Out of the mouths of experts, out of the mouths of babes

We often have The Today Show on in the morning as my children and I get ready for our day. During the school year we get news stories during the 7 am hour, and during the summer we get features during the 8 or 9 am hours. Often, we are simply served interesting things to talk about — pop culture (“Mommy, why isn’t Miley Cyrus wearing pants?”), history (“The Queen was once the mother-in-law to the fairest princess in the land, but the prince preferred the lady he’s married to now”) and issues (“Yes, Big Gulp-sized sodas are not healthy for people. Do you think we should pass laws banning them? Or not?”).

Yesterday, The Today Show had its panel of experts taking questions from the audience. The panel consists of Star Jones, an attorney, Donny Deutsch, an advertising executive, and Nancy Snyderman, a physician. Al Roker plucked people behind the barriers on Rockefeller Plaza to ask questions like: why do men earn more than women, what is an appropriate age difference in dating, what is the best method for long-term birth control, and — double-take, did I hear that right?? — which is better, open or closed adoption?

Let’s pause for a moment to ask ourselves why we would ask experts in law and medicine and advertising about income inequality, relationship advice and our sexual health (granted, Dr Snyderman gets a pass on the last one, but the other two panelists don’t). Are we so divorced from our own inner guidance that we must ask strangers with no better information than we have how to best conduct our lives? Melissa addressed this recently (and brilliantly) in the realm of parenting.

Delving into the details of this segment: Someone asked a 54 year-old advertising executive who has a 5 year-old daughter by a former girlfriend to tell us about the proper dating spread. Another asked a woman who came in 5th place on Celebrity Apprentice to weigh in on socio-politicial issues. A third asked a head and neck surgeon how The Pill compares to an IUD. All three panelists were asked all three questions, but only the last pairing could claim any matchability between the topic and a panelist’s area of expertise.

I’m not saying that these media personalities shouldn’t have their opinions; I’m just asking what makes them expert enough on these particular questions to give advice.*

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Here’s what happened when the question on open vs closed adoption was posed.

Star “has been considering adoption.” Donny “might adopt someday, even as a single dad.” Nancy, who IS an adoptive mom, says, “the biologic mother does not know my identity; I have preferred it that way for 26 years.”

So out of three people being asked a question about open adoption, none have any experience with open adoption and only one has even been in the adoption arena at all. The advice each has to offer?

  • StarI do not want to have to have continuous interaction with a birth parent.
  • Donny: I wouldn’t want to have to manage that. I would want it closed. As a parent, I would want to keep — “control” is not the right word — structure in your kid’s life as much as possible.
  • Nancy: My daughter has sought out her birth mother. She absolutely has my blessing. But I warned her, it’s Pandora’s Box. You never know what that’s gonna be.

The Open Adoption question comes at 2:15; you can scroll rightward to it after the 26-second commercial.

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My son was watching the show with me, idly playing while I was idly working (hey, you work your way, I’ll work mine). Our ears perked up at the start of the conversation. Later when my  daughter joined us, we told her about the segment and then I asked each of my children what THEY had to say.

  • Reed, age 9: They don’t really know what it’s like to not look like your mom and dad, do they? If they knew that, they wouldn’t think that way. They would know that having birth parents around is a GOOD thing for the kid, and not a BAD thing for the parent. I think their advice was dumb.
  • Tessa, age 11: If they really wanted to know what open adoption feels like, why didn’t they ask someone who lives in one — like especially, THE KID??

More salient points from a Facebook discussion that involved people actually acquainted with open adoption:

  • Monika: Star Jones will HAVE continuous contact with the birth parent whether she initiates direct contact or not in the form of the adopted child or children. You can’t erase biology with a legal form and ceremony.
  • Danielle: This sort of conversation only further perpetuates the idea that birth families should be hidden because they are to be ashamed of, or are bad.
  • HarrietClosed is simply not an option anymore. People will find each other whether parents or lawmakers or so-called experts like it or not. It’s called social media and it’s not going away.
  • Cassi: Not one of the so-called “experts” spoke from any concern for the adoptees. They spoke out of their own selfish beliefs.
  • Kat: Should children not have visits from aunts, grandparents, or cousins because they need “structure?” Open adoption is important to the children as they grow and form their identity and self concept.

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If only you’d asked the right experts, Today Show.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to find a yoga teacher to change my spark plugs.

* Tip of the hat to Danielle for making the point so eloquently.

28 thoughts on “Out of the mouths of experts, out of the mouths of babes”

  1. Wow! This post really jump-started my mind early on a Saturday morning. I completely agree with you that it’s sad that The Today Show (or any media show) can slap people up as “experts” and let them give “advice” on topics they have no business giving advice on — to the entire nation! And their ignorance on open adoption is glaring. It’s not only disappointing, but actually harmful. Hope you are finding your zen right now. *hug*

  2. There is nothing that gets my blood boiling like when the media allows this kind of misinformation to be put out there with out allowing other perspectives to be shared. I get that it was an informal Q & A and not a piece about open vs. closed adoption, but still. I sent you an email about this too, as I have a friend who knows people at the Today Show who I am hoping might be able to bring your post/point of view to their attention. Maybe this will spark them wanting to do a follow up/segment about Open Adoptipn?! Wouldn’t that be awesome?! Maybe they could interview you and you could tell them about the book you are working on?!

