Adoption Beat

May 30, 2008

What is bias?

Filed under: Improving media coverage of adoption — adoptionbeat @ 3:40 am

The following “story” is a joke. I don’t know who wrote it, only that one of my Tennessee cousins sent it to me. This explains how some Americans view media coverage of political issues. And it might help to give the reader an idea of how many triad members feel that the media often covers adoption issues. It is only a joke — so lighten up and laugh!

A biker is riding by the zoo when he sees a little girl leaning into the lion’s cage.

Suddenly, the lion grabs her by the cuff of her jacket and tries to pull her inside to slaughter her, under the eyes of her screaming parents.

The biker jumps off his bike, runs to the cage, and hits the lion square on the nose with a powerful punch. Whimpering from the pain, the lion jumps back letting go of the girl, and the biker brings her to her terrified parents, who thank him endlessly.

A newspaper reporter has seen the whole scene and, addressing the biker, says, “Sir, this was the most gallant and brave thing I ever saw a man do in my whole life.”

“Why, it was nothing, really, the lion was behind bars. I just saw this little kid in danger, and acted as I felt right.”

“Well, I’ll make sure this won’t go unnoticed. I’m a journalist, you know, and tomorrow’s paper will have this on the first page. What motorcycle do you ride and what political affiliation do you have?”

“A Harley Davidson and I am a Republican.”

The journalist leaves.

The following morning the biker buys the newspaper to see if it indeed brings news of his actions, and reads on the first page:


Obviously the journalist in this joke asked for information that had no bearing on the action that took place. And, from the headline, we have to conclude that he included it in his article. This satirical example of journalistic bias is not subtle so it is easy to spot. The bias that creeps into articles about adoption or triad members is not so blatant. The average reader might miss it. Triad members probably do not. When you find stories in the media that register on your sensitivity meter, please share them with me at


May 27, 2008

School for advice columnists

Reference: “Dear Prudence”

I hate to rag on Prudence because, all in all, she gave pretty sound advice to the reader who wrote to say she had accidentally discovered that her mother gave up a child before she married and started a family.

She suggested that the sister should tell her mother that she had snooped but to do so with kindness and understanding; that is good advice. She also said that Mom should have fessed up long since; I think this is sound advice, too. But she cited as a reason that it was better to tell your children than have them learn about the child surrendered to adoption when this now middle-aged adoptee showed up at the door searching for her family of origin.

Middle-aged adoptees rarely show up at the door of the woman who gave them birth looking for Mom. I’ve never heard of this happening despite 25 years of being active in post adoption search and support. This is a myth perpetuated by the agencies that profit from closed adoptions that make it difficult for the adoptee to find the truth of their origins.

If adoptees are able to discover their origins, most will write a letter or call and they will be very discreet for fear of upsetting their mother’s present life. Many women who surrendered a child to adoption were told never to search — that it was illegal. Some were told that when the child became an adult, they would be able to get their records. The first statement is false and the second one is true only in a few states, and those only recently.

This woman does have a right to know about her sister. There are many active search and support groups who will help her to search with or without her mother’s participation. By all means, they should share the discovery with her and reassure her that it changes nothing, except perhaps that now they understand how much she sacrificed. Searching as a team will be easier and more effective and they can provide each other much-needed moral support.

It’s not about search, it’s about identity

Reference: “The Gift of Adoption,” Washington Times, May 19, 2008

This guest op-ed is in keeping with the political position that the Washington Times has consistently taken on adoption reforms that allow an adult adoptee to know his/her origins – it’s a bad idea that can do more harm than good.

Thomas Atwood, the chief mouthpiece for the National Committee For Adoption (NCFA) uses this venue to present his lopsided view of adoption and whose rights matter.

The adoption agencies who fund his organization and whose operations, reformers maintain, depend on secrecy. They continue to maintain that unsealing birth records could have on parents who choose to put their child up for adoption privately – as opposed to an “open” adoption.

Atwood says that there are “about 1 million children in the United States who live with adoptive parents” – 69 percent of which he acknowledges are open adoptions. (Note: Open adoption is rarely enforceable by the birth parents – the adoptive parents call the shots.)

But there are some 6 million adopted persons in the USA, roughly 5 million or 83.3 percent of whom, are ADULTS, not children. Most are well past the age of 21. The legal reforms he objects to so strenuously pertain to the 83 percent who are adults, and probably do NOT live with their parents.

