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.

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oadoh's picture
What many are failing to see here is that procedure and law were not followed from the beginning. You can add in all the commentary and emotion you'd like. You can even bring up support and text messages, which you seem to want to allude to yet no one has produced, and play on sympathies but the fact remains that the father had a right to his child and again, procedure was disregarded. And why is it that 'what is best for the child' always seems to be the battle cry? I don't see that the adoptive couple would be any better parents to this child. Yet, they would somehow be the better alternative simply due to their want and desperation to get the child back? Or is it because they are financial better off? Is that what we are suggesting? Veronica had a right to grow up within her culture. The couple have several support pages and on one, they suggest that they would have supported her heritage and given her opportunities to be a part of her culture. Yet, on another they dispute the use of I.C.W.A in this case and slander her father saying things like 'She is more Hispanic than anything', 'Dusten only had like one drop of Indian blood and is just using this law to get her back' and suggesting he only applied for membership in the Cherokee Nation to win this case. I'm sorry but which is it? I don't see how a couple who has been so slanderous with respect to her culture can claim they'd want to celebrate it with her.
donnaclayton's picture
I also see this report has very badly done. Cooper Anderson never reported on all the procedures that were not followed in the case at all. The fact he had to find his daughter means to me that he did not know about the adoption at all. He never contested to this and his rights were never terminated. Veronica has a family that has wanted her from the beginning and the fact they had to wait almost 2 1/2 yrs to see his daughter is very sad. He started this battle at 4 mths and it has taken til Dec 31st of 2011 for him to actually get her. There were appeals and stays until finally they had not choice but to hand her over. This was never brought up at all. I was very disappointed in the telling of this story by professional newspeople who really did not do there homework. The author of this article hit the nail on the head for all that was wrong with the segment.
whatatravesty's picture
Tribal sovereignty vs. the rights of a child to be with the only family she has ever known. A family that has NEVER waivered. I just don't get it. Why is it more important to be a Cherokee Indian than any other heritage? (For the sake of the discussion; I'll ignore the fact that a nose bleed would negate her being an Indian)Someone explain that to me. Is it because of something that happend in this country before any of us were born?If that's your answer save your time and mine.
natwu's picture
Wow, white folks saying racist things because they're unhappy an Indian won. That's new. Y'all go away and learn about history and law before saying anything else, please. The ignorance is appalling.
oadoh's picture
It isn't simply a matter of 'tribal sovereignty'. Aside from tribal rights, she had a right to grow up within her culture. Despite the beliefs that many hold of her father just throwing her away, his rights and rights of other fathers are at stake. The law was not followed. The adoption was shoddy. The mother's credibility is an issue. There are so many other issues here. Not the least of which is little V who had a right to her father, her culture and her extended family.
whatatravesty's picture
So you continue to ignore my question. Why is Native heritage more important than the other 99.9% of her heritage?
wilhelmurg's picture
There are a lot of issues in this story that no one is bringing up; First, the problem is that all the publicity being generated is from the adoptive family, not the father, nor the tribe, so the Native American side is on the defensive every time this story gets some airplay. If this is going to be battled in the court of public opinion, then the father and the tribe need to address each point, otherwise the adoptive couple will constantly get the upper hand. Secondly, it sounds like all of this was sprung on the man all in one day and the adoptive couple’s attorney blindsided the guy with both the news that (a.) he had a daughter, and (b.) that arrangements were made to have her adopted. Once he changed in mind, apparently in a matter of hours, the couple kept the child for years until it was deemed illegal for the couple to have taken the child in the first place. To say that the child had been socialized in white culture, and therefore should stay there, is like saying a kidnapped child taken to another country should be allowed to be kept by the kidnapper, because the child had become a part of that culture. Thirdly, the couple has stated that they question whether or not the father is Cherokee, though the tribe and the United States Government both agree that he is tribal member. The adopting couple claims they would raise the child to understand her heritage, but as they don’t even seem to understand what constitutes the legal status of being an Indian, I truly doubt they would have the wherewithal to raise her to understand her Native American culture. Forth, there is obvious racism to the whole argument. It seems logical to the non-Native press that the child would benefit from staying with the white couple because they have more money (or so it’s implied). Personally, I don’t know that being middle-class is all that important, and if it is, why are we not taking children away from poorer white people to be raised by middle-class Indians? Fifthly, this couple has used so much of this implied racism in their argument that I would be worried that they are allowed to adopt ANY child. Race is not the issue here as much as the law, but from what I have read they think the law should be changed because it worked in favor of a Native American. Sixth, plain and simple, federal law trumps state law, which is why state marijuana laws are not enough to legalize marijuana, and why casinos were originally allowed to be built on tribally owned property. The racism that this story seems to unleash is really ugly, but it is really a simple logical argument; the adoptive couple simply violated the law.
whatatravesty's picture
What you simply choose to ignore is that this child has rights. Veronica has been and continues to be abused by this system. The ICWA law, pure in it's inception, was NEVER intended to perpetuate the thousands of insidious perversions being covered up under the guise of this law. I suggest YOU do your own homework and read the countless stories of abuse. This law is antiquated,racist, needs revision and accountability. Lives are being destroyed while the American tax payer foots the bill. The American Indian is no more or less important than any other race or heritage. To continue this victim mentality is ignorant and absurd. It does not improve perception of the Native Indian community by the rest of the country.
klynnmo43's picture
I agree that the tribe and the father should address each point. I think they were asked to respond to AC 360 and refused. Nothing was ever "sprung" on the birth father. He was aware that the birth mother was pregnant and chose not to partake. He did not help her nor was he around her entire pregnancy. There are many text messages to prove that. The birth mother made an agonizing decision to give up her child because she could not take care of Veronica. I wholly support what IQWA has attempted to do due to the obscene abuses perpetrated on the tribes with regards to the removal of children. This adoption was not one of those cases. The birth mother is Hispanic and claims that she was not aware that the birth father was native. He may have been a member but he may not have made that known. As well, its a very real possibility that even if she knew he was native she would not have known about the rules consistent with IQWA. The adoption lawyer put out an ad and misspelled the birth fathers name. His first name is Dusten - the typical way to spell this name is Dustin. The lawyer used an "i". The adoptive parents are as far from racist as you want to get! I think it is felt that this sudden claim to be Cherokee was used as a way to gain custody of the child and that is it. Only further action taken by the birth father can prove that or not. The adoptive parents feel the law should be changed NOT because it worked against them BUT because the law does not consider the best interest of the child. Veronica spent 2 full years living with the adoptive parents and they are the only parents she knows. She was healthy, happy and thriving in this environment. They did not immediately give Veronica up because the birth father contested 2 weeks after they received Veronica. At that point they were already bonded and refused to believe that the child would be taken from them. This entire situation is unfortunate for all involved! The birth mother now no longer has access to her child (which she did because the adoptive parents had an open relationship with her), the adoptive parents are heartbroken, Veronica will no longer see the parents she knew and loved and the birth father is now in a situation where he has to defend himself from his own actions. If it had not been for IQWA the birth father would not have custody of his child right now. He did not show interest in this child until 2 weeks after she was adopted. He dropped the ball from the very beginning.