  3. Yes, I saw the segment and cringed. I find that panel of ‘experts’ to only be so in their own minds. With the adoption question they all sounded so uniformed it was laughable and misleading. I hate that segment generally and even moreso now. I will never ever care what Donny & Star think but usually appreciate Dr. Nancy’s medical take.

  4. It seems that the panel specializes in answering extremely complex questions in about 30 seconds. Still, I was surprised that none of them at least mentioned open adoption as the norm nowawdays let alone get into details. They wield a lot of power and to be so out of touch is terrifying.

    I chatted with my husband about it later, and he said all of those reactions are based in fear, which is kind of obvious. What are they afraid of?

  5. Lori,
    Thanks for writing about this. I get so discouraged when the media repeatedly spews so much misinformation about adoption. The sad part is that no one even considered what might be best for the child. We sure have a lot of work to do as far as cultural awareness goes! Great post.

  6. yes, yes, yes.

    the “experts” are not and therefore they have no right to an opinion. even the adoptive mom reveals her bias and ignorance.

    your children — and other adoptees most affected by the proposition — are in fact who they should have asked. and look how brilliantly simple their responses are. THEY are the experts, living it every day.
    and every tweet from every first mom and adoptive mom is more relevant and right on target.

    you should link this to the today show website, if they have one. pfft.

  7. I’m not sure why anyone would ask Star Jones or Donny Deutsch anything, but their answers seem pretty well in keeping with their personalities.

    I hope Kathy above can get you on as a counterpoint, but at the very least, you should send them a big ole complaint letter.

    Also, Donny…yes, control was the right word that you were looking for.

  8. Great post! The Today Show? Really? I thought they had more sense than that …

    Indeed, people rarely ask the right experts the questions that matter. That would mean giving them the respect they deserve for making difficult choices, or treating them as individuals even if they’re children. *harumph*

    I hope you found your yoga teacher!

  9. This is horrifying to me. As an adoptive mother in an extremely open adoption, I’m floored to hear this kind of talk. I hardly find these people to be “experts” in any sense of the word. They sound like people who have no education about open adoption at all. Such a shame.

  10. They’re “afraid” that the birth family will compete with their own family and be “better.” Even though competition has no place in any open adoption of which I’m aware – including my own. They’re also afraid that if the birth parent has access that either they’ll try to steal the kid or the kid will get confused. All horrid birth parent/family myths that culture and a few out-of-the-norm birth parents have perpetuated.

    Great article! I hope that Kathy is able to connect you and your piece gets featured as a rebuttal to this nightmare!

  11. As the adoptee, it just seems like to me that the distorted perceptions and narrow mindedness about open verses closed adoptions come from selfish individuals who are more concerned about full-filling their own personal needs than that of a child. I agree with Tessie, they need to ask children how they feel about open adoption, instead of relying on adults to be their voices.

  12. Oh my what a live segment that was … sorry I missed it … your children said it best! Wondered if anyone has contacted the show to try and right this outlook that only perpetuates old stereotypes?

    Thank you for sharing as I don’t see TV in the A.M.

  13. I can see that your daughter is definitely getting some of her humor from you! :) Other than that, I wish I could say I was surprised. People are so fearful and ignorant, and situations like this just add fuel to that fire.

    This actually brings up something I have wondered about when looking at celebrity magazines in the grocery store checkout gushing about the latest celebrity adoption. I’ve often wished I could find out if these adoptions are open. I’m always happy to see positive stories in the media, but feel that they leave a lot out, and sometimes I can’t see how these folks would be able to have successful open adoptions without some major arranging. Makes me sad to think about kids missing out on that because their mom or dad is famous. :-P Anyway, sorry for the ramble!

    Keep up the good work on getting the (accurate) word out!
    Jessie

  14. The Today show hosts comments make me sad and angry. I am an adoptive parent and I would never ever have considered a closed adoption. Why? Because my daughter has every right to know her identity. The hosts said I this and I that….thats the problem. With adoption it’s not about YOU at all! It’s about what’s best for the child. And what’s best for our child is for her to know her first Mom and Dad and to feel and experience all the love everyone has for her.

  15. Your children are brilliant. Thank you for sharing with us — it’s obvious you’ve given them the tools they need to express their feelings and I hope I can do the same for my son.

  16. That is the whole problem with it — we’re holding up people as experts, giving them our ears, giving them our rapt attention, and when they abuse it by spewing forth drivel, it drives home drivel into people’s heads. Can Star Jones hold an opinion on something that affects her? Of course. And I would love to see Star Jones going forth to listen to all sides of the triad. But to ask her to weigh in on things she knows nothing about simply due to her celebrity seems like an abuse of celebrity.

  17. I find it interesting that they didn’t screen questions before putting them on the air to see if the questions actually fit the “experts”. Opinions shouldn’t count when it comes to answering questions that people might run with because they’re public figures. I totally believe that this is one of those situations that, from the outside, you can’t judge he decision of the adopter/adoptee until you’re in those shoes.

    Or maybe the Today show is in need of some press and this is one of their stunts to do so?

  18. I love your kids’ opinions and I’m glad the three of you talked about it. It’s crazy to think that anyone advocates for closed adoptions anymore.

    1.  @IACAdoptionHelp I do hope the @TodayShow invites some REAL experts in open adoption to talk knowledgeably about it on air. The misconceptions hurt the children most of all.

What say you?