Memo To All n00bs: STFU!

One of the little-known perils of ballooning is hot air:

The Colorado parents accused of concocting a publicity stunt by pretending that their young son had climbed aboard a homemade helium balloon and was hurtling through the skies above Fort Collins, Colo., will voluntarily surrender to authorities as soon as charges are filed, which is expected to happen on Wednesday, the lawyer for the father said Monday morning.

We were as freaked out as the rest of America by last Thursday afternoon's "Balloon Boy" strangeness, but the behavior of parents Richard and Mayumi Heene afterward was as strange as anything else in the situation.  Admittedly, normal people don't build backyard UFO-shaped balloons, but it did seem unusual that the first thing the Heenes did, seemingly moments after learning that their six year old son Falcon had not fallen 10,000 feet to his death, was to book an interview on Larry King.

After initially believing the Heenes’ story, investigators grew suspicious after Falcon, in an interview on “Larry King Live,” said to his father, “You guys said that, um, we did this for the show.”

Mistake number one.  Reporters and the media are not your friends.  Assuming that the Heenes are innocent of filing false reports and contributing to the delinquency of a minor, the ghost of Richard Jewell could have told them all about what can go wrong when ordinary people in strange situations talk to reporters.

The Heenes, who had appeared on the show “Wife Swap,” have made no secret of their television aspirations, and Falcon’s remark prompted authorities to reinterview the parents. At a news conference Sunday, the Larimer County sheriff, Jim Alderden, said that the entire series of events had been an elaborate hoax drummed up by the Heenes to gain attention.

Mistake number two.  Assuming, again, the Heenes' innocence, it was should have been pretty clear by Friday morning that the police weren't calling because they wanted to find Falcon.  He'd been on Larry King the night before.  Yet, like lambs on a television reality show about the meat industry to the slaughter, the Heenes did not answer with the only response that makes sense:

"Gosh, I'd love to talk to you, but my lawyer won't let me. Why don't you call him.  His telephone number is 555-1212.  Thanks and goodbye!"

One assumes that, as good parents, the Heenes have taught their children never to talk to strangers.  The media and the police definitely fall into that category.

Last 5 posts by Patrick Non-White


  1. says

    Unfortunately, people who are inclined to be publicity-seeking are disinclined to understand, or heed, such good advice.

  2. S.A. says

    While I completely agree with you in principle, the more I read about the Heenes the more it seems that talking to the news media was the intent of the whole ordeal.

    If they had just kept their mouths shut, interest would have blown over. Interest they worked so hard to develop.

  3. Mike says

    +1 Ken. They probably welcome the criminal charges. It's just more attention – which, ultimately, is all they care about.

  4. Patrick says

    Ah, but if I can save just one innocent attention whore from his own folly (like, say, Richard Jewell, who was a hero and an attention whore), this post will have been worth the minimal effort behind it.

    I honestly don't think most ordinary people understand how treacherous the media can be. I haven't spoken to a reporter beyond "a lawyer for the defendant stated his client denied liability, and that the true facts would emerge at trial" since middle school, despite a number of opportunities personal and professional.

    In middle school, I was asked whether it felt good to know that I was going to a certain spelling competition, and I responded that I hoped to do my best. I was cagey even then. For a future blogger.

  5. Sparkylong says

    Patrick, I urge you to teach a course in medical school. For that matter, I urge you to teach for 10 minutes in medical school. Any medical school. God knows those future doctors will need it when they face their first bad outcome.

  6. says

    I did a tiny bit of reporting as a volunteer for a community newspaper, and it's amazing. People don't realize what they're saying. I'm not particularly aggressive, yet when I covered the local police station I was able to get some of the cops to badmouth other cops and even their bosses on the record (although none of it amounted to a story worth printing).