Accuracy in Media

Regular citizens with extraordinary stories have become part of the landscape at State of the Union speeches, and Tuesday night’s speech by President Trump was no exception.

In fact, the president had some of the more interesting guests to be found in recent years – a defector from North Korea who had walked on crutches for thousands of miles to achieve freedom, a young boy who had led a movement to put flags on the graves of veterans, and the families of two girls who were murdered by members of the MS-13 gang.

But one of the heroes who was highlighted in the speech has drawn the fire of the mainstream media. Ryan Holets is a 27-year-old police officer in Albuquerque. One day last fall, he was summoned to a store for a possible theft. The call turned out to be a false alarm, but as the officer was leaving, he noticed behind the store a man and a woman who was eight months pregnant preparing to inject heroin.

“Why do you have to be doing that stuff,” he can be heard asking the woman, Crystal Champ, on his body camera. “It’s going to ruin your baby. You’re going to kill your baby.”

The woman broke down in tears. The officer showed him a picture of his wife and four young children and eventually talked the woman into letting him and his wife adopt the woman’s baby.

“I’ve gotten so tired of seeing so many situations where I want to help but can’t,” Holets said to CNN. “And in that moment, I realized I had a chance to help and to heck with the risks.”

A warm family story to show how Americans reach out for each and to highlight the country’s rampant drug problem, right? Not so fast, said a story in Slate.

“This is far from the kind of feel-good anecdote that usually plays well in political speeches, mostly because it’s not clear whether anyone should feel good about it,” read a story headlined “Trump Didn’t Bother to Say What happened to the Biological Mother in his Cop Adoption Anecdote.

”For one thing, the power dynamics of the Holets’ situation are cause for concern. A woman in dire poverty who’s just been caught by a cop with illegal drugs is not in a position, free from undue pressure, to willingly surrender custody to her fetus. Sure, the agreement might have gone down above board, with appropriate discussion, social-services support, and legal representation for both parties. But without any more details than what Trump offered, it’s hard to imagine a cop asking a pregnant woman with a needle in her had for the rights to her forthcoming child without some degree of coercion.”  

That’s not the worst of it. “The slippery ethics of this anecdote are a handy crystallization of the principles of the GOP, which treats women as mere tools of reproduction. In the narrative Trump and his Republican Party inhabit, the woman who gave birth to the Holets’ child is a forgettable footnote. We don’t know if Ryan Holets helped connect her with programs that could get her housing or treatment for addiction if she wanted it. She didn’t even get a name in Trump’s story, never mind an update on how she fared after Hope’s birth.”

CNN managed to gather all this information. After its story on the adoption aired, several rehabilitation centers offered to help Champ and her partner. In December, an interventionist got the couple as far as the airport to fly to a treatment center and begin a new life, only to have it unravel. A week later, the couple returned to the airport and are being treated in Florida and keeping tabs on their daughter.

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