Why was the media so captivated by the Madonna adoption story? For starters, having built a career largely based on creating controversy, Madonna finds herself open to criticism even when she’s not trying to be scandalous. She’s poked and prodded her public — and the press — so many times over the course of her nearly 25-year career that now, even when her heart may be in the right place, we jump to the conclusion that she’s putting one over on us.

Gee, we ask ourselves, did Madonna use her celebrity to skirt adoption laws in Malawi to bring home baby David Banda, while Average Joes often wait years to adopt? And even worse, did she time the adoption to coincide with the release of her new children’s book, “The English Roses: Too Good to Be True,” in order to garner more publicity for the latter?

While the public and press are wise not to swallow every seemingly magnanimous gesture celebrities toss at us, Madonna was certainly met with more skepticism than, say, Meg Ryan or Angelina Jolie — both of whom have adopted children from other countries.

What’s more, her newly-adopted child swung from the wildest extremes of parental care, setting up a scenario that was ripe for headlines as soon as biological father Yohane Banda surfaced: “Rich White Mega-star Vs. Poor Black Illiterate Farmer.” Who would you side with?

By the middle of last week, as I was reporting this story, all the brouhaha over the adoption seemed to affect Madonna’s publicist, Liz Rosenberg, in a way no other Madonna “scandal” had. When I asked, via e-mail, about the media speculation that Madonna’s adoption was planned to create more PR for her children’s book, Rosenberg sent this reply:

“It's really coincidental that these two separate events collided but I'm sure people will read other things into it. But it's really hideous for anyone to conclude that this adoption took place to build PR for the book. There's plenty of less labor intensive ways for Madonna to get publicity…. I suppose there's nothing I can say to people who just want to give Madonna s—- for whatever they feel like it. I know her heart is in the right place and… that's really what counts. She's helping thousands of kids, and one special one who she has opened up her home to, and if people don't get it at this point, I don't give a s—-.”

I don’t know that I’ve ever received a two-curse-word e-mail from a PR rep before (and in case you’re wondering, she spelled out the “s-word” in all its glory. I “bleep” it now for public view.) Clearly it’s impassioned, to say the least.

Rosenberg also explained that Madonna had originally planned to go to Malawi after her book tour. She added that the publishing date for the book had been planned for a year — something her publishing company, Callaway, confirmed. As it turned out, the building of Madonna’s orphan care center in Malawi began earlier than originally scheduled. Therefore her trip to Malawi and adoption of David came prior to the release of the book.

By the way, all of the proceeds from the book go to Madonna’s organization Raising Malawi, which helps orphans in that African nation (raisingmalawi.org). So whether she timed the book release to the adoption or not, in the end it’s the orphaned kids there who benefit most from book sales. And shouldn’t they be the focus of this story in the first place?

Bob Barker, “Right”-eous Dude

“The Price is Right” host Bob Barker announced this week that he’ll retire when the show’s 34th season comes to a close in June. It will also mark the 50th year in show business for Barker, who previously hosted “Truth or Consequences.”

I have to say, I never quite “got” the value of Barker and his price-guessing show.

But that changed this summer, when I decided to surprise a friend — who confessed to being a “Price” junkie since childhood — with a trip to a show taping at CBS studios in Los Angeles.

I was mesmerized. Despite being one of the few audience members who wasn’t wearing some sort of “I Love Bob” T-shirt, I luxuriated in a benevolent indoctrination by my “Price” peers.

They’re an amazing American subculture — a giddy bunch who line up for hours to get their shot at winning a grandfather clock or (gasp) maybe even a new car.

Still, it wouldn’t mean much without Bob. He’s their coach, their comfort, their comic relief, their God.

Their fervor is so heartfelt, so infectious, I found myself high-fiving complete strangers as if we’d all just won the World Series.

And indeed this is the World Series of game shows — a precision piece that runs smoother than Carlos Beltran’s home run swing.

Cameras glide from game to game, as bulky stagehands caress cables with ballet-dancer grace.

The set is a faded 70’s explosion, a psychedelic contrast to Barker’s pinstripe suit and white hair.

And Barker’s sharp as a tack, quick with a comeback both on-camera and off. Yes, he’s hokey at times, but that’s part of his homespun charm. Thirty-four years on the job and he never once looked bored. That’s putting your money where your mouth is.