The First Draft: questions of fraud and hoax

October 16, 2009

If Afghanistan has a runoff election, how does that affect President Barack Obama’s decisions on a new Afghan strategy? Will it speed up his decision-making or hamper it?

The U.N.-backed Electoral Complaints Commission is close to a verdict in its investigation of Afghanistan’s August presidential election that has been marred by allegations of widespread fraud.

The Washington Post reports that a runoff is expected, citing officials familiar with the results as saying the investigation had already cut incumbent President Hamid Karzai’s vote tally to about 47 percent.

That would trigger a second election vote, pitting Karzai against his main rival, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah.

If the vote were held within weeks, as many experts suggest, then would Obama wait it out or just make an announcement regardless of Afghanistan’s electoral timetable? But if bad weather and other considerations force a runoff in the spring, then Obama would have to make a decision sooner.


Was it a hoax? That’s the question being asked about the balloon boy story. TV watchers were transfixed with the image of  the silvery flying-saucer balloon drifting over Colorado for a couple of hours yesterday, wondering whether the owner’s 6-year-old son was inside.

The boy, Falcon Heene, is fine, he was hiding in the garage. The family, which had previously participated in the reality TV show “Wife Swap,” was all over the morning TV shows (and on the front page of newspapers after appearing on CNN’s “Larry King Live” last night).

Much is being made of Falcon’s comment on “Larry King Live,” when the boy said, “we did this for the show.”

This morning the boy was obviously not well, he threw up during a television interview. His father continued to answer questions and was asked bluntly if the whole drama was a hoax?

“Absolutely not,” Richard Heene told NBC’s “Today” show.

Click here for more Reuters political coverage

Photo credit: Reuters/Rick Wilking (Richard Heene with son Falcon after massive search when their balloon broke loose and it was feared the boy was inside)


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Anyone who believes that this guy didn’t do this as a media stunt for world wide recognition, is an idiot. He’s merely a wanna be of some type and should be billed for the expenses to “rescue” his space ship. What a nut!

Posted by Frank | Report as abusive

Thay got a day of fame,now lets get back to real news! Really how many times do we as viewers have to watch this? Its over, our soliders dont get this much attention!

Posted by randy armfield | Report as abusive

Child services should be put on this case if they are not already.

Posted by Terry | Report as abusive

So, allegedly, the kid climbs into the compartment. (And his brother is there to see it.) Then his father scolds him. So after the scolding, when his father is done with him, he’s so frightened that he hides for hours even though people are looking for him, calling his name and probably sound perceptibly very worried for him?

And, it’s at that same time, when he hides, that the balloon loses its moorings? Think about that! (And the moorings were unreliable, after all the work the father put into making the balloon. Credible?)

He stayed in hiding for hours? Now there’s some reality for TV — they got a 6-year-old to hold still for hours!

I can see 2 possibilities. 1) A coordinated fraud by the father. The mother may or may not have known. 2) The kid released the ballon and then hid on his own. Then he implicated his parents out of spite.

But about this balloon. Saucer-shaped? Impractical; it makes it much more unstable, and it takes more material to make. Why silver, metallized plastic? And what was it for? The father said hovering over traffic. Horse hockey.

How much money has this family made from TV?

But the bad guys won. Realistically, they won’t be punished, and they’re going to make a lot of money.

There’s one government agency that isn’t involved yet and should be: child protection. Not protection from the balloon, protection from the parents.

Incidentally, there are some deplorable professional scientists, and I’d be uncomfortable to have this guy seen as representative of amateur scientists.

Posted by Sigmund Fraud | Report as abusive

Don’t woory kid. The ‘Today’ show makes me want to barf too.

Posted by KJ | Report as abusive

Well of course it wasn’t a hoax: Heere said it wasn’t. Settles the matter.

Of course there’s proof of civilization on Mars: Heere points at shadows on Mars in his video and says there was. Settles the matter.

Why would anyone doubt a reputable inventor building a prototype of a new commuter vehicle in his back yard that looks like a cross between a UFO and a party balloon, is filled with helium, and is intended to carry commuters at an altitude of one hundred feet while propelled by ‘a million volts’?

Simply because of past hunger for publicity? Clearly out of control children?

A former partner who thinks he staged it?

An exploited six-year-old son who accidentally blows the cover story and then vomits?

Nah. I believe him. The Venusians told me both Heere and the Martians are for real.

Believe it.

Posted by Marvin the Martian | Report as abusive

It was sneered at yesterday as a Wolf Blitzer-CNN engineered Hoax for “ratings” boosts… self evident now that most of the facts are in

Posted by pravin | Report as abusive

As if and I mean as if ! – someone who is experimenting with and built a 4 pound helium balloon would ever expect or believe it would carry a hamster, let alone a 60 pound boy.

And after seeing this family’s wanna be T.V. background – it’s a slam dunk. I guess it worked. Probably in a couple of years we’ll see not so famous kid wrestling – this six year old boy – eight by then – taking on the octa-woman’s 8 kids in a nothing held back wanna be parent screaming contest as the little squirts pound each other to the T.V. fans delights.

What the heck – hey I’d watch.

Posted by various animal | Report as abusive

My question is to the armed forces: Why did it take so long for them to react/rescue. What if this was a terrorist act?

Posted by George | Report as abusive

I think that the Heene family deserves a Nobel prize for the advancement of reality TV. I mean, after all Obama got the peace prize just in case he might do something.

Posted by Clovis | Report as abusive

WOW! The news is joining in on the reality show kick. In my opinion, I’m glad that the little boy is alright and safe. But who really gives a flying flip about this?! Are we THAT junkie hungry for mindless news like this? Feed my brain with more junk food news please! Yeeeeuuuum!

