Balloon Hoax Almost Didn’t Get By KUSA’s ND

By Andrew Gauthier 


In the wake of the Balloon Boy hoax, many have questioned how Richard Heene was able to effectively dupe the news media into covering the story. Well, it appears that Heene had a very difficult time getting his story by KUSA’s veteran News Director Patti Dennis. “I told him I did not believe him,” Dennis said in a recent interview with the Poynter Institute about her first phone call with Heene.

According to Dennis, Heene called the KUSA newsroom around 11:05am on October 15th, “in hysterics.” He initially spoke with the assignment manager and asked that the station launch their news helicopter to follow the balloon’s path. The manager took the tip to Dennis who needed a lot of convincing. “It took me a few minutes to even get a grasp of what he was saying,” Dennis told Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute. When she could not get immediate confirmation from the Fort Collins police department, Dennis called Heene and grilled him on the details:

I asked him why he wasn’t following the balloon in his car. Heene told me that “they” told him to stay put. I asked for his son’s name and what school he attended, as I thought this would help us cross-reference his story. Then I asked him why he hadn’t called police, and Heene told me the officer was there.

At first, Dennis wasn’t even convinced that Heene was dealing with a real police officer. When Heene handed the phone over to Officer Jake Bowser, Dennis asked for his badge number and supervisor’s name. KUSA’s desk was able to verify the officer’s information and got a call from the Larimer County Sheriff’s PIO stating that they were launching a search. Over the phone, Bowser told Dennis, “Ma’am, this is the real deal.” More…