A Home-Grown Hoax

I figure most people are already familiar with the entire “Balloon Boy” incident that happened in Colorado six days ago. But just in case, a quick recap:

A Colorado family, apparently famous for having been on the reality TV show “Wife Swap” claimed that their six-year-old son, Falcon Heene, had somehow climbed in to an experimental weather balloon that they had tethered in the backyard, and the balloon subsequently lifted off. For the next several hours, authorities in Colorado went bonkers trying to figure out how to get the presumably terrified six-year-old out of the balloon without causing him to plummet to his death. During the time the balloon was aloft, Denver International Airport had to be temporarily shut down because the balloon wandered in to its air space. Eventually, the balloon came to the ground due to partial deflation, and it was discovered the boy was not inside; some claimed that they’d seen “part of the balloon” fall off and it was feared the boy had fallen to his death. Eventually the boy was discovered safe at home, and his father claimed that he’d been hiding in the attic over the garage the whole time.

On its face, the story seemed bizarre, but not completely unbelievable. I admit that when I first heard it, I had three major questions, however.
1) How did a six-year-old kid manage to quietly hide in the attic for that long a period without being detected by the police, or by his parents who would presumably know that he could be up there?
2) Six-year-old kids aren’t exactly light; was that balloon actually big enough to carry him up?
3) Am I only feeling this suspicious because people keep bringing up that Heene and his family were on a reality TV show and that makes him sound kind of skeevey?

Apparently, those were the two questions to ask. It was a hoax, and the police are planning to press charges. Apparently the police had one of the same doubts I did, because they asked if the balloon was big enough; after what Heene initially told them, they thought it might be. It turns out he lied about that as well.

I’m glad the police responded like they did. It wasn’t really possible to know at the time that it was a hoax; with the safety of the child possibly at risk, I think they acted they way they needed to. The story may have sounded far-fetched, but without solid evidence that it was a hoax at the time, I think they had to assume that they were being told the truth. It’s rare, but this (general) sort of thing has happened before. I’m also glad that it was identified as a hoax as quickly as it was. But there are other issues this whole incident brings up.

It certainly has bought Heene and his family fame, though not necessarily the kind he was looking for. Apparently, this hoax was his attempt to land another reality TV gig, this one where he’s a “Psyence Detective.” Yes, I’m being serious. One thing that just bothered me about the coverage (other than the constant mentions of “Wife Swap”) was this sort of thing:

“When the Heene family aren’t chasing storms, they devote their time to scientific experiments that include looking for extraterrestrials and building a research-gathering flying saucer to send into the eye of the storm,” the show’s Web site said.

The coverage mentioned Heene’s “scientific” interests a lot. Frankly, if he’s advertising “experiments” aimed at finding extra terrestrials – particularly ones that he’s convinced exist because he hit his head on the floor of a fast food restaurant and lost consciousness – this doesn’t make him any sort of scientist or even science enthusiast, in my opinion. It makes him a crank. Considering that Heene is a believer in the 2012 Doomsday nonsense, I really don’t feel the slightest twinge about calling him a crank.

This brings up so many issues about what’s being put on TV, and the utterly stupid, reckless things that people will do in order to participate in reality TV. I don’t think I need to write a screed about that sort of TV programming. What I’m hoping is the fact that Heene got caught, and caught quickly, and is facing criminal charges will make other people think twice before they try to pull a similar hoax.

I will say that I’m very, very glad that it looks like Heene’s TV show dreams have been sunk. Reality TV already has plenty of cranks that misinform their viewers without him and his “psyence” detecting.

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