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March 23, 2007


Amy Dunkin

Today as I was reading an otherwise interesting New York Times column on Senator Hillary Clinton's director of New York operations, Karen Persichilli Keogh, I just about gagged on the following line:

"Almost miraculously, her Ralph Lauren scarf is as diligently draped and knotted as it was this morning when she left home, Windsor Terrace in Brooklyn, where she and her husband, Michael P. Keogh, the finance director for New York's City Council, live with their adopted daughter, Jessica."

Although I didn't particularly like the run-on sentence, that's not what caused me to gag. It was the writer's need to identify Jessica as "their adopted daughter."

This happens time and again in news stories. "So-and-so lives with/ leaves behind/went to the mall with his/her adopted son/daughter." As if that piece of information were necessary or relevant to the story.

I immediately pointed out the latest offense to fellow blogger Cathy Arnst, who is an adoptive parent like me and first questioned The Times about this very practice in an email she sent to the paper's ombudsman three years ago. (I don't mean to suggest, by the way, that this is only a New York Times problem. I've seen the "adopted child" qualifier turn up all over the media.)

Cathy received the following response from the office of the public editor on Jan. 16, 2004:

"Thank you for your message.

I include the item in The Times stylebook which addresses your concern:

adoption. Adoptive status, as child or parent, should be mentioned only when it is pertinent and when its pertinence is made clear. In this context, avoid terms like natural parents and real parents, which seem to downgrade adoptive status. Use biological parents or birth parents instead.

I spoke with the standards editor who agreed that the use of the word in this article did not fulfill The Times requirement. An item on this will most likely be included in the internal staff memo next week."

Apparently the message needs to be reinforced. I couldn't have said it better than Cathy did in her follow-up letter today to Times Public Editor Barney Calame:

"Again, I ask, why is this qualifier necessary? I??e never seen the Times write ??nd their daughter by natural childbirth?or “their daughter who was conceived through in-vitro fertilization.” Why is adoption different? I admit to being more sensitive than many about this issue because my own daughter is adopted. But believe me, I never introduce or describe her as such unless that issue is relevant. In my bio, used whenever I give a public presentation, it says that “Catherine Arnst lives in Brooklyn with her daughter, Jesse.” It is not because I think adoption is shameful or should be hidden away; it is because she is as much my daughter, legally and emotionally, as a biological child would be, and there is no reason—none-- to qualify her status."

Now I ask, Is that concept so hard to understand?

12:53 PM

In the Media

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I hate that. I'm adopted, too, so I pay special attention to those types of phrases. Just not necessary.

Pardon me. now, while I go feed my biological children some lunch, now.

Posted by: Elizabeth at March 24, 2007 03:51 PM

Oh no.....I am adopted and have been exposed to this sort of comment. I am continuosly outraged.

I have heard it such as you wrote, in print. Also, in PERSON when someone talking to me KNOWS I am adopted! How offensive!

One time I was at a meeting and unfortunately, someone connected to us all died. When it came time to tell us about his service, it was mentioned that his ADOPTED daughter was a contact if anyone had any questions. She had been adopted some 50 years earlier!! Good Lord!

Posted by: Christine at March 25, 2007 02:44 AM

As the mother of one child we adopted, two we had thanks to in-vitro, and one total surprise, this is also one of my pet peeves. When I worked in TV News, I tried to spread the word in my newsroom, it wouldn't hurt do the same at BusinessWeek. Just for the heck of it, I searched your site and came up with an "adopted daughter" reference from 2000 - a long time ago, but the writer is still

around :-)

Posted by: Martha at March 26, 2007 04:25 PM

That reminds me of Woody Allen's "Don't Drink the Water." The mother introduces her daughter with the additional information: "She was a Cesarean." Why doesn't the NYT include that kind of info? It as equally pertinent.


Posted by: Rob at April 6, 2007 08:14 AM

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