Posted by i,robert | Report as abusive

Mr. Heene’s suggesting that he honestly thought that his child was in the balloon that he sent aloft is clearly a lie. A balloon creates lift in the same way a boat does, by displacing an amount of air equal in weight to the vessel. In the case a boat each cubic foot of water displaced will lift 60 pounds, in the case of a helium balloon it takes 16 cubic feet of displaced air to lift one pound or about a thousand cubic feet to have the same lifting force as one cubic foot of water.
This knowledge of a balloon’s lifting ability is basic high school physics. Clearly this is something that the father, a designer of balloons would know. As soon as the balloon hit the ground and a man could be seen standing by it, it was clear that it was a disk only about 25’ in diameter and less than 5 feet thick. That would make its volume only about 130 cubic feet and its displacement under 10 pounds. As soon as I saw how small the balloon was it was clear it was a stunt. The fact that so many people are so stupid about the simple physics of this stunt is the real amazing thing about this story.
This guy should either be prosecuted and charged for the thousands of dollars the state spent on this publicity stunt or given some award for pointing out how our schools have failed to educate so many of our people that we can be so easily fooled.

Posted by Jim Duncalf | Report as abusive

No question. This whole stunt was a fake.

The proof is subliminally hidden in the article photo. Even the kid thinks his father is a loser.

Posted by Anon | Report as abusive

What an incredible waste of money…. Perhaps the Heene family should be held responsible for the cost of the “rescue”;They could use funds from their upcoming reality series

Posted by Rachelle | Report as abusive

Jim’s figure for buoyancy of helium in air is essentially correct. Using 80% nitrogen and 20% oxygen by volume, I come up with 14.5 cubic feet per pound at about atmospheric pressure and room temperature. (Basic high school chemistry, actually, and no, I don’t mean 14.7 psi!) However, Jim, beware the easy stuff! Radius is 25’/2. Square and multiply by pi; area is 491 square feet, times 5 feet thick is 2,450 cubic feet, divided by 14.5 is 170 pounds. (All roughly.)

It actually does make sense that the plastic was metallized, which I challenged earlier. They do that now because it’s much less permeable to helium that just plastic film.

I wish they’d get child protection in there. What more does it take than a stressed-out kid puking on TV?

Posted by Pete Cann | Report as abusive

16 cubic feet per pound is better; 14.5 is at 32 Fahrenheit. Sorry.

Posted by Pete Cann | Report as abusive

pretty lame if you ask me. I can’t believe they involved a kid in this!

Posted by Nerdy Joseph | Report as abusive

It seems to me that balloon wasn’t big enough to lift even the weight of a small boy. You couldn’t tell size from the live video while airborne. But when it landed, you could suddenly see it’s size compared to the people on the ground that captured it. If it was not in fact big enough to lift that much weight, the boy’s father would know, because he built it. I think that question needs to be put to him. I didn’t think this was a hoax at first, but now I do. In addition to the balloon not being that big, I also thought the family was ducking questions in the interview. I’ve had some experience with hot air balloons and was fascinated by this event. Especially when the news media called it a hot air balloon, which it is not- it’s a helium balloon.

Posted by Terry Pfaffenberger | Report as abusive

After I posted my comment above, I noticed a Jim Duncalf had already said exactly the same thing I did. I’m obviously not the only one who noticed that balloon was too small to lift the weight of that kid. Also- I think it was intentionally built to look like a UFO; I’ve never heard of a weather balloon that shape. That’s the story- that it was a weather balloon. Maybe they intended to stage some kind of a UFO hoax, then thought this hoax about the kid being on board would get more attention. Well, it sure did!!

Posted by Terry Pfaffenberger | Report as abusive

Hoax and a scam. I can’t understand how the average person can’t see this. The kid didn’t need to give it away.

Posted by Bill | Report as abusive

I think that the most important thing is at least there is an election! This is a fundamental step towards democracy. Saying that however, you need to win the trust of the people in the electoral system. The leaders that won through the ballot and not through the bullets need to prove that their wins are transparent and legitimate. Much more efforts is needed to safeguard the voting system such that it be trusted and its authority respected by the people at large.

Posted by Lim Boon Chuan | Report as abusive

I think we need to find out what happened in Afghanistan’s election before we commit more troops. I’m all for a stable Afghanistan and supported the Afghan war from the start because that’s where Al Queada was, not Iraq. This conflict has spilled over into Pakistan and the dangers of the Taliban toppling the government there are to great.
However it is going to be a tough sell if Karzai cheated and we end up supporting an illegally elected government. Most of the people there what what we all want, peace, stability and prosperity, they want no part of this conflict and in the end we should do what is right for the people of Afghanistan.
As for the kid in/not in the balloon? Couldn’t care less. I don’t really watch television, I was surprised to hear there was a show called Wife Swap, can’t mean what I think it does, right?

Posted by Eric H | Report as abusive

I hope this nut case father doesn’t have a gun in his house? He seams nutty enough to hurt his wife & kids if all this stress comes down on him.

Posted by Harleynut | Report as abusive

this balloon man needs to be prosecuted for using his kids for a hoax. he needs to get a real job and go to work.
from all i have read and heard on TV from the police he is in trouble.seems he has been planning this for two weeks.they took acting was trying to get a reality show.sounds like to me he is jealous of Jon & kate and their millions they made.( that was made public too )
wow, wonder who will raise there balloon kids while they are in jail ?

Posted by janey | Report as abusive