Monday, October 19, 2009

Bubble Boy a Hoax – No? Really?

As fast as our world rotates, some things always stay the same. Take the news media last week, when they all rode the wave of “boy accidentally takes off in a hot air balloon” story.

I was at the office and just passing by one of the many lunch rooms which have TVs tuned to a local all news channel. People were gathered around the TV, watching in horror, live coverage of a giant silver hot air balloon, which supposedly was carrying a little boy who had “accidentally” taken off in it.

I know not everyone that is a parent is really cut out to be a parent, but even the worst parents on the planet wouldn’t let their kid go up in a hot air balloon unattended. And even if they did, just how does one accidentally take off in a hot air balloon?

When I was a reporter, I covered a handful of hot air balloon stories – so I know, these things are typically tethered to the ground by two or more thick, long and strong ropes, tied-off to bolted anchors in the ground. One doesn’t accidentally just go up in one of these contraptions – you have to make a very concerted effort to untie all the ropes from the anchors – and not just one of them – all of them.

Something smelled like rotten tuna as I watched the TV coverage. That and later on when I got home, I heard on the news that the little boy was never i

A pair of Hopper balloons.Image via Wikipedia

n the balloon in the first place, he was always safe on the ground.

Sure enough, the next day, rumors started spreading about how the whole thing was a hoax. Just some media stunt to give some trailer-park trash people the attention they crave. I guess they didn’t qualify for the Jerry Springer Show.

Although the family is obviously not playing with a full deck of cards for even conceiving of this stunt, and children’s aid should be called in to look at the parenting skills and quality of life these nutbars provide to their kids, all the blame rests squarely on the media.

Sure, had a little boy really been caught up in a hot air balloon, drifting over the American mid-west out of control, that would be newsworthy.

But there were so many holes in this story that anyone who’s been in a newsroom long enough should have known it couldn’t possibly be legit.

The news media gets so wrapped up in their own fiction sometimes, they forget to do their job. What exactly is the job they forgot to do.

Think, ask, and report.

THINK about the situation. Really think about it – does it make sense that a little boy could have accidentally taken off in a hot air balloon all by himself – no of course not! Whether or not the little boy was really in the hot air balloon, it was not an accident. Either he was placed in there by someone else and set adrift, he untied the ropes with help from friends (it usually takes more than two people to launch one of these massive balloons), or -- hello – he’s not in the hot air balloon to begin with!

ASK – always ask questions, that’s the primary job of all reporters in the news media. And if you’re thinking – as you should be – you’ll ask questions relevant to the situation which should tell you if you’re chasing a hoax, or your next Pulitzer Prize winning story.

My question – why didn’t anyone ask how a little kid could have launched a hot air balloon all by himself? I’ve seen groups of big strong men struggle to launch these things – here we have one little boy and he’s supposed to have done this all by himself?

Report the news, based on your thoughts, questions and observations. This they did – problem is because the media didn’t think, they didn’t ask the questions that needed to be answered, so their reporting of events was misleading, false, pure speculation and hype.

Thanks to that media hype, everyone is kicking themselves around the water cooler, as the truth about this hoax is revealed.

If you are one of those people kicking yourself because you fell for the prank – don’t. It’s not your fault the news media failed to do their job.

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