A&E Shelves a K.K.K. Documentary Series Over Cash Payments


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A documentary series focusing on the Ku Klux Klan was expected to debut in January on A&E.

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This Is Just A Test Media, via A&E

A documentary series that was set to take viewers inside the Ku Klux Klan has been canceled by A&E after the network discovered that some of the show’s producers had made cash payments to participants on the show.

The eight-part series, “Escaping the KKK,” promised an up-close look at high-ranking Klan members and their families, but it had prompted wide outcry since news about the show came out last Sunday.

For a network best known for shows like “Hoarders” and “Intervention,” the K.K.K. series represented a strikingly complicated and politically charged endeavor, and fell into a roiling national debate about the potential glamorization of racism and bigotry that has grown only louder since the presidential election.

The show’s producers had tried to calm the backlash in recent days, changing the title of the series from “Generation KKK,” with its vaguely romantic undertones, to “Escaping the KKK: A Documentary Series Exposing Hate in America.” They also announced a partnership with Color of Change, a civil rights group that had expressed concern about the show, to develop some of the program’s segments and to provide more context. The network defended the show, which it said would “expose and combat racism and hatred in all its forms.”

But in the end, A&E had to back down without airing an episode after about a week of outcry. The series, which had been in the works for about a year and a half, was scheduled to debut in January.

In a statement on Saturday, A&E said the decision not to air the show was based on a revelation that third-party producers had given money to some of the participants in order to facilitate access.

The company did not say how much the payments were or how they were paid, but did describe them as “nominal.” It said it had previously assured the public, and groups such as Color of Change and the Anti-Defamation League, that no payments were made to hate-group members.

“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,” the company wrote in a statement.

A spokesman for the network said the production company This is Just a Test, or someone it had hired, had made payments to a hate group, which violated a company policy. The spokesman did not know if the company had a larger policy against paying subjects for documentary participation.

The practice of paying subjects for interviews and access is frowned upon by many media outlets, including The New York Times. But it remains an ethical gray area that other organizations — particularly some American TV news programs, documentary series and reality shows — are willing to exploit.

On its website, This is Just a Test, which A&E said had originally pitched the series, does not bill itself as a journalism enterprise. It describes itself as a “premium content maker” for television series, films, commercials and branded content.

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