Up, Up and Away

Richard Heene embraces his

Richard Heene embraces his "found" son Falcon

In the hit 1967 song  "Up, Up and Away," The Fifth Dimension sang that "The world's a nicer place in my beautiful balloon/It wears a nicer face in my beautiful balloon." Apparently, not all balloons are created equal.

Today, Richard Heene, perpetrator of last month's Balloon Boy hoax, plead guilty to a felony charge of attempting to influence a public servant. It was the beginning of the end of a month-long joyride that took the media and the public for hapless, breathless suckers.

On October 15, Heene and his family purported to have been working on a homemade weather balloon when (unbeknownst to him), his son Falcon crawled inside. Shortly thereafter, the silvery craft escaped from its tether and into the skies. Alerted to the balloon's supposed stowaway by the boy's brother, Richard made frantic phone calls to the local NBC affiliate near their Fort Collins, Colorado, home, as well as to 911. Quicker than you can say ratings bonanza, television stations around the country were carrying the NBC news chopper's balloon chase live, following the helium craft as it ultimately came to a rest two hours later sixty miles from its starting point. As viewers watched from the edges of their seats, Colorado authorities tackled the balloon to ensure it did not head aloft again. Much to their consternation, however, they discovered that the balloon did not contain a boy at all.

Fearing that Falcon had fallen out, presumably to his death, the sheriff's office began a manhunt that was not called off until nearly three hours later, when the boy was "discovered" sleeping in a box in the garage at the Heene home.

Richard Heene, a shameless self-promoter who, along with his spouse, Mayumi, had already starred in an episode of Wife Swap, was hoping for more reality-show glory by pulling his elaborate stunt, a ruse that fell apart in the days afterward thanks to a few botched TV interviews and some sleuthing by the sheriff's office. Even Heene could not have predicted the intense interest the story would generate, the goodwill it would engender, the money that would be spent on search and rescue (estimated by the New York Post at $2 million) and ultimately, the Halloween costumes it would inspire.

But like the boy who cried wolf, Heene abused the good nature of neighbors, his local authorities and even the worry and the prayers of the world. In his quest for reality show glory, Heene poked a little hole in the balloon known as trust in humanity. And with every hole that fakers like Heene make, it becomes harder to keep that balloon aloft.

Where are the Fifth Dimension and their "nicer place" when we need them?