Terrific NYT column by Frank Rich comparing the “balloon boy” scam with those perpetrated by Bush/Cheney in invading Iraq and by Wall Street in fuelling the banking collapse, and putting things nicely in context. Excerpts:
Next to the other hoaxes and fantasies that have been abetted by the news media in recent years, both the “balloon boy” and Chamber of Commerce ruses are benign. The Colorado balloon may have led to the rerouting of flights and the wasteful deployment of law enforcement resources. But at least it didn’t lead the country into fiasco the way George W. Bush’s flyboy spectacle on an aircraft carrier helped beguile most of the Beltway press and too much of the public into believing that the mission had been accomplished in Iraq. The Chamber of Commerce stunt was a blip of a business news hoax next to the constant parade of carnival barkers who flogged empty stocks on cable during the speculative Wall Street orgies of the dot-com and housing booms.
Richard Heene [the father in the “balloon boy” incident] is the inevitable product of this reigning culture, where “news,” “reality” television and reality itself are hopelessly scrambled and the warp-speed imperatives of cable-Internet competition allow no time for fact checking. Norman Lear, about the only prominent American to express any empathy for little Falcon’s father, vented on The Huffington Post, calling out CNN, MSNBC, Fox, NBC, ABC and CBS alike for their role in “creating a climate that mistakes entertainment for news.” This climate, he argued, “all but seduces a Richard and Mayumi Heene into believing they are — even if what they dream up to qualify is a hoax — entitled to their 15 minutes.”
If Heene’s balloon was empty, so were the toxic financial instruments, inflated by the thin air of unsupported debt, that cratered the economy he inhabits. The press hyped both scams, and the public eagerly bought both. But between the bogus balloon and the banks’ bubble, there’s no contest as to which did the most damage to the country. The ultimate joke is that Heene, unlike the reckless gamblers at the top of Citigroup and A.I.G., may be the one with a serious shot at ending up behind bars.
Great stuff. Worth reading in full.