I want to know why the media has such a blatant bias against authentic voices of adoption.
A recent article in the Chicago Tribune really irritated me. The article was about the new generation of activists fighting for African-American civil rights, using blogs and other new media. What irritated me was not the article itself, but the fact that the Trib’s reporting is, from my perspective, two-faced.
You see, there is another civil rights battle going on, one that also has been going on for decades in traditional forms and, more recently, on the Internet. But the Tribune considers these activists unworthy of mention. Why? Because we are fighting for adoption reform.
The vast majority of media coverage about adoption completely ignores the viewpoints of those most affected by it: adult adoptees and their birth kin. Instead, adoption-related articles focus primarily on the sob stories of adopters and the occasional token reunion story buried in the “lifestyles” section (what used to be the “women’s pages,” fluff that usually ends up lining the litter box).
Let’s check the media’s track record, shall we? We’ll search for “adoption” at three major news outlets: the Associated Press, USA Today, and my local Chicago Tribune, using the maximum date ranges of their online search tools. (Here are the actual data if you want to see for yourself.)
We’ll start with the Chicago Tribune, which I know posts different articles online than they do in their print edition. A search for “adoption” at www.chicagotribune.com yields a date range of May 9, 2008-June 7, 2008, containing 16 articles related to human adoption (as opposed to the adoption of pets, highways, or technology – always nice to be in the same category as a piece of asphalt or the latest Bluetooth device). Out of these 16 articles:
- 5 (31%) mention the perspective of adoption “professionals” (social workers, agency representatives, lawyers, and others who think they can speak for the adopted)
- 10 (62%) mention the perspective of adoptive or prospective adoptive parents
- 3 (18%) mention the perspective of birth relatives
- 1 (6%) mentions the perspective of adult adoptees
- 2 (12%) mention the perspective of others not mentioned as connected to adoption
Okay, let’s try a week’s worth of the Associated Press (www.ap.org), May 29, 2008-June 7, 2008. I’m pleased to say they were more objective, but could still use more adoptees’ viewpoints. Out of 5 articles:
- 3 (60%) mention the perspective of adoption professionals
- 3 (60%) mention the perspective of adoptive or prospective adoptive parents
- 3 (60%) mention the perspective of birth relatives
- 1 (20%) mentions the perspective of adult adoptees
- 0 (0%) mention the perspective of others not mentioned as connected to adoption
And, finally, USA Today. We’ll search both Latest News and From The Archives. Let’s do a big sample: one year, June 1, 2007-June 7, 2008. Out of 53 articles:
- 35 (66%) mention the perspective of adoption professionals
- 40 (75%) mention the perspective of adoptive or prospective adoptive parents
- 15 (23%) mention the perspective of birth relatives
- 5 (9%) mention the perspective of adult adoptees
- 11 (21%) mention the perspective of others not mentioned as connected to adoption
There are more viewpoints from those with no mentioned connection to adoption than there are from actual adoptees!
Still think there’s no bias? Two out of the three news outlets included paid advertising from adoption agencies at the top of their search results!
The top three results from the Chicago Tribune were paid sponsored links from agencies, two seeking prospective adopters and one seeking birth moms for those oh-so-marketable infants. USA Today was far worse, look at this series of screen shots (shot1, shot2, shot3, and shot4). Its top three results were also sponsored links from agencies seeking prospective adopters, plus the whole bottom section listed “Web Results” which included at least two obvious plugs for agencies. Additionally there were three more sponsored links at the bottom seeking birth moms. I’m glad to say the Associated Press was far more professional with no sponsored links, adoption-related or otherwise.
Another example of the silencing of adult adoptee voices is this failure of a Vietnamese-American newspaper to provide objective reporting on adoption, as described on the Misplaced Baggage blog. Real articles about adoption get buried, like the revelation (no surprise to the adoption community) that Illinois botches adoptee birth certificates. This article, hidden in the Chicago Tribune’s May 25th Problem Solver column, didn’t show up in the search for “adoption” (it shows up if you search for “Problem Solver”).
It says a lot about our society that childless couples get church fundraisers to buy a kid, yet adult adoptees and their birth relatives are all but silenced.
Of those articles that do mention birth relative and adoptee viewpoints, you have to wonder about some of them, like the incessant reports about Madonna which quote her adopted child’s birth father as being okay with the whole thing. Are these honest opinions or words put in mouths by those who benefit from adoption – the facilitators and the adopters?
On the other hand, the Tribune story about the disappeared children of El Salvador rocked. We need more reporting like that – the honest truth about the adoption industry. Unfortunately such stories are few and far between, as anyone who’s ever tried to submit articles critical of the adoption industry can attest.
Which is why blogging is so important to activism, yet these important viewpoints about adoption are ignored. For example, there are plenty of people who have been trying to air their opinions about Illinois HB 4623 and the reprehensible, under-the-table way it has been presented to legislators. Yet the Tribune has not included these perspectives in its coverage of HB 4623. Instead we get the sponsors’ dog-and-pony show about how the bill is going to make everything peachy-keen for adoptees. I know damn well, as a coordinator of the coaltion opposing HB 4623, that the Tribune and other Illinois news outlets have all but ignored our letters, phone calls, and blogs, as indeed have many Illinois legislators including the bill’s sponsors. The Internet may save free speech as we know it, by giving people like us the means to make our voices heard whether The Powers That Be want it or not.
Chicago Tribune, Associated Press, USA Today, I’m calling you and your media brethren out on your blatant bias against objective adoption reporting.
It can only be assumed that the media harbor individuals who have their own personal reasons for not wanting the public to see a broad picture of adoption. Why? Will the truth cause prospective adopters to think twice, thus limiting the baby brokers’ profit margin? Will it encourage legislators to restore access to adoption records, thus exposing the industry’s lies and preventing agencies from reaping the windfall of post-adoption services? Will it *gasp* encourage supporting mothers in raising their OWN children, domestically and abroad, even if this means less marketable commodities to sell to desperate infertile couples?
Because if adoption was objectively reported, people would know it isn’t perfect. And we can’t have that!
If you are in the media, you have a duty to report facts, not opinions. There are plenty of resources available where you can educate yourself on the truth behind adoption. I suggest you start with the Adoption Beat blog, which focuses on media and adoption, as well as the rest of the blogs in my blogroll.
And the next time you report on adoption, GO TALK TO AN ADOPTEE!