You may have noticed that I did not write about the famous missing balloon boy when he was allegedly aloft — or when he was “missing,” or when he was “found.”
That’s because it never struck me as real news (and also because, since I don’t watch TV news and God is merciful, I missed most of it). It was not anything about which you or I needed to make a decision as a voter or a citizen. It did not give any of us “news you can use” — seriously, how many of the suckers who watched that “drama” unfold on the telly took away any useful, cautionary information from it? (“Hey, Martha, before we cut loose that helium-filled balloon in the backyard, let’s make sure none of those pesky neighborhood kids have crawled into it. Boy, am I glad I saw THIS!”)
Yes, weird occurrences are a legitimate (although lesser) form of news. And in a saner day, before 24/7 TV “news,” before “news” outlets maintained small air forces in such markets as Los Angeles, ready to go aloft and stay aloft in a tacky modern mockery of the Strategic Air Command’s mission in the Cold War, all in the mad pursuit of live, but meaningless, video (the O.J. Simpson “chase” being the definitive example of such “news” that told us exactly nothing that we needed to know), such a tale would have been reported — once the facts were in. You might read a news feature on a boy’s terrifying drift into the Wild Blue, if he turned out to have been on board. You might even read of how law enforcement was taken in by a crazy story, as you are now doing. But you would not have had breathless live, real-time coverage of what turned out to be nothing. Or perhaps I’m idealizing a better time that wasn’t really better. Perhaps. (“Why, back in my day we didn’t know when our kids drifted off in balloons, and we LIKED it!…”)
The 24/7 TV “news” culture and its twin, “reality” TV, created the Heenes. People like them could not exist in a world without those media forms. And that same culture, by the way, has infected the “serious news” of politics. Otherwise, the Joe Wilson “You lie!” story would have ended with his apology that night. But instead, his supposed “defiance” went viral, and he pulled in $2.7 million (so far), which made him a whole lot less sorry. And thus another media monster was created.
By all means, charge the Heenes with a crime. But remember that from the beginning, this was a bogus story, whether the Heenes were lying or not.