UPDATE: This story has been outdated by recent events. Please read all the way through...
This week, we were all shocked by extensive LIVE coverage by CNN of an escaped helium balloon that may have contained a missing 6 year old boy.
There, I said it, and it took less than ten seconds to summarize the whole story.
There was no confirmation that the boy was IN the craft, or that he was in great danger, nor how he got into this craft... but still, it was GREAT LIVE COVERAGE FROM HELICOPTERS CHASING THE BALLOON. We were all watching as it touched down and authorities rushed forward and confirmed ....NO BOY!
Almost immediately, we started hearing the media "report" that it might have been a hoax. Again, no confirmation... just speculation on what the boy MIGHT have meant in a live interview with the media.
It occurs to me that no one takes what a 6 year old boy says seriously, until we think that he might have slipped up and admitted a hoax that we all "wanted" to believe.... after all, we just invested three hours into this wild goose chase and feel foolish that there was no big payoff.
But in this rush to judgment about what the boy meant or what the family was planning, we've been overlooking something critical. Yes, the family had been on some reality show... and YES, they were filming the construction of the balloon for some future project. Yes, the father is a former weatherperson (I really don't know more than that about his career).
But what we overlook is the fact that the father was MEDIA SAVY! Not just that he understands how the media works, but that he also knows what's likely to happen if the media learns they've been fooled. The father KNOWS that there will be an aftermath... and what the price will be if it's a hoax.
I, for one, fully believe that the father's tears were honest, and that he really didn't know where his son was... but that he quickly realized where the media was going to take his son's comment... and that he had been painted into a corner by it.
As a member of the media, I'm ashamed that so many of my colleagues have jumped on the "story" of an escaped balloon, blew it out of proportion, and then jumped on the family afterward, when they had to make sense of it all.
Will the truth come out? Not if the tabloids have anything to say about it...
(And that leads me to what I was really going to talk about this week. Stay tuned for our continuing coverage on this topic, right after this break...)
UPDATE: Five days after the initial event, it is becoming more evident that this was staged. So, I'll eat my words with regret, but also point out that the intense investment in this story blew it far out of proportion. The final chapter is not written yet.