No one is suggesting that adopted children, minors living at home with their parents, be allowed to obtain their original birth certificate or adoption records on demand, although if they are in an open adoption, this is moot. Atwood’s position is that the rights of 5.73 million adoptees must be sacrificed to shield the identities of the natural parents of 270,000 adoptees when studies show that 95 percent of those parents do not want anonymity anyway.

The facts are that when a child is adopted, adults make all the decisions and the child has no say. Other legal arrangements – such as management of financial assets for a minor – are subject to the individual’s review when s/he reaches adulthood. I suppose Atwood’s is a perfectly reasonable position for a lobbyist whose firm is dependent on adoption remaining profitable – and this is apparently dependent on sealing original birth certificates (OBC). How much more reasonable is it to expect a life-altering decision that makes one the scion of a family that did not give him birth be subject to review, at some point, by the person whose life was irrevocably altered? What are these people afraid of?

Atwood says that a Search Institute study found a majority of American adopted adolescents simply wanted to know what their parents “looked like” (94 percent) or “why” they were adopted (72 percent) – as though biology and circumstances are unimportant. But they are not!

Not only are there as many reasons to desire to know the facts of one’s origins as there are adoptees but, by alluding to this particular source, he equates information with search.

Not all adoptees want to search but MOST wish to know their origins.

At one time, adoption workers believed that nurture was preeminent and nature insignificant, so much so that they discounted such things as medical histories. But even while adoption workers advocated sealed records in the 1930s and 1940s, they continued to preserve social histories for adoptees that would one day wish to know. Records were not sealed to protect “birth” mothers, but to protect adoptive families from unwanted incursions by the family of origin who, they presumed, would want continued contact with the adoptee.

Atwood’s concern for the privacy of mothers who surrendered a child and then went on to start new families is disingenuous. Relinquishment agreements DO NOT promise confidentiality – or what proponents of closed records have redefined as anonymity. Giving the adult adoptee a copy of his original birth certificate with the names of his/her natural parents does not subject these adults to societal censure since unwed parenthood is quite common in our society. “A contact preference form is sufficient to allow the natural parents to make their wishes known; adult adoptees are as capable as anyone else of respecting those wishes.

For adoptees that do wish to search for and make contact with their family of origin there is a sure-fire way to prevent the disaster scenario that he attributes to (a business based on adoption promotion). He cites cases where adoptees have contacted someone in error that they thought to be their parent, child or sibling. There’s a simple solution to that potential problem:

Adoptees who have an OBC don’t have to make educated guesses based on non-identifying information – they don’t have to search!

Although Atwood and administrators of adoption agencies run by Catholic Charities (most of which are NCA member agencies) insist on the “red herring argument” that unwed mothers choose adoption or abortion, statistics do not bear this out. In Kansas, where birth records have never been sealed, abortion rates are lower than in surrounding states. In Alabama, abortion rates have declined since adult adoptees’ rights were restored in 2000.

There are many famous adoptive parents who postponed child bearing to achieve professional or financial success and then found themselves unable to reproduce the old-fashioned way. Others suffer from life-threatening diseases that they don’t want to risk passing on. Yet they still want offspring, so they adopt. I hope they are good parents to these children but that in no way proves that these children have no right to information.

Adoptees are weary of hearing about “grateful” adoptees who appreciate the loving homes they grew up in because it is one of the stereotypes that Atwood and his ilk perpetuate, along with “angry,” “ungrateful” adoptees and “birth” mothers. One of his examples, Victoria Rowell’s adoption does NOT mirror the sealed infant adoptions he’s talking about; she was adopted from foster care when she was old enough to appreciate what that meant. As we have learned, when foster children are adopted, their original birth certificates are sealed in most states, but even a child of three or four is almost certain to remember his/her own name before adoption and, probably, the names of his/her natural parents.

Atwood writes: “just as charitable organizations rely on private ‘gifts’ from anonymous donors, parents who give the gift of adoption also have a reasonable right to remain anonymous. It’s not up to the recipient to find the donor.” There is something very wrong with this analogy! The recipient: that would be the adoptive parents, right? And the gift: the adoptee?

But a human child is not a gift from one human to another. A child is a gift from God with rights that, while inconvenient for adoption agencies and their lobbyist, are incontrovertible.

May 26, 2008

What is news?

Filed under: Uncategorized — adoptionbeat @ 9:41 pm

News is not news unless it interests readers: these are the generally accepted characteristics of news:

Impact — how many people does it affect? how large an area is affected?

