I’m lost: Is adoption a bad thing?

silohuetteOK, I have read this story over and over and I cannot figure it out.

What, precisely, was The New York Times looking for in its investigation into the back stories of the adopted children of Supreme Court nominee John Roberts and his wife, Jane, she of the Feminists for Life connection on her resume? The Dallas Morning News has the story, in large part because of the ticked off response to the Times investigation by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas.

A spokesman for the nation’s newspaper of record did fess up, sort of.

On Friday, the Times said no one had ordered an investigation of the adoptions, calling the inquiry part of a routine effort to “report extensively on the life and career” of a nominee for high office.

“Our reporters made initial inquiries about the adoptions, as they did about many other aspects of his background. They did so with great care, understanding the sensitivity of the issue,” said Times spokesman Toby Usnik. “We have not pursued the issue after the initial inquiries, which detected nothing irregular about the adoptions.”

So the journalists were, it seems, looking for evidence of illegality or shady doings in the adoption of Josephine and Jack Roberts, ages 5 and 4. Is that it?

Or is there some chance that they were trying to find something embarrassing in the private lives of two active practicing Catholics, who got married when they both were 41? They adopted their children four years later. You see, traditional Catholics are supposed to get married early and have lots and lots of their own children. That’s the ticket.

Help me out here. What am I missing? What was the goal?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://agrumer.livejournal.com/ Avram

    Was it an “investigation”, or was it one reporter asking one or two innocuous questions? The story you link to doesn’t say, and I don’t trust Drudge as a source.

  • Stephen A.

    It was a sleazy attempt to find dirt. Of course the MSM will give the reporter a pass, largely.

    Guess why? (Yup. You guessed it.)

    Try doing even a truly innocuous investigation into a liberal nominee and it would be labeled the “politics of personal destruction.”

    How very tiring.

  • tmatt

    I don’t trust Drudge as a solitary source, either. But the Dallas News and Times have the facts — the Times was doing this digging. No one disputes that.

    Avram: I am asking if the questions were “innocuous.” The only start on an explanation was that they were looking for something that might be illegal or unethical….

  • http://molly.douthett.net Molly

    Is there such a thing as an innocuous investigation anymore? Doesn’t the word investigation suggest that one is looking for something?

    As to the politics of personal destruction: we reap what we sow.

  • paddyo’

    Oh come now:
    All we know is, the NYT had a couple of reporters look into an aspect of the background of a nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, a guy who stands to get a lifetime appointment to the post. The finger-pointing and insinuation of darker motives here (and check out the ranting over at Fox News after the Drudge Report item and DMN story came out) are hysterical. An NYT spokesman said the inquiry was routine, the paper found nothing improper and that was that. End of story. In fact, NO story. News organizations (and hey, for that matter, prosecutors, grand juries, the FBI, local police departments, etc.) investigate and look into things all the time. That doesn’t mean they publish stories or file charges.
    This is a non-story blown up into shout-fest fodder. GetReligion is really reaching to suggest anti-Catholic, anti-faith, anti-”values” motives here.
    Sometimes a cigar’s just a cigar …

  • http://janvbear.blogspot.com Jan Bear

    The New York Times had time and resources to ask an attorney if there was any way to get into the closed adoption records. The attorney said no.

    It was a fishing expedition. If the New York Times were the police, it could be said there was no probable cause. In some ways the media have more capacity to harm their victims than the police do.

    On the other hand, the Times doesn’t have resources to cover a scandal that has already broken, and which is being investigated for criminal activity.

    It shows where the institutional priorites lie.

  • Beacon

    paddybro comments:
    ‘An NYT spokesman said the inquiry was routine, the paper found nothing improper and that was that.’
    Well, he would, wouldn’t he? An adoption is a legally monitored and closely confidential matter, especially when it involves very young children who may have a traumatic background. What could possibly justify a newspaper investigating this?

  • http://auspiciousdragon.com holmegm

    There’s several possibilities.

    1. There is a portion of the Left that considers adoption from third world countries to the U.S. to be a bad thing. They see it through the lens of “exploitation” and all that.

    2. There’s the “social worker” Left, that considers “biological reunification” the be all and end all of family law. Hence our insane foster care system.

    3. Adoptions are highly regulated, which perversely means it can be easier to “find” or insinuate that something was done wrong (like an expired notary – eek!).

    4. Adoption costs can be high (see “highly regulated” above) which leads a certain cretin type to conclude that “rich Republicans are ‘buying’ babies”.

