Lost in the hoohah over the Colorado balloon boy incident is the simple fact that the strategy is practiced daily by a GOP that long-ago sacrificed truth to their inflated drive for power.
For instance, the GOP alleges that Obama has hidden his communist/fascist/socialist agenda in his ascending balloon that casts a shadow over freedom and the future of America. Weren’t George W. Bush’s weapons of mass destruction in Iraq precisely like the boy who wasn’t in the balloon?
Maybe the GOP’s balloon is shaped like a giant teabag instead of a bag of stove-top Jiffy Pop, but the right wing still has an awful lot in common with the Richard Heene family. To be fair, this kind of melodramatic, mortal-danger bait-and-switch is the very stuff of successful advertising. Inside every box of cereal is said to be the key to perfect health. Shame-free Republicans simply took the skill to a new level. If it works for laundry soap, why shouldn’t it work for politicians?
Democrats do it too, of course. The national press is like a dinner-theater audience. Easy to please and slow to recognize even stupid stage effects as fake, they almost beg us fool them. Still, by and large, the Democrats’ tether to reality has never come loose.
It’s telling that the Heene family perpetrated their hoax to boost their chances of getting cast in a TV reality show. Reality show. Let’s idle at this intersection a moment. Tomfoolery and fiction is the road to reality, at least when it comes to television. Okay, let’s get away from the intersection while we still can.
Can the press climb out of its own spaceship and get back down to earth? Today, too many journalists believe they’ve discharged their responsibilities by reporting, “He says there’s a boy in the balloon. She says there’s no boy in the balloon. You decide.”
We decide? The problem is, speaking metaphorically, we’re not in Colorado with the boy and the balloon. We need the press to report the truth, not competing versions of the truth.
But reporters will answer, “How do we know whether or not there’s a six-year-old hidden in the balloon when it’s floating thousands of feet above our heads?” And, “If we are skeptical and fail to capture the drama in real time, won’t we look like idiots if there is a boy in the balloon?”
But what would have been wrong with keeping a camera on the balloon while exploring the possibility that Falcon Heene was hidden elsewhere? Why not report, “This is an extraordinary claim. So extraordinary that while we show you the flight of the balloon, we’re going to investigate whether or not it’s possible the boy never crawled into the balloon in the first place.”
One question the press might have asked itself: How could Falcon have closed himself into the balloon and released it from its tether at the same time? Seems like common sense, doesn’t it?
In America, there never has been such a thing as a fully developed public interest media. That’s a myth. News reporting has always been at least slightly bent by ideology, personal biases, or corporate influence and the drive for profit.
The mission of cable news is to hold the attention of the audience just long enough to get to the commercials, which is its real business. A boy adrift in a balloon gets attention. Mission accomplished; truth be damned.
This has to change. While we look for institutional solutions, I’ll just ask my fellow Americans to think a moment about their ethical responsibilities. While you’re distracting us with false tales of wonder, the icebergs are melting.