Michaele and Tareq Salahi's incursion into a state dinner at the White House is the latest example of a disturbing micro-trend: the aggressive courting of publicity to catch the attention of reality-television producers.

The most heinous recent perpetrators, of course, were the Heenes, the family that gave us "Balloon Boy." Their manipulation of a small child to attract a global audience and a television gig - and the resulting expense, inconvenience, and danger of a massive search-and-rescue effort - were reprehensible, and it is likely the Heenes will pay the price. But isn't popular culture to blame as well?

We are a nation obsessed with reality television. While the 1950s are known as the Golden Age of television, future pop culture historians might refer to the 2000s as the "Leaden Age" - devoid of original thought and preoccupied with cheap thrills. Reality shows are usually aimed at the lowest common denominator, so it should be no surprise that those who aspire to star in them are often bottom dwellers.

The Salahis cut a polished appearance at the White House, looking for all the world - and all the cameras - as if they belonged there. That, of course, is the essence of a good con man or gate crasher. But further investigation by authorities and the media has revealed a litany of sordid details, including excessive debts, previous party-crashing incidents, and Michaele Salahi's dubious accounts of her modeling career and involvement with the Washington Redskins' cheerleaders.

For their part, the Heenes, who have appeared on the reality show Wife Swap, were avid storm chasers and routinely put their children at risk while pursuing their passion - and possibly a new reality program about the family.

People like the Heenes and Salahis should be censured by polite society, criminal charges notwithstanding. And they absolutely shouldn't be rewarded in any way, by television producers or anyone else. It would behoove entertainment companies to stay far away from the likes of the Heenes and the Salahis, as well as anyone else who commits an illegal or immoral act to attain his or her 15 minutes of fame.

The Bravo network, which had cameras following the outside the White House, claims it thought the couple was invited to the dinner. If that's true, then Bravo has been victimized to some degree and should distance itself from the Salahis.

But one gets the feeling that another enterprising program or producer would simply snap them up for, say, the next Celebrity Apprentice or reality star Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth's new cable program.

Heck, some network executive probably is already fleshing out an entirely new show about the surreal life of the Salahis: Follow the pair as they talk their way into one exclusive event after another - without the benefit of actually being invited! Check out Michaele's sequined evening gown as she surreptitiously struts the red carpet at the People's Choice Awards!

Ultimately, it's the viewing public that helps these sorry people milk their Warholian moments in the spotlight. Let's take advantage of this latest opportunity to reclaim a shred of dignity in our viewing habits - to declare that even though we love to watch the failings, foibles, and fights of complete strangers on TV, we have our limits. We can begin by drawing the line at those who endanger minors or threaten national security.

Gary Frisch is the president of Swordfish Communications, a public-relations firm in Voorhees. He can be reached at gfrisch@swordfishcomm.com.