    All kinds of possibile angles, for people without shame …

  • http://auspiciousdragon.com holmegm

    Almost forgot the “anti-choice” angle …

    Sinking to a New Low


    “It was opposition research generated by pro-abortion group NARAL — and distributed to Democratic operatives working against the Supreme Court nomination of Judge John Roberts — that spurred these operatives to encourage reporters in Washington to looking into the Roberts’ adoption process.”

  • Maureen

    The really sad thing is that, like many of my friends and relatives who’ve adopted, the Roberts probably would have been proud to gush the whole saga of the adoptions in minuscule detail — with photo illustrations — at the merest hint of a drop of a hat.

    If the Times reporter had just asked.

  • tmatt


    I have a sincere question: Do you have to unseal adoption records in order to find out if illegality was involved? Somebody fill me in on that….

    I am having trouble picturing the White House nominating someone with two illegally adopted children. That would seem to have been near the top of a check list.

    So I return to my question: What was the point?

    I am not sure I like the Spectator much as a source either, especially with anonymous sources in the Democratic camp, but this does look like something that people on the lifestyle left might dig into. A few Democrats might have taken the Spectator’s call in order to “hang a lantern” on this PR problem.

  • http://tennessee-catholic.blogspot.com/ John

    The NYT called this a “routine inquiry” and (in another place) a “standard background check”.

    I’ll bet they wish they had done one of those two things with Jayson Blair.

    Of course they are looking for dirt, and this despite reports that at least one attorney they consulted with told them not to touch it.

  • tseverett

    “Two active practicing Catholics, who got married when they both were 41…. You see, traditional Catholics are supposed to get married early and have lots and lots of their own children. That’s the ticket.”

    This is actually a really interesting point. Can Mr. & Mrs. Roberts really be very traditional Catholics, after all?

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    The routine non-investigation was dropped after finding “no irregularities”. A happy and successful adoption by heterosexuals is a non-story, and can not have any bearing on the question the MSM assure us everybody is asking, “Who is John Roberts?”

    There are people who take the line that simply adoption is Bad, as it implies that there really ARE “choices” other than abortion. Remember the hysterics over the “choose life” ads, which attackers characterized as “adoption ads”?

  • http://agrumer.livejournal.com/ Avram

    Did anyone else notice the story mutating on its way through various media channels?

    Drudge: “The TIMES has investigative reporter Glen Justice hot on the case to investigate the status of adoption records of Judge Roberts’ two young children”

    Dallas Morning News: “On Thursday, the online Drudge Report revealed that a New York Times reporter had made inquiries about the Roberts children

    Get Riligion: “What, precisely, was The New York Times looking for in its investigation into the back stories of the adopted children

    So it starts out being about the records, and with each generation of retelling the creep factor increases as it gets farther from being about legal propriety and closer to being about the children.

    Most likely, the reporter was trying to find out if the adoption was legal, and this is no creepier than digging around to see if Zoe Baird and Kimba Wood obeyed all relevent laws when hiring their nannies.

  • paddyo’

    I can’t say it better than Avram just did.

    But I’ll submit that one person’s “fishing expedition” is another person’s legitimate background check.

    What could possibly justify a newspaper checking into this? Because, as I said before, this is a lifetime appointment and perhaps the biggest news story this year, and a newspaper with the resources, the national stage and voice, and the “newspaper of record” reputation ought to go wherever its news instincts take it.

    As a student journalist, I once heard Bob Greene, famous Newsday investigative reporter and a founder of the group Investigative Reporters and Editors, remind us in a speech that journalists must not be afraid “to ask the impolite question.” In a way, that’s what the NYT was doing in this case. When word of its inquiry became public, folks offended by the very notion of looking into adoption records cried foul at this impolite question. That’s their right, but I’m just saying I seriously doubt this had anything to do with Roberts’ Catholicism, faith, spiritual values, etc., and as such seemed pretty “off-topic” for GetReligion.

    Terry, I can’t tell you myself about how one goes about checking on adoption records, seeking if they can be unsealed, etc. I’m a reporter, but not a career investigative-digger type who’s had regular occasion — any occasion, for that matter — to make such forays.

    My only point here, and then I’ll try to shut up: Journalistic inquiry doesn’t necessarily have “agendas” beyond seeking to explore the candidate’s background. I think critics of the NYT see boogeymen under the bed and will question anything and everything that paper does and see the darkest, most cynical motives. Somebody show me this isn’t just one more normal bit of investigative reporting by the top paper in the country on the biggest news story of the year.

