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Granted the 21st century is still fairly young, there is little doubt that the Balloon Boy Hoax will go down as one of the greatest hoaxes of the century, even by the time the year 2099 comes around.  Just think about it, for a couple of hours the entire world was watching television, the people were transfixed by what they saw and what they imagined. A little six year old boy was trapped in a high flying, saucer-shaped balloon, soaring across the United States. His fate was uncertain, and the mightiest nation on Earth was powerless to do anything to rescue the poor child.  All the king’s horses and all the king’s men…

The say that it is an ill wind that blows no one any good.  I wonder if perchance a bit of good might also come out of this escapade?  For example, has this incredible story told us anything about television?  No, I don’t mean about the capability of TV to cover live events; I mean the quality of what is on television.  Here was an incident that caused everyone to stop and watch.  People who would have been doing something else – certainly not watching the vast wasteland that we call daytime television – were glued to their sets, wondering what would happen to the poor child.  Yes, if there is one thing the Balloon Boy points out to us it is this: regular TV is awful.  Devoid of creativity, devoid  of interesting ideas and concepts, devoid of anything relevant to our daily lives, television generally sucks.

But, is there anything else we can learn from this episode?  After all, we already knew that daytime television was not great drama – that’s why nobody watches. Yes, there is something else we can learn. With all the outrage going on about how these people perpetrated a fraud on the entire world we have, at least for the moment overlooked one little fact: our multi-trillion dollar military, our police, fire, ambulance, emergency rescue teams – everyone who we would have thought, in some way, ought to be able to do something to rescue the boy before he floated away forever, couldn’t and didn’t.  Now there is something to think about.

All those tax dollars we spend on all that high-tech, high-priced equipment; all that specialized training, all those expensive radar tracking systems, fighter jets, helicopters, rapid response teams – you name it, and we can’t rescue a kid floating away in a balloon.  You have to admit, it was a grand deception.  The balloon, I mean.  You didn’t think I was talking about all of our gigantic expenditures on our extraordinary defense, security, and rescue capabilities, did you?

Just wait.  A year from now we will all look back and shake our heads when we think about this. Man, we were all fooled by a truly grand deception.  Meanwhile though, we must figure out an appropriate punishment for these nasty masters of tomfoolery.  So, what will it be? A half-million dollar fine?  Five to ten years in jail?  Put their children in foster care FOREVER?  Hmmm…just what is the appropriate punishment for foolishly fooling with the Masters of our State and making them look powerless?  What shall we meet out to those who have the audacity to point out that the Emperor has no clothes?

The simple truth is this: we’ve been punked.  Actually the whole world has been punked.  I can understand why the AUTHORITIES are unhappy.  After all, the whole affair made them look really bad and more or less completely incompetent – from the federal level all the way down to the local level.  But for the rest of us, well it was like watching a combination of Greek drama and P.T. Barnum.  It was a lot better than what is on TV this afternoon.

Maybe the guy should get his own TV show.

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Is it me?  Has anyone else noticed a gradual degradation in U.S. television news over the years?  Maybe it’s my imagination, but I seem to recall that when CNN started out with their continuous news coverage channel they really had lots of news to report. Didn’t they used to have reporters all around the world, from Tokyo to Sydney to Rio de Janeiro, sending in reports of the latest news from even the remotest parts of the planet? Now, if you watch CNN, you seldom see a report from one of their reporters from some exotic locale.  When was the last time we had a CNN report from Mumbai or Shanghai?  How about Brussels or Manila?  What about Auckland or Toronto? Doesn’t news happen in those places anymore?

I suppose budgets being what they are, the news people have had to cut back on their major expenses – you know things like covering the news.  Today, if you turn on CNN you have a 50/50 chance at best of getting coverage of a news event. You are just as likely (if not more likely) of getting one of their staff “experts” commenting on the economy and what you should do with your money or another CNN “expert” commenting on politics and whether Barack Obama has a chance of being reelected in 2012. This is news?

Lest it appear that this is an anti-CNN rant only, let me assure you that I find Fox News equally, if not more so, vapid.  Besides Fax’s vapidity, I find I also have to contend with what seems to be a slight right-wing spin on their reporting. Has anyone else noticed that? I have to wonder if they are trying to influence my opinion rather than just reporting the news as it happens.  The result is that I seldom watch Fox. It’s just my opinion, but they seem to be just a little too, how shall I say it? Foxy. Yes, that’s it, a little too foxy.

It seems that the old, established networks like NBC, CBS, and ABC still put together a nightly version of the news that is fairly straightforward. However, I still feel they are provincial, if not myopic, in their coverage of important news in the today’s world.  There is still a great emphasis on happenings in the U.S.  Perhaps too much.  Remember the global economy?  Remember multinational corporations? Remember the United Nations? The world today is not the same world we had  twenty or thirty years ago.  Everything is interconnected and whenever we pull on a string here, or someone on the other side of the world pulls a string there, the effects are felt everywhere.  We are caught up in a giant web of interconnectedness. The world economic collapse is a very good, but not the only, example of this. So shouldn’t we have news reported to us that is much more global in scale? Don’t the U.S. news organizations realize that the world really is round and that as a result something very important is happening somewhere in the world 24 hours a day?  So why don’t they tell us about it instead of inundating us with hour upon hour of vapid opinions by their staff commentators? Could it be because they are running low budget operations and can’t actually afford to cover the world news as they should?  I don’t know.  Maybe.

But, just for the sake of comparison, take a look at how other countries cover the news on television. Check out how the news is covered in England on the BBC. This is their website, of course, but their televised news is similar.  You can even see it in many parts of the U.S. on your local PBS network.  Their coverage of the world is infinitely superior to the U.S. news media. Of course the BBC is well known for that, but they are not alone in this regard. Check out Radio Telefis Eireann in Ireland at this link. Once again, it’s a website, but their broadcast world news is very complete also.

But wait!  There’s more.  The Germans, perhaps not as famous for their world news coverage, also do a very good job of providing real information via their Deutche Welle broadcast.  This is also available in parts of the U.S. via the Public Broadcasting Network. The good thing is that the news is broadcast in English so that we monolingual Americans can actually understand what they are saying.  Check out Deutche Welle at this link and see what I mean.  Finally, one of my favorites for keeping up with events of the day throughout the world, is a French (yes, French – I know) network news program called France 24. Their website is worth looking at and so is their broadcast. Although I have yet to find it in the U.S., even on PBS, I am hopeful that someday it will show up here.  Maybe the answer is the internet.

Which means that I think it’s time our U.S. news media took a look around at the competition.  With the advances in broadband and the capability to view television programs on the internet, it may not be too long before we will be able to watch internet-based news broadcasts from around the world,  maybe even on our own television sets.  It seems clear to me that these two media are bound to merge in the not too distant future. When that happens CNN, FOX, NBC, ABC, CBS, and the other U.S. news media will find they are competing directly for audience share with the BBC, RTE, Deutche Welle, France 24, and many, many more.  I don’t think our news networks realize this, and because they don’t, they may find themselves in the not too distant future going the way of a few other U.S companies that ignored their foreign competition for far too long, companies like GM, Chrysler, and Ford.

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