Adoption as a Public Event: Media Perception and the Grayson Wyrembek Case

I’ve been working on a piece about the Grayson Wyrembek (Vaughn) case, and it’s gotten stalled. In the meantime, a lively discussion on the case developed on the Birth Mother-First Mother Forum. One of the topics up for discussion is media. I wrote a long reply, which got a little convoluted since I had to cut it up in sections to post. The post below is based on that reply, but longer and more detailed.



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Media is all about perception.

I have mixed feelings about media involvement–ie Public Relations–in disputed adoption cases. Not too long ago, adoption was a private affair and those involved were loathe to expose this private affair for public scrutiny. It’s become apparent since Baby Jessica and Baby Dick, (not to mention the Internet), however, that adoption is a public event. Today, getting the media on “your side”when things go wrong is essential to the good public opinion people feel they need in these cases, despite the fact that it has nothing to do with legal outcomes. In a sane world PR would be considered a total waste of time and resources.

I don’t like to see little potential adoptees and those already adopted paraded around like trained monkeys by a bunch of entitled adults who are upset about not getting as much bang for their buck as they thought they’d have, such as the Vaughns are doing.
Since adoption is held in such high regard in this country, though, a case has to be framed by the media early as totally egregious to get the public on “your side.” Not only are cases such as Ben Wyrembek’s fight to keep his son a race to the courthouse, they are also a race to the newspaper office and the TV station.

Clearly paps Christy and Jason Vaughn played the media (or should I say jerked them off?) They were very good. I was impressed with how much angst, tears, pomposity, and self-righteousness they were able to wring out of their legal arguments. Funny how if we, that is, people who have actually experienced firsthand adoption corruption, greed, and lies, were to act like this, we’d be dismissed as ungrateful, bitter, over-emotional and in need of therapy.

Without good media, though, you’re a cooked goose, at least as far as your self-esteem and the voyeuristic public are concerned. Ben Wyrembek is clearly in the right for retrieving Grayson from the adoption mill, yet he may as well be Osama bin Laden for all the clueless consumers of media hype care. Ben’s lack of media presence, (no doubt ordered by his lawyer) created a negative image. Instead of Ben the good father fighting for his son, we got Ben the bad guy, the sperm donor, the drive-by dad, the abuser, the abandoner, the baby stealer. If he really cared….

Not that any of this means anything in the real world of courts where decisions are made with facts and by law, not with TV tears and how many friends you have on Facebook. The Vaughns and their supporters don’t seem to grasp that we are a nation of laws, not popularity polls. They may feel good about themselves, but all their self-indulgence, candlelight vigils, and on-cue breast beating came up empty because the law isn’t Dr. Phil.

This is what’s really going on. We have a mutual aid society operating here; or in the parlance of my above metaphor: a circle jerk.

Litigants empower the media. The first one through the door gets the pretty frame and the positive press. In turn, the media, empowers the early litigant to be, in their own eyes and the eyes of the public, the hero of their own narrative. The public, in turn, gets to blow-out its grievances against the state, the courts, or whatever government bete noire they suffer from. The media coverage/ campaign acts as a safety valve for the aggreived litigants and public at large, marking out a starting point for future political action. Expect to see Baby Grayson bills introduced in the Ohio General Assembly and elsewhere next year to make it more difficult for dads to hold on to their parental rights. Expect to see the Vaughns show up, other children and church in tow with clips and videos in hand, to tell their sad tale of family demolition by judge. How they plan to explain that at least eight courts don’t “get” their case and how the Ohio Supreme Court doesn’t understand Ohio law is still a mystery.

If Ben Wyrembek had gone and presented his case to the media early on, there wouldn’t be over 7500 people on Facebook demanding his tar and feathering, calling him an abuser and drug addict, or sending the Vaughns bags of money and gifts to finance their pointless appeals. Of course, if he had, he’d be labeled a self-involved opportunist with an unnatural desire for getting his face on the 6 0’clock news–unlike the Vaughns.

Ben has gone by the book, legally and morally. He took the high road–the old road of private space and family privacy. The Vaughns took the low road–public space and child exploitation–re-creating themselves as victims of an “unjust system” when they were, in fact, victimizing Ben and Grayson, and trying to take down ethical adoption to boot.

I can’t decide if Ben handled this case right in terms of media. The “nice” side of me says that kids are not dogs and ponies. But I also don’t like to see good guys like Ben Wyrembek take a public beating from the fists of an adoption-ignorant public. Now, when adoption has become everybody’s business right out the gate Ben could just have told his story to the press without holding up Grayson as a prop. Preemptively, through his own dignity and reticence, he could have cut Vaughns off at the knees if they tried to turn Grayson into a household name. Maybe. What do you think?

