What if Richard Heene had put a puppy in his experimental balloon, instead of pretending his kid Falcon was in it, as cops claim he did?
The puppy ride would still have made national and probably international news. TV news crews would definitely have dispatched helicopters to chase Heene’s balloon. The media drama would have stretched on for days and weeks.
Heene could have said he put his unruly puppy in the balloon basket to keep him contained while he worked on the rig, and it simply got away from him.
The puppy couldn’t have spilled the beans to authorities, and the pet would have looked really good on national morning news shows, wagging its tail and such. (I’ve seen thousands of pets on local TV news, and not one was so nervous it vomited, like Falcon did on national TV.)
Heene could have pulled off the entire stunt without telling anyone but the mute puppy.
Maybe this sounds crazy, but how could the cops have exposed his lie?
Of course, there’s the risk that the balloon crashes and the puppy dies, and then Heene may have faced animal-abuse charges. And even if the puppy survived, he may still have been held responsible for the emergency-response costs and other damages.
So here’s another option.
In his bizarre book, How You Can Manipulate the Media, David Alexander describes how an activist sent out a news release threatening to “pour gasoline on a puppy and set it afire” to protest the war in Central America.
You can imagine the response. Tons of local TV coverage. Letters to the editor. Protests by animal rights groups. Police involvement.
But no one had any recourse because, as Alexander writes, it’s not against the law to threaten to harm an animal.
The protestor timed the burning of the puppy to coincide with the 5 p.m news, and several stations were broadcasting live when he emerged from his house with the puppy in hand, according to Alexander. The protestor denounced the media for ignoring atrocities in Central America and for caring more about animals than people. Then he announced that he would not burn his puppy after all. Media hoax over.
So, it might have been smarter for the media-crazed Heene to have simply threatened to send a puppy up in his balloon, and you can bet he’d have gotten a lot of media attention, especially with recent cuts in news departments forcing journalists to rely more and more on the simple stuff.
Politicians and activist groups use pets to attract reporters all the time, and it works. Pets excel at being cute and unpredictable, and have universal interest, making them staples of infotainment news. You recall right-extremists brought a live, snorting pig down to the Colorado Capitol earlier this year to protest President Obama’s alleged “pork” in his stimulus bill, ignoring the fact the fact that the economy was in free fall and his bill would create 3.5 million jobs by funding roads, schools, high-speed rails, home weatherization, and more things America desperately needs. Alexander’s book with the story about the threat to burn the puppy was published by right-wing Paladin Press, but the truth is that all kinds of lefties and righties and politicians rely on media stunts to get attention.
So maybe Heene should have taken a page from protestors and politicians and found a way to use an animal to draw attention to himself and his balloon.
He could have exploited the media’s growing fixation on mayhem and fluff, and he would have gotten the news coverage he wanted and not be in so much trouble now.