Balloon Boy: When the Net is full of hot air


Of course, in the old days we'd huddle around our TV sets for historical events -- the Kennedy assassination, the first moon walk, 9/11, Katrina. It was a way of coming together as a nation, however briefly.

Now we gather on the Web for a publicity stunt by a family desperate to get on reality TV. In a , apparent co-conspirator Robert Thomas lays this out as a hoax that was months in preparation. Now authorities may be looking to -- but without a paddle or a balloon.

The more everyone leaps on the same story -- desperate for viewers or -- the less likely it becomes that stories with real import will get covered. (The White House, for example, was pretty steamed that by the Falcon Heene mocku-drama.) The more easily we are manipulated by stories with the right elements in them -- a child in danger, an apparently grieving family, and most of all, compelling video footage -- the more likely it will happen again. And again, and again.

Somewhere, PT Barnum is smiling.