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A&E Cancels KKK Documentary Series, Says Participants Were Paid in ‘Direct Violation’ of Policies

A&E said it would no longer move forward with “Escaping the KKK,” a controversial documentary series that purported to examine the plight of people seeking to extricate themselves from the hate group known as the Ku Klux Klan, citing a recent discovery that producers involved with the show had made financial payments to some of the subjects involved with the program.

The network  said it had learned from producers Friday night that “cash payments — which we currently understand to be nominal — were made in the field to some participants in order to facilitate access,” in a prepared statement released just hours before the start of Christmas Eve. “While we stand behind the intent of the series and the seriousness of the content, these payments are a direct violation of A&E’s policies and practices for a documentary.  We had previously provided assurances to the public and to our core partners – including the Anti-Defamation League and Color of Change – that no payment was made to hate group members, and we believed that to be the case at the time.  We have now decided not to move forward with airing this project.”

A spokesperson for the network was unable to say whether producers might try to find another media outlet to show the series.

The cancellation marks what would seem to be the final step of a gradual backtracking from the effort by the network, which is part of A+E Networks, a media company owned jointly by Walt Disney Co. and Hearst Corp. The program has generated adverse publicity since the network unveiled it, despite what executives had hoped would be become a powerful look at hate-groups in the United States.

Just yesterday, the network changed the name of the eight-part documentary series, which had originally been titled, “Generation KKK.” The announcement of the new program sparked outrage on social-media networks, where actors such as Wendell Pierce and Ellen Pompeo, railed against the effort, though it was not clear whether any of the people criticizing the series had seen any of it for themselves.

Executives at the cable network had said their intentions all along had not been to put a pop-culture spotlight on the Klan, but rather to chronicle efforts to help some members  of the group extricate themselves,and also examines the way that the Klan encourages the indoctrination and recruitment of children. The network had secured endorsements from civil rights leaders associated with the NAACP, the Anti-Defamation League, and Black Lives Matter, and had planned a social-outreach component for the series. “Escaping the KKK” had been scheduled to launch January 10.

“Canceling the show is the only acceptable decision,” said Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change, in a prepared statement. The advocacy group, which campaigns against racial discrimination, had been enlisted by A&E to lend support to the series. “One of the many conditions for Color Of Change’s involvement was that none of the on-air participants were being paid. It was the first commitment A&E made to us and we made it clear when we agreed to support content and marketing changes that we would withdraw if participants were paid,” Robinson said. He called upon the network to “increase the diversity of creative talent” it taps to create its programming and also to do more programs on communities that are often the target of racism.

Cancellation of the series suggests American viewers have grown more sensitive to hate-group activity in the wake of the recent U.S. presidential election. The election of Donald Trump as the nation’s 45th President has lent new energy to several groups that espouse racism and white nationalism. Other networks that have explored similar topics in the recent past have not met with similar reaction. In April, Time Warner’s CNN launched a documentary series, “United Shades of America,” led by comedian and activist W. Kamau Bell. The first episode showed the host, who is African-American, meeting with KKK members in a rural setting.

A&E said it would continue to examine subjects similar to what was examined by the now cancelled project.  “Just because this particular show goes away, the issues of hate in America do not.  We will still seek to fight hate in America through on-air programming including town halls and documentary programs produced in partnership with civil rights organizations, as well as continue to work with the civil rights community to facilitate a deeper dialogue on ending hate through comprehensive educational and outreach campaigns,” the company said in its statement.

Read the full statement below:

“The documentary ‘Escaping the KKK’ was intended to serve as a close look at anti-hate extractors focused on helping people leave the Ku Klux Klan—the racist hate group with a long history of violence against African-Americans and others. Our goal with this series has always been to expose and combat racism and hatred in all its forms.

However, A&E learned last night from the third-party producers who made the documentary that cash payments — which we currently understand to be nominal — were made in the field to some participants in order to facilitate access. While we stand behind the intent of the series and the seriousness of the content, these payments are a direct violation of A&E’s policies and practices for a documentary. We had previously provided assurances to the public and to our core partners – including the Anti-Defamation League and Color of Change – that no payment was made to hate group members, and we believed that to be the case at the time. We have now decided not to move forward with airing this project.

A&E takes the authenticity of its documentary programming and the subject of racism, hatred and violence very seriously. Just because this particular show goes away, the issues of hate in America do not. We will still seek to fight hate in America through on-air programming including town halls and documentary programs produced in partnership with civil rights organizations, as well as continue to work with the civil rights community to facilitate a deeper dialogue on ending hate through comprehensive educational and outreach campaigns.”

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