An Open Letter to CNN and Anderson Cooper


CNN Editorial Board:

Anderson Cooper’s 2/21/2012 story regarding an Oklahoma Cherokee, Iraq veteran father who stopped a would-be adoption of his daughter was an example of poor and dangerous journalism. It was poor quality for its lack of fact checking and dangerous because it puts innocent children and families at risk. We demand that CNN give time for the truth to be told in hopes that the potential damage done by Mr. Cooper’s careless and cavalier reporting can be mitigated.

A closer examination of the facts in this case, had Mr. Cooper chosen to adhere to the ethics of his profession, would have revealed that questionable practices by some parties, not the laws or the father, are the culprit. The case has many layers, including the father’s rights, laws protecting parents serving in our armed forces, state adoption laws, and American Indian law. CNN has jumped to conclusions without regard to the facts, and worse yet, fabricated a biased opinion based on questionable claims of one side rather than present a balanced news story.

The court decision to unite the father and daughter are consistent with both Oklahoma and South Carolina state laws on adoption. It involves law that protects military personnel defending our country. Nonetheless, there have been numerous attempts in the media to criticize the relevant federal law, the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA)—a law that was enacted to stop the abuses that often occur in placements of American Indian children which requires that adoptive placements are done in an open and clear manner. If one accepts CNN’s reporting of this case, two obvious violations of the Indian Child Welfare Act occurred before the child was even two weeks old, yet were completely ignored by their legal expert. Instead of covering any of the real issues, Mr. Cooper and CNN’s legal expert chose to attack a loving father and ICWA.

We believe the court decisions in this case will clearly identify the missteps and violations that occurred and that this adoption attempt was unlawful. This incident is a perfect example of why adherence to and enforcement of existing adoption laws is critical. When those that facilitate adoptions ignore the law, they put children and families at high risk.

We have all heard about the outcomes of the questionable practices in this case in the media; there is no doubt that they are agonizing. No family should ever have to go through this kind of experience. If private adoption agencies and attorneys adhere to the law, illegal adoption attempts and the trauma inflicted on children, biological families, and adoptive families will no longer be perpetuated.

CNN’s coverage of this story appears to support—and even advocate for—breaking state and federal laws. We believe this is a breach of professional journalism ethics and that Mr. Cooper should apologize and set the record straight.

National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA); North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC);National Congress of American Indians (NCAI); Child Welfare League of America (CWLA)

The National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA) is the most comprehensive source of information on American Indian child welfare and the only national Indian organization focused specifically on the tribal capacity to prevent child abuse and neglect through training, research, public policy, grassroots community development, and compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978.

Founded by adoptive parents in 1974, the North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC) helps reform systems, alter viewpoints, and change lives through advocacy, education, adoption support, and leadership development in the United States and Canada.

The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), founded in 1944 in response to termination and assimilation policies that the United States forced upon tribal governments in contradiction to their treaty rights and status as sovereigns, works to inform the public and Congress on the governmental rights of American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) is a powerful coalition of hundreds of private and public agencies serving vulnerable children and families by advancing policies, best practices, and collaborative strategies that result in better outcomes.