Things worked out well (so far) for Ben and Grayson. But what about the next guy? It’s the squeaky wheel that gets prime time. As long as the public demands adoption theatre, the more parents who try to get their kids back will be publicly vilified. Especially dads. The time is not far off, or perhaps it’s already here, when adoption litigants will need to hire media consultants to get them through the day. It’s therapeutic. It’s about feeling in control, when the fact is, nobody is in control but the courts.
Grayson has been returned to Ben, and there seems to be little chance that he’ll be sent back to the Vaughns. The couple, demanding more than their 15 minutes, has reportedly retained Atlanta “superlawyer” Lin Wood to represent them in another appeal. Or maybe they plan to continue suing judges or child welfare specialists who refused to play their game. Wood is no stranger to the TV cameras. He’s represented John and Patsy Ramsay, Richard Jewell, Howard K. Stern, the estate of Martin Luther King, Jr. and a lot of other high profilers.
In the short run, I can’t figure out what the Vaughns hope to get from this public hissy fit. Any judge who is influenced by public opinion would step down or be thrown out. Yet the Vaughns and plenty of other adoption-at-any-cost pitchforkers think that a public display of muscle– “education” and outrage–will get the couple the kid they deserve despite law and ethics to the contrary. In the long-run, though, it’s clear that the adoption industry–particiularly adoption lawyers –will attempt to exploit the “Grayson case” to jam through laws that further divest fathers of their rights and their children. If the Vaughns can’t have Grayson, they’ll make sure other dads don’t get their kids.
For those interested in the “Grayson Case” retired paralegal David Houston has been following it closely. You can find a timeline of events and a large archive of legal documents on his webpage here. These papers include the Vaughns various suits against judges they don’t like. You’ll need Adobe Reader

NOTE: I have decided not to post Grayson’s picture here, though it has appeared all over the blogosphere and media. I think it behooves us as adopted adults to protect his privacy in what little way we can. He is too young to have control over anything.

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10 Replies to “Adoption as a Public Event: Media Perception and the Grayson Wyrembek Case”

  1. I must admit to some very mixed feelings about the outcome of this case. On one hand, I am glad to see that he is back with his father, appalled at the antics that the vaughn family and friends have been up to, but, not surprised.

    I am also glad that the vaughn’s exercising their squatter’s rights to the child did not, in this case, work. Every time it does, it is dangerous for ALL families and why they cannot see that is beyond me.

    But, I have to admit that it makes me sad that this was a father’s rights that were upheld rather than a mother’s, namely, Stephanie Bennett, in Ohio. Her case was equally righteous, equally valid and the only reason SHE lost was that the family didn’t have the money to pursue it further. Squatter’s rights worked if there aren’t deep pockets to fight them. Justice in America is for sale, ti seems and that saddens me a lot.

  2. Were I a cynic, I’d propose that much of the PR is inspired by the attorneys involved in a particular case and directed at those bags of money you mentioned. It’s time consuming (and therefore expensive) to stave off the day of judgment in hopes of tilting the equities, particularly when you there is no equitable argument supporting your position in the first place.

    Thank goodness I’m not a cynic.

  3. K, first I’d like to say this is a great post. Thanks for welcoming comments.

    “…upset about not getting as much bang for their buck as they thought they’d have, such as the Vaughns are doing.” We don’t know they feel this way for sure. They could very well love this boy as their own and are doing whatever they can to preserve their relationship with him. It’s wrong, wrong, wrong, but I have empathy for the situation. Maybe not for them because they should have done the right thing in the first place, but for the situation they got themselves in to. I hope it’s not about “bang for their buck”.

    As far as media hype, to be honest, I’ve seen more about this case on adoption blogs and facebook than American television or Canadian news. In fact, not sure I’ve seen or heard anything about it on the “news”. Likely the V’s were encouraged/advised to jerk off the media although to what gain, I don’t know.

    “Ben’s lack of media presence, (no doubt ordered by his lawyer) created a negative image”

    Do you know this for sure? Ordered by his lawyer? It very well may have been in spite of his lawyer…it’s possible, it’s possible. Maybe he’s just an awesome stand up guy who didn’t want to contribute to his son’s trauma, wanted to protect his privacy. I very much like that you did not post his pic…his being the boy’s. I’ve been trying to not actually type his name or anything searchable. I know it’s nothing but it’s easier on my conscience. I’ll weigh in and say I think he did the right thing for the long run.

    “Expect to see Baby G’s bills introduced in the Ohio General Assembly and elsewhere next year to make it more difficult for dads to hold on to their parental rights”

    Oh nooo,, sadly, you could be right. What should happen is the exact opposite! Maybe, just maybe, this will set a precedent for future cases where mothers legitimately dismiss the fathers of their kids. It happens all the time, as much as some female types don’t want to own it.

    Dads matter, almost as much as their kids.

  4. Excellent blog, BD!
    I sincerely hope that what you wrote here, will be read by many, including the 7500 gaggle of Cheerleaders…cheering on “Team Vaughn”. For Christ’s Sake some of these ‘cheerleaders’ (supporters of the Vaughns) talk like this is a football game, wherein a little guy, 3 yrs of age, is the ‘football’and the ‘game’ must be won by any means necessary. And the Invocation of a Christian God at every turn as some kind of supreme law superceding all man-made law (as spoke by many of the Cheerleaders) in this case, that of adoption…beggars belief or would that be disbelief?!? Reading the Cheerleaders/Team Vaughn comments on FB…makes my brain hurt.

