Published: Monday, October 19, 2009 - 12:35pm
Last week, millions of Americans kept track of the amazing saga of Balloon Boy, Falcon Heene, a 6-year-old who was thought to have been on a helium-based balloon when it was accidentally released from his house in Colorado. Military planes were sent to track the balloon, and even the Denver airport was briefly shut down for his safety. But was he really in danger?
No — it turned out that Falcon had not been on the balloon at all; he was found hiding in his attic.
Since then, this whole episode has become even more bizarre. On Friday, Falcon appeared on three network TV shows, on two of which he became sick. Now what is in question isn't Falcon's physical health, but his mental health.
According to Charles Figley, a professor of psychology at Tulane University, children who haven't been accustomed to the media spotlight will be adversely affected by it.
"He will never be the same again," Figley said, "because he's been on CNN, 'Good Morning America' or whatever, his 15 minutes of fame."
However, there are other experts, like Alan Kazdin, a professor of psychology at Yale University and director of Yale's Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic, who feel that Falcon will quickly adapt to the media glare.
"The child isn't going to be traumatized," Kazdin said. "He's going to do all the shows that might not be a positive experience, but it's not going to stunt him."
If all the attention does ultimately harm Falcon, who is to blame? Well, once it became clear that he was safe, his parents didn't have to thrust him into the spotlight. However, Richard Heene, Falcon's father, invited 30 reporters to his home as soon as Falcon was found.
This sparked suspicions that the whole "Balloon Boy" incident was a hoax. When Falcon was on "Larry King Live," he said that he heard his parents calling for him. Falcon didn't immediately respond, for he said that "you guys did this for the show."
Law enforcement officials now believe that the whole "Balloon Boy" incident really was a hoax. However, according to the family's attorney, David Lane, "The sheriff having a press conference saying that they're guilty does not make them so," and he plans to defend his clients in court, where "polygraphs are not admissible."
The Heenes have not had any charges brought against them so far, but they could be charged with filing a false police report and conspiracy.
So what's the moral of this strange saga? If you're going to perpetrate a hoax, don't forget to remind your 6-year-old son that he shouldn't say "you guys did this for the show" while he's being interviewed. Also, after your son gets sick to his stomach on national TV, wait awhile and let him relax before continuing a stream of interviews. Nothing spells hoax more than uncaring parents.
The real moral of the story, of course, is that lying will never be beneficial in the long run.