The Jon & Kate Syndrome…
16 October 2009
Yesterday’s incident involving the six year-old boy who was believed to be in a runaway helium baloon is certain to become one of the strangest episodes in history. And with the boy vomiting on live national television this morning and questions over whether this was a hoax, it is certain to get even weirder.
But aside from its entirely bizarre nature, this incident has illuminated what I call the “Jon & Kate Syndrome” — the perverse marriage of publicity-seeking people willing to exploit their own children in their quest of riches and fame, and 24-hour cable networks, who put sensationalism and voyeurism ahead of values (journalism AND family).
I don’t fault the networks for covering the story — it is certainly interesting. However, what I do challenge is the decision of the parents to allow their children to be included in television interviews, and the networks for allowing the children to be included; even asking questions of the children. Is there not a single producer or booker out there who is willing to say, “Hey — let’s think this one through. Are we compromising the story if we interview the parents WITHOUT the children being on the air?” Evidently not.
All I can imagine is that these parents are so blinded by the klieg lights and their own quest for fame (in other words, just like Jon and Kate) that they either lose sight of, or abandon, their obligations to protect their children, and act in the best interests of their kids.
Does anyone believe that these children will benefit from the spotlight?
As for the cable networks, does anyone believe their ability to tell the story is compromised if the kids are not on camera?
The answer to both questions, of course, is “no.”
I was watching Campbell Brown’s program last evening, and she was doing a competent job in exploring this story, and all its possible angles (including the exploitation of the kids). And she describes the personal anguish she felt, as a parent, as she watched this incident unfold. But at the end of her program, what does she do? She puts in a plug for the Larry King Live program, which will feature the “balloon” parents and their children!
It’s simply a matter of time before a legislator proposes a law to criminalize such parental bad behavior.
What does this have to do with crisis communications?
Not much really, but as a parent of 4 young children, my horror at the idea of a small child being carried away by a runaway balloon was second only to my disgust at parents and networks exploiting vulnerable children.
This incident is further proof that the networks will choose sensationlism ahead of sound journalism. And just as drug pushers enable drug addicts, so too do the networks enable these publicity-seeking irresponsible parents.
As communications and reputation managers, we should keep that in mind should we find ourselves in a situation that is “made” for television news.