The hidden cost of the Balloon Boy hoax

It was his first visit to New Orleans since becoming president, and Barack Obama was energized. His famed charm and humor were on full display, his oratorical skills as sharp as ever. He took on his critics unflinchingly, demonstrating the confidence and determination that propelled him to the office last November. He tackled the big issues, and acknowledged our nation’s challenges while exuding optimism and, well, hope. 

It was a speech the people of America should all have seen. We encourage you to watch it (though it is an hour long).

Here’s an excerpt from the transcript:

Let me tell you, those folks who are trying to stand in the way of progress? They’re all — let me tell you, I’m just getting started. I don’t quit. (Applause.) I’m not tired. I’m just getting started. I’m just getting started. (Applause.)AUDIENCE: Yes we can! Yes we can! Yes we can!

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. All right. See? I’m getting all — you’re getting me fired up. (Applause.)

I think it is important for those folks to understand I’m just ready to go. (Applause.) We’re just going to keep on going. And the reason is, is because there are too many folks out there who are having a tough time — to get tired. The easiest thing in the world would be to just say, okay, well, I don’t want any controversy; let me take the path of least resistance. But that means that the same folks who were struggling before we got elected are going to keep on struggling. People, if they had high premiums on their health care before, they’re going to have even higher premiums after. That’s not why — that’s not why I applied for the job.

The challenges we face — both here on the Gulf Coast and throughout America — they’re big, they’re complex challenges. They don’t lend themselves to easy answers or quick fixes. Meeting them requires diligence, and perseverance, and patience.

It also requires more than just government programs and policies. It requires a renewed spirit of cooperation and commitment among our citizens — a renewed sense of responsibility to ourselves and to one another. Which is why it’s important — whether you’re dealing with a Republican or a Democrat — that we are maintaining civility, that we are listening to each other — (applause) — that we are willing to find areas of common ground and cooperation.

He then went on to answer probing questions from the audience in a thorough manner, not shying away from explaining exactly what the impact of the proposed health insurance reforms would have on Medicare Part B, or from firmly reasserting his stance on immigration reform (which, it should be noted, is almost word-for-word what his predecessor’s was – but that’s a good thing).

Unfortunately, nobody watching the cable news networks heard a word of the town hall portion of his town hall. Rather than learn what steps the adminstration has made toward rebuilding the Gulf Coast and ensuring that a Hurricane Katrina-scale disaster does not reoccur, most people were held transfixed by the sight of a homemade flying saucer wafting above the rugged beauty of the Fort Collins, Colorado area.  

Naturally, it was what the balloon contained wherein lay the fascination. By the family’s report, not disputed or thoroughly questioned in the media, the silver structure contained the ironically-named Falcon Heene, 6-year-old progeny of reality star wannabe Richard Heene. Despite the flimsy physics involved in the claim, it stood as truth for quite some time.

As we all now know, we were just watching a plastic bag float around, no better than ennui-ridden suburban teens in a Kevin Spacey movie. Dick Heene was exposed for the shameless publicity hound he is in the subsequent days, and the story inevitably turned from the hoax to coverage of the hoax. Commentators from conservative radio squawker  Laura Ingraham to liberal muckraker Arianna Huffington excoriated cable news over the affair, and the usual hand-wringers and apologists have emerged to dissect the meaning and impact of it all. (The National Razor recognizes this post itself counts as coverage of coverage of coverage of the hoax, but that is the hall of mirrors that is modern media.) Summing it all up pretty well was Falcon Heene himself on the Today Show:

Yet still, during all this time we have been talking about what we should be talking about, we haven’t been talking about what we should be talking about. And that includes this.

At the end of President Obama’s town hall in New Orleans, he had time for one last question, and decided to take it from a young boy of 8 or 9 named Terrence Scott. He was nervous and hesitant when he took the microphone, but what he asked came out crystal clear.

“I have to say, why do people hate you and why… they supposed to love you, and God is love.”

The President’s reply was heartfelt, and delicate, and he was able to turn it into a broader point about working for others. But for once, Barack Obama was upstaged. That simple statement from a fourth grader, that people are supposed to love others, and God is love, was more transfixing, more poignant, and more necessary for our national psyche than almost anything we see on television news these days. If something needs to be shown over and over for hours on end, let it be that. A bag of air we can see on cable news any time we want.

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