From the Los Angeles Times:
Reporting from Fort Collins, Colo., and Los Angeles — The strange case of Falcon Heene took another twist Sunday when a Colorado sheriff said the boy’s parents had staged the runaway balloon saga as a publicity stunt to score a reality television show.
“There is absolutely no doubt in our minds that this was a hoax,” Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden said at a news conference in Fort Collins. Richard and Mayumi Heene planned the caper for at least two weeks, he said, and are likely to face felony charges.
The sheriff added that some entertainment media might have been complicit, but he refused to identify them. One outlet, he said, had already paid the Heenes in connection with the balloon launch.
The Heenes deny wrongdoing.
The plight of Falcon, 6, touched off a bizarre whirlwind of wall-to-wall TV and Internet coverage after he was thought to have stowed away on his family’s homemade balloon Thursday. Hours later, he turned up safe, saying he had been hiding in the family’s garage.
The trend may have started with Nadya Suleman, the California “Octomom” who underwent advanced fertility treatments and had octuplets. Her offspring will reportedly receive $250 a day to star in a reality show now being produced.
We remember Octopussy!!
As for the Heenes, suspicious eyebrows raised once it emerged that his family had been featured on two episodes of ABC’s “Wife Swap,” a reality show in which mothers from two families with distinctly different values switch places for two weeks.
Parents Richard and Mayumi — severe-weather enthusiasts who were recorded ordering Falcon and their other two young sons into a vehicle to chase tornadoes — were also reportedly trying to develop another reality series with RDF, the studio that makes “Wife Swap.”
But the story line began to fray when, hours after the ballon escapade, Falcon said on CNN’s “Larry King Live” that “we did this for a show” — a remark subjected to wide and sometimes outraged interpretation.
On Sunday, Alderden called that CNN comment “our first ‘aha’ moment.”
Whatever the outcome, children’s advocates warn that reality-TV producers and news organizations are exploiting kids from exotic backgrounds for higher ratings. In the “balloon boy” case, TV news was rewarded for sticking with the story: As the drama unfolded Thursday afternoon, the cable news networks logged ratings roughly double their usual averages, according to the Nielsen Co. Some of the coverage was deemed so critical it aired without commercial interruption.
From noon to 2 p.m., Fox News averaged 2.4 million total viewers. CNN had 1.7 million, MSNBC 768,000.
“What amazes me is how mindless the coverage is,” said Paul Petersen, who runs the Gardena-based advocacy group A Minor Consideration and was a child actor (son Jeff on “The Donna Reed Show”).
Many producers and journalists take different views of the Heenes and other recent celebrity-kid cases. Bart Feder, an executive vice president at CNN, said the balloon-boy story qualifies as legitimate news.
“This is what CNN does: It’s become the place people turn to when there’s something happening,” he said.
During the “Today” interview, when asked if he realized what a media firestorm his son’s disappearance had set off, Richard [Heene] said: “I don’t have cable, so I had no idea what was going on.”
And I’m Gina Lollobrigida.