January 13, 2013

Media misreports Native adoption

An excellent article explains the problems with the media's coverage of the Baby Veronica case, which I noted in Dr. Phil's Horror Show and Baby Veronica Case on Dr. Phil.

Media Failures Lead to Flawed Understandings in Cherokee Adoption Case

By Michael CorcoranIt is a complicated and heartbreaking case. The Capobianco family, who by all accounts loved and cared for Veronica deeply, were understandably hurt and angry when they had to relinquish custody and are making legal efforts to regain the child. In fact, they appealed to the United State Supreme Court to take up the case. But, as complicated as the story is, in the vast majority of media articles that have discussed the case, the issue is portrayed, falsely, as a simple and unambiguous miscarriage of justice. First, the issue has been told almost entirely from the point of view of Melanie and Matt Capobianco. This is not surprising; the sheer drama of prospective parents losing a child is compelling material. But the media's coverage has been so one-sided that the outrage over the case is to be expected. Secondly, numerous inaccuracies about the facts of the case are prevalent in much of the coverage. Finally, the media coverage minimizes the importance and/or misunderstands the function of the ICWA, the history that created the necessity for it and its importance to Native American communities. As a result, much of the public is woefully misinformed about the case and its implications.

"The problem with coverage such as this is that it influences the public's opinion not only regarding this case, but also its perception of the Indian Child Welfare Act's true impact on families," said Terry Cross, executive director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association, in a statement to Truthout. "Over the years, I have seen the media repeatedly use a tiny fraction of ICWA cases, such as this one, to portray the law as flawed and in need of amending. To do so is to ignore the thousands and thousands of children that the law has allowed to remain in loving, thriving Indian homes. That is the real story of ICWA."

He added, "It's been disappointing to see so many media outlets take only one side's account of this very complex case, make no discernible attempts to do basic fact-checking on this information and report it as the truth. Frankly, that is not journalism to me."

The media's one-sided coverage generally conveys the heartache of the adoptive parents, with little regard for opposing perspectives. Andrea Poe, writing in The Washington Times, called the case "every parent's worst nightmare." Poe also wrote a similar article for the Huffington Post, in which she declared that "[t]his is not an illegal abduction, although it certainly sounds that way" and that the "adoption community has been devastated by this news." Anderson Cooper and Dr. Phil both dedicated large portions of their widely watched television shows to portray the alleged cruelty of the court's decision. "Veronica was ripped from [the adoptive parents'] arms because she was a Cherokee," Dr. Phil said in an October broadcast dedicated to the case. When Chrissi Nimmo, the assistant attorney general of the Cherokee Nation, was brought onto the show to offer the other side, the adoptive parents left the room because they could "not bear to be in the same room with this person." She was attacked by one of Dr. Phil's guests, who said, "It sounds as if what you are saying is that a bad Indian family is better than a good non-Indian family."

This kind of hostility toward the Cherokee side of the argument has been the norm in most of the media coverage surrounding the case. In virtually all of the reports, the heartache of the parents is the primary focus. To be fair, Brown has not been responsive to requests for comments, but media outlets still have the responsibility to explain the legal reasons for the court's decision, as well as the importance of the ICWA.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see ICWA Prevents Child Kidnapping.

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