family

The Heene Family

One might think that would be the end of this odd story, but one would be wrong.

The Heene family starred in the 100th episode of “Wife Swap,” which may be attributed to the overwhelming response of the media.  The entire balloon drama lasted no more than a few hours and yet seemingly every news organization was on-site.  FOX, NBC, MSNBC, CNN, CBS, ABC, and The AP were among the first to arrive.  The story was even picked up by Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald, The Sun in Great Britain, even the Al-Jazeera network in the Middle East.

After the boy was found to be safe, the media dispersed and all seemed well in Colorado once more.  That is, until the Heene family appeared on Larry King Live and the following conversation took place (primarily the portion around the 35 second point):

When Wolf Blitzer asks Falcon why he didn’t respond to his mother and fathers calls for him the boy responds, “You guys said we did this for the show.”

With little regard for the family, the media overlooked the possibility that the boy was making the statement to Wolf Blitzer.  “You guys said we did this for the show” could have easily meant,  “Wolf, I have seen a number of broadcasts recently which claim my family made all of this up.” Instead, the networks changed their attitude regarding the Heene’s entirely.  Within hours media headlines read less like updates on the story and more like judgment passed by a court.  “Balloon boy was a hoax,” proclaimed one network while virtually all other networks fell in line. Each one actively selecting to pursue their perception of the event rather than investigating the reality.   …And perhaps the reality will end up being very similar to the perception, but that isn’t what matters.

I want to be clear; I am not saying the Heene family did or didn’t pull the wool over our eyes.  It is not my place to determine guilt.  Besides, guilt or innocence is entirely beside the point.  The underlying reason I wanted to write this article was to remind everyone, even myself, of the dangers of prosecuting people in the court of public opinion.

You don’t have to look too far to find insulting, and sometimes disturbing, opinions about the family.  For example, the video below was posted to by the Heene family as they chased hurricane Gustav:

Some attached comments to the video read like this:
Call911: “Look at the kid’s names….they’re from colorado…i smell IDIOTS! “Look at that truck blown over! It’s so cool!” yeah even if no one is in it, it’s still someone’s property, it should have been YOUR truck with your kids bouncing around while it rolls around. Idiots. Seriously..this is why i have a job.”
Planetb: “This is the best thing they could do! Some less dumbasses I need to pay for!”
Parlophone: “Henne, I read your website and you are clearly mentally ill. Your sick need for fame/money/whatever is putting your family in danger. I pray the state takes your kids away.”

Comments like these can be found attached to any online article related to the family since the balloon incident.  In my personal opinion, we should be delighted to see a father engaging his child’s intellect.  His son may grow up to be involved in film or meteorology — this is how aspiration is born.

I’m not saying Richard Heene’s science is credible.  I’m not saying I think he is innocent of show boating or wrong-doing.  I’m also not saying he’s guilty.  What I am saying is that when we judge and prosecute people publicly, we ruin lives.

There is a very good reason our legal system is based on the ideal that all persons are innocent until proven guilty.  There is also a very good reason that, in order to prove a persons guilt, we require prosecution to produce evidence that supports their story beyond a reasonable doubt.  These ideals protect you and I from being unjustly prosecuted.

If we simply begin taking children from parents based on public opinion, we ruin families.  When we pass judgment on anyone before facts or evidence have been presented, we taint the entire process.  The truth of the matter is that this balloon incident has not been proven to be a hoax.  Certainly, the situation seems precarious but “precarious” is a long way from “beyond a reasonable doubt.”  Even if it turns out to be an elaborate hoax, imprisoning the creators of the hoax will accomplish very little other than straining an already burdened prison system while simultaneously destroying a family.

In the meantime, our national news organizations are passing off their “unbiased” reports as fact while titling said stories with suggestive themes meant to sway your opinion and mine.  Additionally, our news media has been airing this story relentlessly for five days already with no foreseeable end in sight while effectively ignoring far more impactful stories; The secretive construction of a final healthcare bill, the on-going state of affairs in Afghanistan, the release of 40,000 inmates in California, the failure of Bank of America and other banks to adhere to President Obama’s Homeowner Affordability plan – just to name a few.

My bottom line?  We should all step back for a minute and recognize that we may not have all of the facts when it comes to a situation we were not present for.  We should realize that all the information we receive is spoon-fed through various media outlets.  Understand that passing judgment not only harms who you judge, it harms the rest of us as well.  If we spent half as much energy following paramount issues as we do following irrelevant ones, our nation would be in a far greater position.

One Comment
  1. ghettoblackify permalink
    19 October 2009 725

    I knew they were fake

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