The fate of Falcon Heene, the six-year-old boy believed to have been trapped in a homemade hot-air balloon launched from his family’s Colorado backyard earlier today—”Balloon Boy,” the HuffPo has already dubbed him—is, at this point, unknown. The balloon, now grounded after two hours of wind-whipped flight, was found to be empty. Which means either that Heene was never in the balloon in the first place (good outcome) or that he fell out of the balloon at some point in its journey (very, very bad outcome).
The “Balloon Boy” story—which is, in cable-irresistibility terms, pretty much a car chase wrapped in a sex scandal wrapped in a viral YouTube video wrapped in another car chase—has, needless to say, captivated the news networks. And adding to the captivation is the fact that the Heene family itself—storm chasers who were featured, apparently, on a recent episode of “Wife Swap”—is “known for their risk-taking.” All of which is likely what led MSNBC’s David Shuster, describing the scene just after the balloon had been grounded, to make the following Highly Inappropriate Remark About Today’s Possible Tragedy:
The compartment is empty, which would explain, then, I suppose, the way they are handling it—trying to officially sort of verify that. And then that gets, obviously, to a couple of questions. Did the boy fall out along the way, or is this part of some hoax, an effort for attention by the family a lot of people are already suggesting is a strange family to begin with?
Stay classy, MSNBC.
Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.