Ah, the dog days of autumn, when the media are full of hoaxes because nothing much else is going on.

Last Thursday, the Heene family of Colorado gave us a homemade version of the movie Up!, sending their six-year-old into the wild blue yonder of the garage attic while their UFO-shaped balloon led authorities on a wild goose chase across our TV screens.

A day earlier, four House Republicans called a press conference to demand an investigation into the Council for American-Islamic Relations, a civil liberties lobby, for supposedly trying to "infiltrate" the Capitol with Muslim intern spies. This dastardly threat was uncovered by a stalwart young American who had grown a beard, read up on Islam, and passed himself off to CAIR as a Muslim convert committed to their goals. Once inside, he (the son of a co-author of the book Muslim Mafia, with a foreword written by Rep. Sue Myrick (R-NC), the leader of the intern-busters) discovered that CAIR was actively involved in…lobbying.

Of course, that’s nothing (so far) compared to the pimp-and-prostitute sting of ACORN, in which a couple of white conservative activists dressed like Huggy Bear and Sweet Lips and asked unsuspecting employees how to lie to the IRS and set up a prostitution ring of underage girls from El Salvador. The two hidden-camera filmmakers may have been outrageously fake, but they had real results, leading Congress to vote to ban federal funding for the community outreach group.

This gaggle of hoaxes merely points up the bubbling stew of hoaxes that the 24-hour news cycle is, day in, day out, feeding to us. It’s common knowledge that a lot of the stuff on cable, as the White House has said specifically of Fox News, isn’t news. Instead it’s composed largely of stunts, shticks, and switcheroos, adding up to a grand political punking of the People.

How else to account for persistent phenomena like Glenn Beck’s tears, or Bill Kristol’s claim on our attention after he’s been wrong about everything from Iraq to Palin, or Sean Hannity’s desperate campaign to hound "dangerous" radicals like former Harvard professor Cass Sunstein out of the secret socialist/Nazi cabal that runs the Obama administration?

In fact, we’ve been debating Grand Inquisitorial hoaxes now at least since the Summer of Tea-bagged Love. Little of this opposition to Obama and the Democratic Party’s takeover of power in Washington has been anything but an Astroturfed hoax. From birth certificates to death panels, from Fox’s wall-to-wall coverage of the 9/12 march to the media’s nearly complete silence on the roughly same-sized gay rights march one month later, what usually counts for political debate in this country has rung about as true as an alien abduction story.

It’s almost as if real reporting–like it’s not enough that it’s being defunded everywhere–was being punked by a 13-year-old kid, a last kick in the pants before it passes through the door of history.

Meanwhile, with the Balloon Boy story still afloat, the anti-corporate pranksters the Yes Men, working with the activist group Avaaz, held a fake U.S. Chamber of Commerce press conference to announce that the Chamber had searched its heart and flipped from opposing climate change legislation to championing it–forcing its leadership to deny any such interest in the public weal.

Now, that’s a hoax–perhaps not as big as the one the Chamber has been promoting for years, that it has 3 million member businesses instead of the 200,000 to 300,000 it really has. But for some reason, the Yes Men and the whole Chamber hoax were no match for Balloon Boy.