And so out of desperation, some victims turned to another outlet, one that gave them hope, however slim, that they would be reunited with their biological families. By the 2010s, daytime talk shows had begun dedicating much of their airtime to the stolen-babies scandal. Producers assembled street crews, interviewing witnesses anonymously with voice alteration, or wore hidden cameras as they confronted doctors and nurses at their apartments.
In many ways, these shows were doing the previously unthinkable: publicly addressing the horrors of the Franco era. But they were sensationalizing those horrors too, for the millions of viewers at home. In an early 2011 episode of “El Diario,” an afternoon talk show on which guests would air out family conflicts, a presenter introduced Alejandro Alcalde, a middle-aged father who was trying to find the mother of his adopted daughter. As Alcalde shared the details of his life, the camera cut to an unidentified woman backstage, sitting on a white couch, her back turned to the camera. On the bottom of the screen flashed the words: “I’m looking for my daughter, they stole her from me the moment she was born.” The father was then shown on a split-screen alongside dramatic footage of a car driving up to the studio. A woman in a white lab coat emerged from the car and pulled out a large envelope containing DNA evidence proving that the mysterious woman on the couch was in fact the mother of the child. The family was reunited as the audience cheered.
The wave of media attention also had some unexpected consequences: Any mother who had a stillborn child now had reason to believe the baby might be alive and well, and simply living with another family. A 2013 segment from “La Mañana,” a Spanish morning show, opened with a scene in a cemetery as men with hard hats and hammers cracked open a tomb. Inside was a small white coffin, clearly made for a baby. The reporter, who stood just outside the tomb, turned to the mother, who was dressed in black. She said that after giving birth, she was told by the hospital that her child was stillborn, but she now suspected that her child was stolen, even though the baby was born in 1992, nearly a decade after the last documented kidnappings. The coffin was not empty, as she had hoped. A DNA test of the remains later confirmed that the baby was her child.
Pintado, like millions of other viewers, had seen the talk shows and had even been contacted by one of them. After her father’s death, a producer on “El Diario” called her at home, claiming that she might have had an identical twin. Pintado hung up on the caller. But years later, while searching for her mother and pulling on any thread she could, she went to the studio in person. Producers couldn’t find any files on her case. Perhaps they had just been fishing that day, following a dead-end lead. So Pintado decided to go on a talk show herself.
“I’m going to introduce you all to Ana Belén,” began the host Viva la Vida in January 2018. The camera zoomed in on Pintado, who was visibly nervous. The host continued: “This is what I believe television is for. This woman is looking for her biological family, and you all are watching from home. Now, we need you to give us any leads or clues so she can realize her dream of finding her family.”
Pintado began to tell her story. There was the forged paperwork from after she was born. The visits to Madrid with envelopes of money. Pintado explained that she had learned that the local church had likely helped connect her parents to Sister María. Someone, she said, had even told her that her adopted mother had pretended to stumble into the room where her biological mother had given birth, to see what she looked like, and found the mother grieving. “If anyone is seeing this and recognizes me, well, the truth is I would like to meet them, because I have always been alone,” Pintado says, as the screen fades.
Pintado was hopeful that someone would call with information; as time passed, no one did. But she wouldn’t allow herself to feel discouraged. After she had gone public about the harm that had been done to her, it was as if a switch had been flipped. She would never stop looking for her mother. So she decided to call every journalist she could find.