Media Bias In Adoption Reporting

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!

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Comments

  1. Brava, Triona! Brava Brava!

    Using content analysis to actually break down the content based on viewpoints represented makes the case for bias in hard numbers that are very hard to ignore.

  2. Sadly this is all so true. Others fighting for their rights seem to get alot of media attention. On the other hand the adoption triad is as ignored as much as possible. What to do I don’t know except we can never give up fighting for what is right.

  3. EXCELLENT BLOG! EXCELLENT research and reporting!

    AND, of course, you answered your own question as to why it is: the advertising.

    In my former life, I was associate editor of three magazines. Content was heavily determined by our advertisers upon whom the publishing industry depends for its living – not the cover price of the mag! So, it is far more important to please the advertiser – even if it means lying to the readers.

    For instance, if a pharmaceutical company advertises in a magazine, there would never be a story about the harmful side effects of its products. or even the fact that the product didn’t prevent what it was intended to prevent.

    We live in a capitalistic society and everything is driven by large money-makers’ bottom lines. Even at the extent of harming the consumers.

    In adoption, adoptees and their original families are not even “consumer” of adoption services – although there is a pretense at this point in time that mothers are! But we all know that there is one and only one paying customer in adoption and that’s who it all caters to, thus the overwhelmingly high percentage of concern, sympathy and expression of THEIR point of view!

    It all goes to show how much harder we need to work to get our voices heard. It makes me really ill when organizations that identify themselves as adoption “reformists” are uncle Toms, catering to the adopters as much as the public and the media! Yes, there are adopters concerned with “reforming” adoption — but their idea of reforming it and making it ethical is mostly assuring they get what they paid for!

    When I write, I speak with one voice: the voice of a mother who lost a child to adoption and one who wants to see an end to all unnecessary and unwarranted adoption; and end to falsified birth certificates and support for families to remain together. Many others: adoptive parents, adoptees and even some mothers who lost children will tell you that adoption is fin as long as adult adoptees get their OBC! When yu take that position what “other side” is there for the press to convey?

    I do NOT feel any need to be “balanced” and – for this very reason: it’s out there far too much already!

    I am sickened at the number of blogs telling the day-to-day struggle of would-be adopters as they cry the blues over how long it’s taking for them to obtain a child…as if they should be able to just walk in, pick one out, pay, and leave. And the moaning and groaning over every delay – the NERVE of countries to stand in their way of taking one of their children!

    I am sickened at the stories of church fundraisers and agree that it is a very sick sign of the times that religious institution fall prey to the “need” of anyone to have a child over helping mothers and children, and helping the childless couple deal with their loss.

    I am appalled at the number of news stories focused on “they had the nursery all set up” and now they are so heartbroken…without ever a mention of the heartbreak of REAL mothers who lose their children to adoption…only the JOY of welcoming a child into the home!

    We need to get focused! And we need to get the TRUTH about adoption corruption out there! It’s all about BIG MONEY!

  4. Great reporting, Triona! It’s interesting that the only in-depth report that the Chgo Trib did about adoption agencies was the one about El Salvadorian children.

    I don’t think we’ll find any parallels with agencies or abuses here in the US.

    You’ve proved what we’ve been saying for so long: The adopion INDUSTRY is big BUSINESS. And we adoptees just get in their way.

    Anita

  5. pennagal – Unfortunately I suspect the numbers don’t really matter. As adoptauthor said, the media run on advertising dollars, and who has that? The adoption agencies. Hard to compete with big bucks.

    Mary Lynn – That’s all we can do, keep fighting, and making our voices heard in whatever way we can.

    adoptauthor – I swear if I hear one more story about prospective adopters waiting for “their” baby, I will scream! This is a perfect illustration of my point: that the media is biased toward adopters’ perspectives at the expense of adult adoptee and birth relative voices.

    Anita – I suppose reporting on something as far away as El Salvador is easier than, say, reporting on the atrocities of adoption corruption here in Illinois, or even in nearby states. I doubt anyone reading a Chicago paper heard about Kentucky’s Child Protective Services, which was investigated for harassing families and intimidating social workers in order to gain federal adoption subsidies. The corruption is much closer to home than anyone wants to admit. But instead of covering that aspect, we get the repeated sob stories of prospective adopters, and umpteen reports about Madonna.

    You know the saying – those that have the gold, make the rules!

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