Editorial: The fallout from the balloon boy

As a nation, we were punk’d. For three hours Thursday, we followed the plight — and apparent flight — of a 6-year-old boy said to be trapped in a runaway balloon. Now, Colorado authorities say it was all a hoax.

The father, Richard Heene, has denied that, but is there anybody in America who seriously believes him?

In the aftermath of this fiasco, some are claiming they never believed the tale of “balloon boy” in the first place. Others are faulting the media for going overboard with coverage.

That’s Monday morning quarterbacking.

Certainly, the story sounded bizarre, but with authorities taking the report seriously, who wouldn’t be caught up in this emotional saga?

Yet as more facts come in, instead of celebrating the boy’s safe return, the alleged duplicity of the parents has left us utterly disgusted.

It’s not just the waste of money spent on the would-be rescue that angers us, nor the (alleged) exploitation of the children, especially 6-year-old Falcon.

It’s also the manipulation and betrayal of the entire American public for personal gain.

Granted, this wasn’t the first time that “regular” people catapulted to instant fame let us down — Octomom and John and Kate come quickly to mind — but this was worse than a celebrity train wreck.

This was a cynical ploy to take advantage of people’s natural sympathy and concern and exploit them for personal gain.

And while we can — and probably should — beat ourselves up for the role that our obsession with celebrity played in all this, that doesn’t in any way excuse the parents’ outrageous behavior.

For the record, the couple has not been found guilty; as of yet, they haven’t even been charged with a crime. But if what authorities say is true, we have a fitting punishment for the Heenes — mother and father, that is.

No book deals.

No Oprah appearances.

And, above all, no reality TV, ever.