The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, October 19, 2009. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's blog at The Huffington Post website.
Now Let's Pass a Law Banning Balloon Hoaxes
The media first fell pray to the hysteria of the six-year-old boy lost in the sky. Now it is clamoring for the punishment of Falcon Heene's reality-show-crazed father.
The only problem is, as Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden noted, there doesn't seem to be a sufficiently severe crime to cover what Falcon's parents, Richard and Mayumi, did. Considering all the attention and expense that was generated by the hoax, as well as the strange antics in which they've embroiled their children, all they face is a misdemeanor for falsely reporting a crime.
And so, Sheriff Alderdeen says, his office is exploring such charges as conspiracy, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and attempting to influence a public servant. (What would be the conspiracy with which they would be charged - and how could the punishment for it be worse than it is for the crime they conspired to commit?) Plus the sheriff wants to get the feds to check to see if any federal laws were broken.
The hysteria attending the original event has now been transformed into legal hysteria. The locus for this hysteria has thus moved from the media to the sheriff and the courts and, perhaps ultimately, to state legislatures and Congress. When legislators become sufficiently outraged about someone's actions, and they perceive a public outcry that translates into votes, they pass new laws.
And what should this new law cover? Making children lie in order to solicit offers to do reality shows? Hiding children around the home while public servants search for them? (Of course, Casey Anthony may be guilty of something like this - only it doesn't matter since she is now charged with murdering her missing three-year-old daughter.) How about lying to the media?
And just as the media and public couldn't resist the captivating but ultimately implausible tale of a boy accidentally swept up in a mylar balloon framed with scrap wood and held together by duct tape, law enforcement and perhaps law-makers may not be able to resist the captivating but ultimately self-defeating activity of thinking up to new laws to cover one father's bizarre fantasies.
And that would be the worse crime of all - causing the creation of useless new laws.