I didn’t want to take even a moment to comment on the ‘balloon boy’
affair at all. Even though (maybe especially because) it’s so hard to
ignore, and like other stories of
sensationalism-as-news-no-matter-what-human-consequences, keeps getting
churned through the news cycles fed mostly by tv talking heads
speculating on ‘what it all means’ without realizing it means viewers
to them. Or exonerating themselves from blame for their own excesses
these sensational stories.

The media aren’t given to true introspection. But print media are
sometimes good at examining and criticizing television media, and the
LA Times has a few pieces with interesting angles on this burst of
fascination over the Heene family.

Like this one, that looks at the larger picture of child exploitation for profit. By their own parents.

“Whatever the outcome, children’s advocates warn that reality-TV
producers and news organizations are exploiting children from exotic
backgrounds for higher ratings. In the “balloon boy” case, TV news was
rewarded for sticking with the story: As the drama unfolded Thursday
afternoon, the cable news networks logged ratings roughly double their
usual averages, according to the Nielsen Co. Some of the coverage was
deemed so crucial it aired without commercial interruption.”

This is getting to be like a freak show, and the children are suffering.

“Falcon seemed to struggle under the media glare, vomiting during
live interviews Friday morning with Diane Sawyer and Meredith Vieira.”

The media glare has become so disproportionate to news value, I’m wondering how many participants in the circus realize what they’re party to, on both sides of the tv screen.

“Over and over, footage was replayed (as if somehow it would alter
in repetition), interspersed with commentary from various balloon
experts. At one point, CNN had the magic map involved, with
volume-versus-mass equations going on. It was so absurd that at times
Blitzer seemed almost unable to carry on; several times he hesitantly
wondered if perhaps the boy wasn’t just hiding somewhere.

“Blitzer, it seems, has actually met a 6-year-old boy, although he
too joined the throng wondering if Falcon’s statement on “Larry King”
[that they did it for a show] was proof that the Heene family had
staged the whole thing.

“But even if it were a hoax, the crime was against all those
involved in the search, not against the media that chose to follow the
story so relentlessly even after it was clear there would be no money
shot of Falcon emerging, unharmed, from the balloon. (Actually, that
CNN and MSNBC aired real-time footage of the landing of a balloon,
which might well contain the injured or dead boy, raises a few
publicity-related questions as well.)”

And that’s disturbing.

Here’s a wise news editor’s take on all this, brief but pointed.

Recalling the real media introspection that took place soon after
after 9/11, and the resolution that public concerns would trump
ratings, and making the leap to last week’s ‘balloon boy’ “coverage
[that] was deemed so crucial it aired without commercial
interruption”….John Robinson says this:

“Thank goodness we’re at peace, have full employment and universal health care.”

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....