Sunday, October 18, 2009

Wag the dog: Playing the global media

This week the American media went wild over the saga of a young boy thought to have taken off on a helium balloon in Colorado. Now comes news that the Sheriff will file Charges on suspicions of a hoax (Sheriff: Charges will be filed in balloon saga). It also turns out Richard and Mayumi Heene had inside hooks into the media (Huffington Post: Balloon Boy, Wife Swap Son).

Flashback to about six months ago: Media went similarly wild over the saga of Nadia Sulaiman who gave birth to Octuplets and dropped the story like hot potatoes the moment they realized she was a single mom on welfare already struggling to support her other kids. The public was outraged over the fact that a single mom on welfare went on to get fertility treatment and give birth to eight more children. Needless to say, before the story died down, Sulaiman’s "supporters"created a website asking people to donate, publicizing the URL, again thanks to the media frenzy over the story. (I couldnt google the URL when I searched recently).

And before that there was the saga of the British girl lost in Portugal. How did the story end? Parents were suspects : A British couple who turned their young daughter’s disappearance from a Portuguese resort into an international cause célèbre — raising millions of dollars and recruiting celebrities from J. K. Rowling to the pope to their campaign — were formally named suspects by the Portuguese police on Friday, a representative of the family said. Of course, this was not the last word. Two years hence, the saga continues and the media continues to follow the story: Satellite clue to Maddie kidnap

Wag the Dog is a Hollywood classic about a Washington spin doctor who, mere days before a presidential election, distracts the electorate from a sex scandal by hiring a Hollywood film producer to construct a fake war with Albania. The scheme enlists the aid of a country music singer, who creates several theme songs for the war; a "fad king"; and a costume designer, who helps create a fictional special forces unit to fight the war's supposed battles.

Of course, not all of us are as media savvy, at least not savvy enough to get over the money-and-muscle of large corporate in India. I remember how Jet Airways ensured almost a total media blackout when little Aditya died on board an international flight. The mainstream media India approached and interviewed us for stories that never got aired or published. The parents decided to bury the grief in solitude and move on.

I guess for every Nadia Sulaiman or Heene family that manages to Wag the Dog, there are a hundreds of others with a story waiting to be told.