Followup to “Children of the Mountains”
By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson
Betty Dotson-Lewis, who lives in a coal-mining town in Appalachia, has a fairly blistering critique of Diane Sawyer’s “Children of the Mountains” expose on 20/20 last week. More than a eleven hundred people have commented on the ABC site, and most of those who live in Appalachia are far from gruntled at the coverage.
It’s worth hearing how people are reacting. Complaints include a relentless focus on the down side of Appalachian life, stereotyping, and the fact that many people who want to help have focused on the three girls and the football-playing boy, which is easier than addressing the underlying conditions that cause such misery.
Here are the last few paragraphs of Dotson-Lewis’s essay. The whole piece is here.
Many, many people from Eastern Kentucky are outraged over this portrayal of their region. They did not think enough positive was shown, deepening the stereotype of the hillbilly. Many viewers, mostly out of the region, want to send money to the little girls or to take the children from their homes.
Viewers are offering Shawn Grim a home, job, money and help in getting his college education.
So, is this type journalism justified if it brings to light a group of people in a region who are living in poverty?
These days we depend on journalists not only to report but interpret the news. The people of Eastern Kentucky and Appalachia were left high and dry on this one, however. This story brings to light a serious problem in Appalachia but the approach and editing offer just a temporary fix for a few, deepening an old stereotype of the Appalachian.
And here is just one of the comments on the ABC site:
Although the people in our region of souther[n] WV & eastern KY realize that an effort was made by Diane to show the plight of these families. NOT ALL people in this are are in this type of situation, I would ask that ABC would do a positive story on the people of our area, we get enough sterotyping. The other states in our great nation have some of the same problems. Thank You.
This reminds me of the time the Boston Globe did a feature about poverty and crime in the part of Western Massachusetts where I live. I knew the reporter meant to be sympathetic, but it didn’t come off that way. I was livid, and I wasn’t the only one around here who was.
UPDATE: Diane Sawyer is from Glasgow, Kentucky, a town well west of the area considered to be Appalachia. I’m sure her heart was in the right place (although I wonder about the sensitivity involved in interviewing a coal miner with his boss hovering in the background.) I understand about limits of time (broadcasting) and space (newspapering), and wonder how Sawyer herself felt about the way her work was edited.
Posted on February 17th, 2009 by Miryam Ehrlich Williamson
Filed under: Uncategorized