'20/20' E. Ky. follow-up disappoints

The 20/20 special that aired Feb. 13 focusing on Eastern Kentucky poverty was criticized for playing to stereotypes and not providing solutions.

The follow-up that aired Friday would explore the answers, Claire Weinraub, an ABC News producer who worked on A Hidden America: Children of the Mountains with Kentucky native Diane Sawyer, told the Herald-Leader last week.

But Friday's update fell short of providing the promised solutions, said observers.

Only two minutes of the 71/2 minute piece dealt with solutions to the problems in Appalachia, said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

The solutions that were mentioned — federal stimulus money, philanthropy, green jobs, infrastructure, computers — went by in a blur, like a series of teasers absent any kind of context, said Cross, who was featured on the follow-up piece.

"At least they have made an effort to put Appalachia back on the public agenda, both nationally and in the state," Cross said.

In the original show, Shawn Grim of Flat Gap was shown as a football standout who dropped out of Pikeville College after eight weeks. Since the show aired, Grim has received scholarship offers from several Kentucky colleges. He selected Union College, where he will start Monday.

"Their program last night was a quick effort to allay some of the concerns that people have raised," said Jerry Richardson, a native of Lynch, in Harlan County. "Diane Sawyer and her producers have done a dramatic disservice. ... They tried to make a quick penance and show us that there had been some good from the program."

Good has come to the people the show highlighted, but "it doesn't address the issues that pervade or the underlying causes," Richardson said.

Tia Blanton, a native of Breathitt County who now lives outside Nashville, said she was outraged at the original show because it divided people into two camps: People living in abject poverty and others who didn't care.

It didn't show the people and organizations working to change the situation in Eastern Kentucky, Blanton said.

She was much happier with the follow-up piece because it offered more hope by updating what was going on with the families featured, and it showed neighbors caring for one another, Blanton said.

Blanton was disappointed that Friday night's show didn't address the fact that people in the region had been offended and insulted by the first piece.

Blanton said she plans to do her own documentary on Appalachia. It will focus on the positive efforts of Kentuckians to help those in Eastern Kentucky, she said.

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