Timeliness — is this news or history?

Prominence — are the actors in the story someone the reader will recognize?

Proximity — how close is the action?

Novelty — is this unusual, rare (for for tabloids, bizarre)?

Conflict — is there more than one viewpoint, interest involved in the action?

Currency — is this something that is an ongoing topic of interest, e.g. the economy?

A good news story scores in several of these areas but a story that scores in none is not newsworthy at all. These news values do not affect how a story addresses this issue but it’s important to be able to identify news. Sometime, it may help you identify a non-story, which, if published, raises fairness issues.

Why blog about reporting adoption

Filed under: Improving media coverage of adoption — adoptionbeat @ 7:41 pm

How the media reports on adoption issues is something that I have thought about for a long time but not had time to address. Now I am ready to begin investigating with specific criteria in mind. I want to identify instances in which the media fails to meet its own standards for well. I’m sticking to legitimate news standards for this exercise. Bias is another investigation.


 Last year, I did several email interviews with triad members regarding their impressions of news coverage of adoption and got interesting feedback. The same impressions I have formed are widespread and not specific to one corner of the triad. But to explain what I know to the media with my findings, I need proof (examples).  


As you read adoption articles in the newspaper and online sources, I know you already evaluate what you read informally. I’d like you to take time to more formally evaluate what you read by comparing it to the criteria journalists use to define good reporting. And send me what you find that really misses the mark by journalism’s own definitions.  


Reporting isn’t considered “good reporting” unless it meets certain standards:

* Accurate 

* Properly attributed

* Complete

* Balanced and fair

* Objective

* Brief and focused

* Well written


I have refocused my investigation on four of the standards above where I think that ignorance or bias is most likely to surface. My major areas of concern are these:



An example of inaccuracy that has serious implications for the triad community is when either mother of an adoptee is labeled the “real” mother since both women perform actions that make them a mother. Using the term “birth” mother is “subtly pejorative” although if that describes you, you may not think it subtle. We may have to live with this term for a while because it has traction, however, it remains an area that offers us an opportunity to educate reporters, editors and the public as long as we do it in a calm and rational manner. If you find an example of inaccuracy, I’d like to know about it. In fact, I’d like to have a copy and a bibliographic citation of the offending article. (By that I mean only name and date of publication — if I actually get to the point of needing a footnote, I’ll call the newspaper.)



Completeness is a double-edged sword because reporters are loathe to leave out any fact the discover but sometimes the issue of adoption, while not relavant to the story, is included anyway. The typical example is when an adoptee kills his parents. His adoption may or may not have been at the heart of what happened. Early reporting can’t tell so if a neighbor happens to mention that the kid being arrested was adopted then it gets into the story. On the other hand, a story about a woman who surrendered a child to adoption and then changed her mind cannot be told without explaining who the child is to her.


Unbalanced or unfair

Balanced and fair is where you will probably find the most problematic reporting. General assignment reporters are usually newbies in the newsroom. They have no specialty so they are sent ont to cover any story that the editor considers not requiring a reporter with specialized skills. At small newspapers, that can be most stories. So in doing his homework — we are giving this rookie the benefit of the doubt — he Googles the National Council for Adoption. He doesn’t know and NCFA will not point out that they are a lobbyist group rather than a professional association of adoption workers. So, he will get their spin and not realize that he should be getting another side from Child Welfare League of America. Until and unless triad members are listed in the phone book as such — look in the yellow pages under adoption and you will find agencies, not individuals who’ve been subjected to the process — reporters will only think to get our perspective if they know our connection to adoption.


To that end, I suggest that every support group out there buy a bunch of Rolodex cards and type them up with the heading “adoption” and list the names of several members from all corners of the triad who are willing and able to speak articulately to adoption issues and send these to local media people. In fact, it would be a great idea for your group to walk into the newsroom — not as easy as it used to be — and pass your cards around to everyone in the newsroom during Adoption Awareness Month in November.



Although objective reporting is the goal, news reporting is rarely completely objective — it’s a human failing. So we try to be sure a story is fair and balanced. News reporting is unfair if the reporter:

* Omits facts of major significance

* Includes essentially irrelevant information

* Consciously or unconsciously misleads or deceives

* Hides reporter biases or emotions behind subtly pejorative words

* If innocent people are hurt  

If you find a news item that falls into the above category, send it to me. You can always email it to me via Be sure that you look at media coverage objectively. It’s not easy when the issue is adoption!

