It really disappoints me that the news media has received no real scrutiny or criticism for its central role in making the "balloon boy" incident into a full-blown, national news story last week.
The media's role, particularly that of cable news stations, was taken for granted in typical fashion. People have reached an unhealthy point of simply expecting news and entertainment to blur constantly, so, they have very low expectations for the media. "Anything goes," is what many feel."
In my view, the entire balloon episode should NOT have been covered as a national story. The news people on the scene had no proof the boy was in the balloon --- So, reporters, editors and producers should have restrained themselves. Of course, what we all saw, in the end, was that it didn' t matter whether the boy was in the balloon. The mere possibility was viewed as sufficient grounds to "go national" with this incident involving one boy and his family. It was ridicolous, if you ask me. There was never a story -- at least not a news story. (It was a good story for supermarket tabloids!)
I happened to turn on my television to MSNBC during the late afternoon of Thursday, Oct. 15th, and I saw the odd, fairly small, gray, helium-filled balloon that, I guess, half the world ended up seeing. I was curious, for a few minutes, to find out what was going on. After all, MSNBC must be showing this live coverage for a reason, I assumed.
A young boy might be on the ballooon and in danger, I learned. Then, seconds later, I heard, the young boy may not be on the balloon.
At that point, I stopped and asked myself: Why is MSNBC providing live, continuous coverage of the possibility - and it was only a possibility, however decent a possibility - that one boy is in that balloon and may be in danger?
My answer, to myself, was: "Well, it's all about entertainment, and I guess, we're at a point now, when -- even if a story is speculative and involves only one human being - it's still considered important enough to plug the entire country in with live, national coverage."
I do NOT accept that standard or the decision to cover the floating balloon with live, national coverage. As I watched it, I thought it was BAD news judgement -- That it was typically sensational coverage offered in the guise of news, when, it really was all entertainment. I could understand the human interest side of the story. It was unusual -- but, I felt: a) TV people should have waited to see if the boy was in the balloon, and, b) radically tamped down the coverage until then.
I kept watching, mainly to analyze the media coverage, frankly. MSNBC kept covering the "balloon boy" story - for at least 90 minutes - as if it were a MAJOR NEWS story impacting millions of people. I guess, MSNBC figured, the entertainment angle should reach millions. (I think CNN was covering it live too)
Then, of course, the boy was found in the attic of his home. MSNBC and the people interviewed seemed pretty shocked the boy in his home the whole time. I was not quite as shocked partly because the station had reported - in a downplayed way - that there was a chance the boy was not on the balloon.
Now, as the story unfolded, David Schuster, who was anchoring for MSNBC, made repeated references to how the story had attracted attention from all over the country. At one point, as the cameras showed people - either local officials or police or someone - going into the family's house to talk to the boy's parents.
"They're talking to them (the parents) about why this became an internatioal event," commented a TV reporter on camera.
I couldn't believe that comment. It disgusted me. This TV newsperson was speculating that the parents were being asked for an explanation for how this could've turned into an international event.
It's because MSNBC and other stations' coverage MADE IT AN INTERNATIONAL EVENT!!!
I cannot stand when the news media acts like it has no role in an event, which it, essentially, helped create!!
In the days that followed, this story - very predictably - stayed in the news when little tidbits kept surfacing about some unusual aspects of the "balloon boy"'s family. Yes, I can accept that perhaps some stories about this family might be interesting to some.
Hoever, my big beef with this episode was in the initial news coverage. Sorry, but, I think there is an ENORMOUS important difference between speculation and reality in terms of how the news business should report on developments. A speculative story often shouldn't even be aired at all, or, if so, it should be qualified and identified as speculative. In the case of "balloon boy," television producers blurred the lines between speculation and reality solely to "entertain" us.
Maybe, the next time, the television business can just make up a story and pretend it's real. That seems to be where things are headed.