Following a week of outrage over the upcoming Ku Klux Klan docu-series that has already prompted a change to the show’s title, A&E has cancelled Escaping The KKK, citing serious ethical concerns.
The network disclosed today that “third-party producers” had paid for access to at least some of the people who participated in the docuseries, which was billed as an in-depth look inside America’s oldest hate group. While A&Einsists the payments were “nominal”, they were in direct violation of network policies.
“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,” A&E said in a statement. “[A]nd we believed that to be the case at the time. We have now decided not to move forward with airing this project.”
The series, initially titled Generation KKK, was an immediate lightning rod for controversy when it was announced last week in a New York Times article published December 18. Critics feared the show’s approach – which also included a focus on the families of KKK members – would provide a sympathetic look at the terrorist group. A call to boycott the network, championed by celebs such as Ellen Pompeo.
A&E insisted from the start that the intent was to combat hate and focus on family members trying to escape the hate group, but in the wake of the outcry it became clear the series might not have been as thought-out as it could have. Though it was endorsed by some civil rights activists, critics noted that the initial description of Generation KKK suggested a far more passive approach to coverage of the KKK families.
In a bid to salvage the series, A&E and producer Aengus James issued statements meant to clarify intent almost immediately after the New York Times article was published. In the following days, it partnered with the ADL to create an anti-hate PSA presented in the form of interstitials during broadcasts, and added a partnership with civil rights org Color of Change to produce educational curriculum. Finally, on December 23, A&E changed the title to Escaping the KKK: A Documentary Series Exposing Hate in America.
A&E has promised future programming on the topic specifically aimed at fighting back against hate groups. “Just because this particular show goes away, the issues of hate in America do not,” the network’s statement says. “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.”
The full statement from the network is 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.