Police now say (admittedly a long time after everyone else was saying it) that there's evidence the family of "Balloon Boy" Falcon Heene are guilty of a hoax. They may face criminal charges.
May I suggest an appropriate charge? Child abuse.
If Thursday's story had been merely a hoax UFO, I might have appreciated it at the level of a prank, or even a social experiment. That there was possibly a 6-year-old boy trapped inside the runaway balloon made it very, very scary, however. And the possibility that the parents had lied in order to get the media's attention would be reprehensible.
But the aspect that really appalls me is not that they lied to the media or wasted police time. The thing I find despicable is how Richard and Mayumi Heene paraded their family in front of TV cameras and drew them into the hoax.
Just hours after the incident, the parents had cameras in their living room and were subjecting their three boys to national and international live TV coverage. In at least two separate interviews, young Falcon was very sick. The first time, he had to run out of the room and could be heard vomiting in the background while his family continued with the interview. His mother had to be prompted by the news anchor to accompany him to the bathroom. The second time, he vomited into a container live on air, but the father carried on with the interview regardless.
Then came Falcon Heene's telltale admission: "You guys told me it was for the show." Richard's later attempts to explain away the remarks and feign outrage at suggestions of a hoax were embarrassing displays of poor acting. But he roped his kids into the charade. As he wiped away tears in front of the cameras, the boys nervously tried imitating him, rubbing their eyes as their father sobbed about how he held Falcon the night of the incident and told him how much he loved him. Heartbreaking - and unabashedly manipulative.
It's not just the parents' manipulation. They've used their children in pursuit of their five minutes of fame. They've taught their boys how to manipulate and how to lie, and that is despicable.
If Richard and Mayumi Heene are to face charges over the balloon fiasco, let it not be for a hoax, for wasting resources, or for lying to the police. Let it be for shamelessly exploiting and abusing their own sons.