by Meredith O'Brien
UPDATE: Okay, I -- actually we -- have been had, according to a sheriff in Fort Collins, Colorado who this weekend announced that authorities believe the entire runaway balloon fiasco was a hoax , planned weeks ago as an attempt to garner publicity  in order to land a potential reality show. Felony charges, the sheriff said, are likely to be filed against parents Richard and Mayumi and their attorney has gone on national television pleading for police not to arrest the parents in front of their children because it would, be CHILD ABUSE. Making the kids lie to the cops and the media or getting a 6-year-old to hide for hours, that’s, apparently, all right, but slapping the cuffs on, THAT would be abuse?
I explicitly did NOT immediately jump on the “it’s-definitely-a-hoax” bandwagon, preferring instead to be cautious, while expressing mindful skepticism that many things seemed amiss. And this is the thanks I get for giving the Heene family the benefit of the doubt, being shown to be a chump. After hearing the emotional 9-1-1 call  and feeling badly for the parents, boy, do I feel like an idiot.
While my husband and I were preparing dinner for our three kids Thursday night, our hearts were in our throats. Why? The balloon boy. We didn’t yet know the fate of 6-year-old Falcon Heene. For hours that afternoon, national news outlets had been riveted by images of a homemade helium balloon that a Colorado family had made which was flying out of control through Colorado skies. Falcon’s 10-year-old brother had told authorities that the youngest Heene was on board, so everyone was worried about his safety. The U.S. military dispatched aircraft, including a Black Hawk helicopter, to follow the balloon and, hopefully, rescue the boy. The FAA wouldn’t allow take-offs in the general area.
Before our dinner made it to the table, the news broke that Falcon was never on the balloon but had been hiding in an attic. My husband and I literally cheered because, once the balloon crashed and no one was on board, we, along with the rest of America, feared that the 6-year-old had fallen to his death.
That’s when everything went kaflooey and eyebrows started to be raised.
I soon learned that the Heene family had twice participated in the ABC reality show Wife Swap , where the father, Richard Heene had red-faced rages at the wives to whom he’d been assigned by the show, swore and hurled nasty names at them, then actually hurled a cup of milk at one of their heads. He was a hot-headed lunatic. (View the first of five parts of the latest Heene Wife Swap episode  here. His three boys were depicted as following in Dad’s footsteps, swearing at the visiting mother, openly and hostilely disrespecting her, flipping her off and acting like wild little bratty things. Their mother, Mayumi Heene, who was “swapped” and placed with another family, was no prize either, swearing up a storm and calling the husband with whom she lived for two weeks a “loser” at the top of her lungs, in front of his sons.
The internet swirled with links to a “rap video ” which featured the Heene boys and included Richard and Mayumi, called . . . hold onto your hats . . . “Not Pussified.” And if you make out the lyrics of what the boys are saying in this rap, I guarantee you’ll be horrified.
Hours after Falcon was discovered, the Heene family went on CNN  and, when he was asked why he hid from his family instead of letting them know that he wasn’t trapped inside the runaway balloon, Falcon said, “We did this for a show.” This response, of course started people wondering whether this attention-seeking family – and if you go on Wife Swap, TWICE, you’re seeking attention – had pulled a fast one on America and the entire news media. When pressed by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer what Falcon meant by doing this “for a show,” Richard Heene said he had no idea. But by morning when he was asked the same question on NBC, Richard said his son hadn’t really understood the question. Um, yeah, whatever Richard.
The following morning, the Heenes went on the three network morning talk shows -- ABC, CBS and NBC – and did their public image no favors by forging ahead with interviews even though their son Falcon was literally puking on live television. I kid you not. During the Today Show interview  with Meredith Vieira, in which Richard Heene said he was getting “ticked off” by people asking whether this was a hoax, Falcon threw up into a plastic container and Richard continued talking until Vieira suggested that they take a break and come back in a few moments. The Heenes also appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America  where Falcon again vomited but this time he quickly shuffled off camera. It was Diane Sawyer who asked Falcon’s mother Mayumi if perhaps she should go help her son who could be heard retching. After a few minutes, Mayumi brought Falcon BACK in front of the camera after the boy told his father he’d thrown up three times.
Also during that morning, the Heenes released its own video  of the actual release which commentators said raised more questions than provided answers.
I could understand if people who’ve never before been on TV froze up and weren’t sure what to do in the event that a kid gets sick on live television. But the Heenes aren’t new to TV. They did a reality show. Twice. They were on CNN the night before. This wasn’t their first rodeo. So when their son got sick on television, and not only did they proceed to do another interview, but one time put him back in front of the lens AFTER he’d thrown up, was ridiculous.
I don’t like to take pot shots at families -- the Gosselins immediately come to mind -- who’re suffering from self-inflicted wounds, humiliated for making poor choices. I also do not know if this whole thing was some kind of horrific accident or misunderstanding, or a deliberate hoax. But after the boy was found safe, it was the job of his parents to think of Falcon’s best interests and not to stick him immediately in front of the TV cameras, ESPECIALLY after he became sick. And after he got physically ill during one interview, that should’ve been it. No mas. But it wasn't. What is it with these reality show families putting their kids out there in front of cameras without thinking about how it’ll affect them? I suppose if you have your three grade school-aged boys star in a “Not Pussified” video and you throw a cup of milk at a woman’s head in front of those boys when you know that cameras are rolling, a kid doing a little vomiting is no biggie.