  5. This tells it just like it is!!! Well written and to the point, all fact.

    I am so very glad this child was returned to his father. I was always taught that if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing… So, I will not comment about what I think of the Vaughns. I pray Ben and his osn have a wonderful holiday.

  6. Proudly, I am one of the 8000 that support Grayson and the entire Vaughn family! “Tossed around like a football and a prize to be won”…..obviously you are NOT referring to the Vaughns. If you knew this case, more importantly the people involved, then you would know that to Jason and Christy, Grayson is their SON and has been from the moment he was born! My biggest question is to BD….Finally someone that actually KNOWS Ben (other than the Vaughns)…..your comment,”I also don’t like to see good guys like Ben W….”, is this to mean you can speak to this man’s character or is it safe to assume you too have never met him and only give a rats @[email protected]#$# about “rights”!?! I am guessing if you knew Ben personally, then you would know that it doesn’t take FB or the media to “insinuate” that Ben has many charges of assault and drug use against him….those ARE actual charges…40 is the number of charges! Every time I log on to these “Father’s Rights” blogs I am blown away! I have 3 wonderful children w/ a husband/father that none of us could do w/out! However, he too stands firmly behind the Vaughns and knows what it means to be a FATHER and would fight for his biological or non biological child to the day he died….that is what PARENTS do! Not just when they decide it is convenient for them! I have to say FINALLY even the supporters of Grayson and Ben are starting to self destruct due to the amount of ugliness and self loathing going on on that page! I pray on a regular basis for all involved and know that Grayson WILL be HOME, safe, secure and in the family that he has been with since he was born….and where he BELONGS!

  7. Thank you for posting, anonymous. I wonder, however if you actually read what I wrote about: media presence in the case and how the Vaughns (or anybody) can manipulate the media to create a favorable climate for their case(s. The Vaughns have turned their case in a veritable dog and pony show and shown total disrespect for Grayson as a human being and potential adoptee by using him as a media prop– something adopted people are very aware of since we’ve been used as props for various agendas and individuals for years. The Vaughns have also slapped the face of the many adopters, who met with a similar situation, have done the right thing and returned the child they hoped to adopt to the rightful parent(s). Have you wondered why no adoption reform group has jumped onto the Vaughn’s bandwagon?

    Your emotional diatribe has nothing to do with law or realty. Perhaps Grayson was the Vaughn’s son at birth in a spiritual sort of way for them, but certainly not legally. No termination of parental rights had been ordered.

    Unlike you I’ve actually met Ben. I met him at the Ohio Supreme Court and spoke to him 20-30 minutes. I was there on a related case.

    That, of course, is hardly knowing Ben, and I’ve never claimed I do. But a man who refuses to roll over for the adoption of his kid speaks volumes about character. One does not enter into a disputed adoption lightly, especially if one is a member of the pariah male class. The psychological effects of such as case last a lifetime as Ben will discover.

    Thus, when I speak of Ben as a “good guy” I am speaking in terms of a father who stepped up to the proverbial plate and took responsibility for his actions and fatherhood. You know what men are supposed to do, but frequently don’t.

    Men who attempt to take responsibility when an adoption is at stake are routinely crucified by the adoption industry and adopters. If they prevail as Ben has, the public, stirred up by adopter-constructed friendly media, are driven out of town on a rail. If Ben had not taken responsibility he’d still be driven out of town. Men, you see, muck up lucrative adoption deals. Is it not curious that men who do take responsibility are labeled “bad?” Any man who would go through this hell knows exactly what it means to be a “father” and a “parent.”

    Criminal charges and even convictions are never automatic grounds to terminate parental rights. Otherwise, 3/4 of the child population would be in foster care or be adopted. I keep hearing about 40 charges but where are they? Ben’s parental rights have never been terminated, and no matter how much the Vaughns would like to terminate them, they can’t. Even if Ben’s rights were terminated at this point (and they won’t be), there is no indication that the rights would go to the Vaughns. They would most likely go to Ben’s mother or other family members. There is no “right” to adoption someone else’s child.

    The Daily Bastardette is not a “father’s rights’ blog.” It is an adoptee rights blog. And certainly Grayson has the right to not be anonyimzed by Ohio’s secret adoption system. He has a father and other natural family members who claim him as their own. Unlike children who legitimately need a family, Grayson does not.

    I suggest those who support the Vaughns actually acquaint themselves with how adoption works in the US and in Ohio. How market forces play into it How fortunes are made from shame and fear and confusion.

  8. Thanks, Mike D! I have another blog on the burner, but I got off track doing NaBloPoMo last month posting every day. My good stuff has gone waiting. Most people who are not involved in adoption have no idea how it really operates under all the cotton candy and unicorns.It’s a cut throat industry. I disagree with the Vaughns, but they got suckered with a lot of other good people.

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