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October 23, 2009
Vol. 51 No. 6

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'Wife Swap' family dupes cable news

As a journalist, the coverage of the Balloon Boy incident this week made me roll my eyes, but the coverage of the coverage, aka the 24-hour news fallout, makes me even more nervous.

Good job CNN, MSNBC and every other cable news channel that covered the incident obsessively. What amuses me the most is how the media are now in attack mode, being overly-critical of the amateur reality star family and their desperate push for their second fifteen minutes of fame.

In all, the cable news industry got its feelings hurt because that ruthless, manipulative mother sobbed her heart out in the 911 call and the dad choked up like a soap star in front of the cameras for hours.

Yeah, that middle-class family really took advantage of the worldwide journalism network with hundreds of experts on call to verify facts. Apparently, CNN got dressed up for a date, was charming and winning, and then the Heene family asked to split the check at dinner. Poor Wolf Blitzer.

What apparently "blew it" for the one-time "WifeSwap" contestants was their son, Falcon's, remark when being interviewed: "you said we did this for the show." The linchpin of your plan was a chatty six-year-old? You know who has problems keeping stories straight? Chatty six-year-olds.

If the investigative journalists had been, well, investigating, they would have found what my dad did on a message board hours before: that balloon could not have lifted off with him inside. Bam, hoax exposed.

But no, America unwittingly participated in a day-long reality show pitch and the news industry, which used to be respected for delivering facts, became a joke.

It's times like these that I thank my lucky stars that I want to go into print journalism. Newspapers have that full day to report on the news before they go to print. If a reporter picks up the thread to a story like this and follows it all day only to find that it was a ruse, they can print the full story from the start knowing how it ends.

Having news at your fingertips can be useful, but how many of you wasted your day worrying about poor Falcon only to feel used and cheated at day's end? Trust me, CNN feels your pain. I bet it would have been nice to have lived in the era of only the nightly broadcast news and the morning paper--before journalism became its own reality show.

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