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The Balloon Boy and the Failure of American News

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 3 or 4 days, you’ve heard of the balloon boy. Some kid with parents who named him “Falcon” apparently climbed into his father’s giant storm-chasing balloon, and the balloon sailed away. When it came down hours later, the boy was not inside, setting off even more panic. Turns out he was just in a box in the garage. Whoops. Although you would not notice how insignificant this story is to our lives without the cable news networks covering it like it was 9/11 Part 2.

First of all, from the start it was obvious that this was a non story. Real news is happening in the world around us. Two wars with our own citizens dying. An economy going down the toilet that only benefits the very rich. Healthcare reform. Yet, the cable news networks decided to make this story the #1 most important one, labeling all updates with “Breaking News.” In fact, on CNN.com right now, a story about how charges will be filed on the parents of the boy is currently BREAKING NEWS.  And this has happened for years. Non-stories or stupid human interest stories become major news, because the networks don’t want to make people worry and get out of their fragile comfort zones.

But of course, it turned out to be one great big wild goose chase, and the CNNs and Fox News of the world were angry. And you know a story is bad when someone from Fox News starts criticizing the media over it: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/10/16/laura-ingraham-rips-cable_n_324198.html

Secondly, go to http://www.missingkids.com. I bet none of you have seen any of them outside of maybe catching one on a milk carton. None of these children will ever get the time of day on the news,despite the fact that a lot of them are likely locked up in some monster’s basement with every day being a nightmare. They don’t have  a UFO balloon, so they’re never going to get covered by CNN or Fox News. They’re actual victims, but mass media doesn’t care. They want stories like UFO boy.

A similar thought came to my mind when the Elizabeth Smart case was all over the news back in 2002 or so. Why exactly, I thought, is this girl any more special than the hundred of other kids kidnapped every year? Why isn’t some poor girl who was kidnapped by a sexual predator in Washington Heights covered? The answer is obvious (suburban blonde hair, blue eyed white girl with rich Mormon parents), but it shouldn’t be that easy to answer. The question should never have to be asked. Either cover them all, or don’t cover any.

The biggest failure is that for all the asking of “Why did we cover this?” and declarations of eggs on faces by the cable news networks in their futile attempts to save face, it is ultimately worthless. In a few days or weeks there will be another story like this. The news media will rush to cover it like it were a major event, because they never learn. They’ll still have a Republican and a Democrat yelling at each other over nothing, they’ll still have no fact checking, and they’ll still have boys in balloons.

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Written by nfugitt

October 18, 2009 at 4:51 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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