Success! After we announced on Friday that we could connect a willing media buyer with a student in Colorado who claimed to have evidence that the balloon boy story was a hoax, Gawker went ahead and purchased it, and has just published the whole account.
(No doubt the scribes at the Columbia Journalism Review are already prepping their finger-wagging account of the whole thing)
By now the story itself is old, but here’s Gawker’s explanation of how it all went down:
For the first time, 25-year-old researcher Robert Thomas reveals to Gawker how earlier this year he and Richard Heene drew up a master plan to generate a massive media controversy using a weather balloon. To get famous, of course.
Thomas spent several months earlier this year working on developing a reality science TV show to pitch to networks – the “show,” Thomas says, that Falcon was referring to when he told CNN “We did it for the show.” Among the ideas that Heene, Thomas and two others came up with for their reality TV proposal — and one that he says most intrigued Heene — involved a weather balloon modified to look like a UFO which they would launch in an attempt to drum up media interest in both the Heene family and the series he was desperate to get on the air. Still, Thomas never imagined that Heene would involve his six-year-old son in what he is certain was a “global media hoax” to further Richard Heene’s own celebrity. Thomas’ story of his time with Heene, based on an interview with Ryan Tate, follows below. It’s a fascinating account and after he publicly offered to sell his story, we paid him for it.
Here’s part of the long letter that Robert Thomas wrote to explain how it all went down:
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and I think in this case the desperation was too much for Richard to bear. Richard’s construction business wasn’t doing too well. It’s hard to find people interested in spending money on the aesthetics of their home when they’re worried about their mortgage.
A lot of the work I did with the Heene family related to passing out fliers, putting them on people’s front doors. The fliers advertised a roofing business and a general handyman business. As the months progressed, Richard’s paranoia increased exponentially and my paycheck decreased exponentially. The work I put in for the ABC proposal was never compensated. Richard implied he didn’t have the money to pay me. But he would always reassure me, “It’s all going to pay off in the end.”
But, in “the end,” Richard didn’t think about the implications of his behaviour. He certainly didn’t consider the people that were praying for his child, and the hundreds, maybe thousands of people that were inconvenienced in pursuit of this balloon. The thousands of dollars of taxpayer money spent on things that weren’t necessary.
Bluntly, I think Richard’s ego blinds him to his brilliance. The only thing inhibiting him from progressing is a steadfast determination to become famous and live a Hollywood lifestyle. Someone needs to slap him in the face and say, “Wake up! This is not what’s important.” He has an amazing family that has already been subject to a tremendous amount of criticism. I especially feel bad for Falcon. He’s going to be known as Balloon Boy the rest of his life. That’s not something you want to tell a girl on the first date.
For me, it’s been quite the experience. I don’t regret any of it. I learned a lot from Richard. Not necessarily what I should do but rather what I should not do, in my career path and in my goals. It allowed me to question, “What do I find of value in the world?” And I was led to the conclusion that the only thing that matters to me is my friends and family and loved ones. Everything else is details. If the world were going to end tomorrow, like a lot of Richard’s theories on 2012, who would you go to? Would you go to a bunch of investors for some company or a reality show? Or would you go to your family and friends?
Anyway, there’s a lot there, including, separately, emails supposedly between Thomas and Heene.