May 16, 2008

Your opinion should be fact-based

Filed under: Improving media coverage of adoption — adoptionbeat @ 3:14 am
Tags: ,

I found this passage in the text book I used when I taught news writing: “Edward R. Murrow, a pioneer news broadcaster and long-time head of CBS news led the way toward a broader interpretation of objective reporting based on the underlying assumption that journalists are publicly useful men and women with greater insight into the stories behind the scenes.”
And therein lies the major problem with the recent editorial on the problems with foreign adoption in the Daily Herald. It’s an example of media coverage of adoption that suggests the writer has little insight into the subject of adoption and no small degree of insensitivity.

The editorial suggests that adoptions can be reversed. I have heard of adoptions being “disrupted” due to changing adoptive family circumstances or the adoptee proving not to be exactly what the parents had in mind — these involve the adoptive parents returning the child to the agency. I have also heard of adult adoptees suing to have their adoption nullifed, but this requires cause. I have heard of cases where the father either was not told about his child or refused to sign away his parental rights but the agency and the courts went full speed ahead with the adoption until overturned by a higher court. In each of these situations, the adoptee was the one who got the short end of the stick somewhere along the line because someone forgot that adoption is about finding a family for a child who needs one instead of finding a child for a couple that wants one.

I have never heard of child welfare officials sweeping in to an adoptive home and removing a child because the foreign, natural parents’ rights were trampled. I suppose it could happen but the odds are against it. To suggest it is an impending reality is to subject many adoptive families to unwarranted angst. And now that foreign-born children are naturalized as part of the adoption process, that adds another hurdle for a foreign power that would attempt to extradite a child who had been adopted and was living in the USA. 

This editorial’s allusion to the fact that families are the fabric of our communities overlooks the fact that families in Guatemala and Vietnam are the fabric of those communities. Granted, international adoption needs serious reform. Adoption in this country needs serious reform. In fact, adoption in Illinois needs serious reform but I’ve seen nothing but cheerleading in the media for a seriously flawed bill before the Illinois House that tweaks an existing confidential intermediary program but whose sponsor calls it an open access bill.

I wonder if the problem with much of the media coverage of adoption is that the reporters are adoptive parents who fail to acknowlede their bias (or who are thought to be specialists in the subject by their editors) or by general assignment reporters who are out of their depth. Adoption is a very complex subject further complicated by the fact that the American take on adoption is very different from most of the world’s cultures, even those in the Western World with whom we share a common language. Adult adoptees already have access to their birth records in the UK and Australia. Adult adoptees can access their records at age 16 in Scotland and at 17 in England. Canada, too, is beginning the process of opening records, but the influence of American adoption practices is making their progress slow. 

Adoption will continue to be in the news. It might be time to add an adult adoptee to your editorial board. I don’t suggest that adoptees are unbiased, but I think they are more likely to see all three sides of the issue than either an adoptive parent or a birth parent. And they will be sensitive to unintentional insensitivity. Adoptees may be the last minority in the U.S. who are still fighting to be considered equal under the law. Few adoptees that I know are anti-adoption but I’d be hard-pressed to name one that doesn’t agree it needs serious reform.

Another way to improve media coverage of adoption is continuing education of newsroom personnel, both reporters and editors. Professional continuing education about reporting adoption is something I have been thinking about for a long time. Editors reading this blog who agree that a workshop session for reporters in their newsrooms should drop me an email or leave a comment.

Reporting Adoption

Filed under: Uncategorized — adoptionbeat @ 1:55 am

I started my career in journalism in high school and later graduted cum laude from the University of Florida School of Journalism and Communications with academic credentials that certified I was ready to be a reporter as well as a few other things for which I had developed the skills, such as copy editor and publication designer — I’m even a competemt photographer. I’ve never worked full time for a newspaper or magazine but I have a multi-page bibliography of published work. For several years I covered the religion beat for my hometown newspaper and for another few years I wrote a food column for a regional magazine. I’ve produced published several newsletters over the course of a 30-year career. And the last career contribution I made to journalism was to train future reporters in reporting, news writing and feature writing.

I hope that establishes that I have some clue when it comes to reporting and covering a beat.

I have been an adoptee for 50-something years. News coverage of adoption  is something that I feel qualified to adress. In successive blogs, I will talk about how adoption and news intersect and some of the results I have seen in print or broadcast. Comments are welcome but it remains to be seen how much time I will have to moderate them.


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