We were discussing pseudo-events in PR class, and I thought it would be fun to discuss one of the more recent and well known examples.
I’m sure everyone now knows about the “Balloon Boy” hoax of 2009. On October 15th, Falcon Heene was reported missing, and it was reported by his parents that he had “floated away” in a weather balloon. Media swarmed to Fort Collins, Colorado to offer live coverage of what would seemingly be a tragic story. Things took a turn for the worse when the balloon landed without little Falcon inside, leaving the world believing that he had fallen out. Luckily, he was found to be safe and hiding in his attic.
The world media was amazed by this story, and obviously there was a lot of coverage of the event. Suspicions arose when Falcon said in an interview that "You had said that we did this for a show." Was this a hoax planned to generate media coverage? Eventually, it was decided that yes, it was.
Richard and Mayumi Heene, Falcon’s parents eventually pleaded guilty to all of the charges laid against them, and both were given jail sentences. Richard Heene wanted publicity to try to sell his reality TV show idea, The Science Detectives. Because of this hoax, no network would dare touch his proposed TV show, and they are not allowed to make any money off of this hoax for four years. This essentially means they won’t make any money off of “Balloon Boy”, since I can’t see many people caring four years from now.
I would say that the Heene’s have only lost money from this hoax, and damaged not only their lives but the lives of their children. They now have lawyer fees, fines, a criminal record, and a loss of potential work to contend with. Their children spent time in the spotlight, which can be considered damaging, especially for Falcon. For the rest of his life, Falcon (an already uncommon name) will always be known as “Balloon Boy”. Creating a pseudo-event based on exploiting a child, and having the world media thinking said child is in danger is a remarkably stupid idea. Of course the media and emergency officials are going to be mad that the child was never actually in danger in the first place. What a waste of their time, and money! The general public are going to be annoyed that they wasted so much time following a story that ended up merely being a poorly orchestrated hoax. Not to mention being angry at the exploitation of a child.
Richard Heene claims that he pleaded guilty to protect Mayumi, who could have been deported if she was convicted of a felony. He says that he really thought Falcon was in danger, which I don't believe for a second. I think he's just looking to stay in the spotlight for as long as he possibly can. By making these outlandish statements, stories will be written about him, and he'll be talked about for another week or two as he starts serving his 90 days in prison.
I think the Heene’s got “addicted” to the idea of fame and fortune. They had appeared on ABC’s Wife Swap twice, were fan favourites on that show, and were seen as being a fairly eccentric family. The longing for more money and more attention created desperation. Maybe they thought nobody would find out it was a hoax, but that’s a rather naïve thought. The media is ruthless, and will almost always find out the truth. That, and you never want to trust a six year old boy to keep a secret.