    And while you and others may have trouble imagining the White House nominating someone with illegally adopted children, I sure don’t. Mistakes in the vetting process STILL happen, the lessons of NannyGate et al. notwithstanding.

    P.S. Actually, we DON’T know that the Times reporters DIDN’T ask Roberts, do we?

    Thanks for a very lively thread, albeit it off-the-topic for GetReligion.

  • tmatt


    I honestly think we are post NannyGate, in that I still cannot imagine the White House missing an illegality there. Truth is, we also don’t know the reality of the “unsealed” request.

    But this is not off topic for GetReligion. It is hard to raise a question about the Supreme Court today without hitting abortion, religion and the sexual revolution. More on that tomorrow….

  • PM

    Is the theory floated on the Rush Limbaugh website intrinsically improbable — viz., that the children in question look suspiciously light-skinned for South American adoptees, whence a written record of the Roberts’s complection preference — conceding for the sake of argument it exists — could provide the wedge issue they’ve been fishing for?

  • paddyo’

    Fair enough, Terry — we just disagree. I don’t see adoption by a man who’s now a Supreme Court nominee as having anything to do with abortion, religion or the sexual revolution. And perhaps someday I’ll be proven wrong about this, but I don’t think the NYT sees/saw it that way, either.

  • Maureen

    Re: “Two active practicing Catholics, who got married when they both were 41…. You see, traditional Catholics are supposed to get married early and have lots and lots of their own children. That’s the ticket.”

    Tseverett said:
    “This is actually a really interesting point. Can Mr. & Mrs. Roberts really be very traditional Catholics, after all?”

    Many Catholics want to marry early and have lots of kids. But meeting other Catholics who want to marry early and have lots of kids is often problematic, and meeting that one right person? Very hard. I meet a lot of men and women of religious faith, period, who have become completely resigned that they will never meet anyone. More cheeringly, a lot of them have in fact met and married people later on. So we have a lot of “late vocations” to marriage, as it were.

    Beyond that, obviously any lawyer is a tad bit busy.

    P.S.: Hi, Avram! Good points.

  • Sean Gallagher

    Maureen made good points.

    I might also add, regarding the length of time from when the Roberts married to when they adopted their children, has no necessary bearing on whether or not they are “traditional” Catholics (whatever that precisely means–yes there are going to be some important commonalities, but it is by no means a monolithic term).

    They simply might have struggled with infertility, like so many other couples do. If this was the case, then insinuating that they were deliberately seeking to avoid having children can be a highly insulting claim to make.

  • Tim Graham

    I’m not so fond of the light-hearted observation that “traditional Catholics are supposed to get married early and have lots and lots of their own children.” The Catholic church does not teach that somehow you’re insufficiently Catholic if you don’t get married at 22 and have a brood of 13. The church teaches that everyone has a vocation. Some have a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. Some have a vocation to be married. Some have a vocation to be single. Marrying late is not an offense. I only have two wonderful children, and haven’t been naturally blessed with more, but that doesn’t mean I failed my “supposed to” quota. (You are insufficiently Catholic if you’re a liberal Senator who has a 100 percent voting record with NARAL, however.)

  • eapoet

    Actually, this “vocation of singlehood” is a really new notion within Catholicism. It seems to me that the RCC is trying, at least at the margins, to adjust to modernity just like everyone else — the selfish pursuit of “personal development” and serious (non-mommy) careers for women are not just for us wicked secular types any more…

  • Stolzi

    As for the children’s complexions, reports say that (oddly enough) both were born in Ireland and adopted in Latin America; but they are not siblings. I’m curious enough now to wish that the Roberts family would tell us a bit about it.

  • DL

    Those references to Catholics and their massive numbers of children bring two issues to mind:the “Population Bomb” prediction failures of the seventies, and the encroachment upon the world of the vast numbers of Muslims having large families causing lopsided demographics. Perhaps traditional large Christian families were not a bad thing after all.

  • fra

    “Vocation to singlehood” might sound modern, but if you call it “vocation to celibacy” you will easily detect that it has been around for some time now, let’s say 2,000 years or so.

  • James S.

    Actually, small families all around would be the best approach to a more peaceful world. Think how devastated parents of an only child or even just two kids might be if one decided to become a suicide bomber … or was sent to war and killed in action. As opposed to an Arab family with, say, a brood of ten they can barely feed. The calculations become very different when offspring are more scarce…

  • eapoet


    Has the vocation to “celibacy” with the actual purpose of pursuing a high-powered law career and substantial wealth instead of being saddled with a dozen kids been around for 2,000 years?