PBS stands by its research Mini-series: Historians used fine-toothed combs on companion book co-written by Boston Globe columnist fired for making up quotes.

July 14, 1998|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

PASADENA, Calif. -- An author with serious credibility problems is not the kind of thing you want associated with a major historical production.

But that's exactly what WGBH, the public television station in Boston, and PBS now have with their big-ticket, four-night mini-series, "Africans in America: America's Journey Through Slavery," which debuts Oct. 19.

The companion book to the series is co-written by Patricia Smith, who was fired last month from the Boston Globe for making up quotes in her column at the paper.

"We hired Patricia Smith before the incident came to light at the Boston Globe," Orlando Bagwell, executive editor of the series, said at a news conference yesterday.

"We hired her because we recognized in her a very talented and gifted writer. She is responsible for writing the historical narrative, and she writes with the research and support of the entire production team," he explained.

"It's material and history that we have scrutinized very closely. We did leave her alone to write it on her own. Although there is a voice from the author in the writing, the facts in the history are meticulously researched," Bagwell concluded.

Novelist Charles Johnson, a National Book Award winner and recipient of a 1998 MacArthur Foundation "Genius" award, is co- author with Smith of the companion book. He contributed 12 short stories that are intercut in the book with Smith's narrative.

"I just want to add, as co-author of the companion book, that my stories along with Patricia's narrative were meticulously gone over by a team of historians," Johnson said.

"I mean meticulous right down to fact-checking things like all the props in my stories, the costumes and clothes, historical references, the language. So, I think this book has been thoroughly gone over."

Harcourt-Brace, the publisher, is committed to a first printing of 125,000 hardcover copies of what it is calling "riveting, revisionist history at its best a powerful antidote to schoolbook history as we were taught it."

Pub Date: 7/14/98

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