Oprah Winfrey on cases like 'The Girl in the Window': A way to "learn a lot about our own humanity."
Billed as a "television exclusive," Tuesday's episode of Oprah Winfrey's widely watched daytime talk show explored the story of a "feral child" found in Plant City as an example of extreme neglect. The show outlined the St. Petersburg Times story last year on a 6-year-old named Danielle found in squalor, The Girl in the Window.
"We can learn a lot about our our own humanity, by studying children who have been robbed of theirs," said Winfrey, before briefly describing feral children found in Hungary, Texas and Ukraine to set up the story that would consume the rest of the hour.
Winfrey's cameras visited the Plant City home in which Danielle was found in 2005 with the officer who discovered her, describing how animal feces lined the walls, how her mattress was moldy and falling apart, and the child herself was covered in insect bites, fleas and mites, wearing only a soiled diaper.
Footage from Tampa Bay area cable newschannel Bay News 9's 2008 interview with Danielle's biological mother, Michelle Crockett, was shown during the episode, with Crockett's face blurred out. Winfrey never mentioned Crockett by name, quizzing Times reporter Lane DeGregory on the mother's mental state; DeGregory appeared from the Times newsroom via the video conferencing service Skype.
"She seemed very much in denial," DeGregory said of Crockett. "She felt very much like a victim . . . Her only regret was moving (to Florida)." Winfrey noted that the show attempted to get a statement from Crockett through her attorney, who did not return their calls.
Times photographer Melissa Lyttle's intimate, revealing photographs were added to footage gathered by Winfrey's producers and other sources to show Danielle's integration into her adoptive family, including parents Diane and Bernie Lierow.
Clips of Danielle spending time with the Lierows revealed what Danielle looks like during frequent fits and while she was learning new ways to eat, walk and use the bathroom. The Lierows appeared in Winfrey's studio for the story, but Danielle remained off camera in the show's "green room" for guests, seen there only in a brief video clip of the host meeting with the family backstage.
Though physically Danielle is 10 years old, developmentally her abilities are more like a 3-year-old; clips showed Danielle diving into the family pool, playing with the family dog and displaying a rare smile.
"I could see somebody in her eyes; there's a person in there," Diane Lierow told Winfrey.
It was a little odd to see Winfrey allow child psychiatrist Bruce Perry, an expert who wrote a book on extreme cases of child abuse, to speak for nearly the entire episode, while the Times journalists who first told the story got little or no exposure. And Winfrey also seemed to refrain from her trademark commentary, mostly asking questions while allowing Perry and the Lierows to deliver opinions on the situation.
But Winfrey's show added TV's gigantic reach to a story that had already touched thousands of people around the world, connecting cases of severe child neglect to more mundane and preventable inequities.