By Manny Otiko
Harvard professor, Henry Louis Gates’ show, Finding Your Roots, has been suspended, according to several news reports. CNN Money said PBS has decided to postpone the third season of the show because Gates censored information about Ben Affleck.
“PBS and WNET have determined that the series co-producers violated PBS standards by failing to shield the creative and editorial process from improper influence, and by failing to inform PBS or WNET of Mr. Affleck’s efforts to affect program content,” said PBS in a statement released on its website.
PBS has also decided to remove all copies of episode 204 of Finding Your Roots from on-air distribution, digital platforms and home video.
The scandal came to light after hacked emails revealed correspondence between Gates and Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton. Hackers stole about 30,000 emails from Sony and revealed other embarrassing information such as disparaging comments about President Barack Obama and movie star Angelina Jolie. Sony Pictures Entertainment Co-chair Amy Pascal later stepped down, embarrassed by comments she had made. The Guardian reports the hack cost Sony $15 million.
The leaked emails revealed Gates bowed to pressure from Sony and Affleck, who was embarrassed the show revealed he had a slave-owning ancestor.
“I didn’t want any television show about my family to include a guy who owned slaves. I was embarrassed. The very thought left a bad taste in my mouth,” said Affleck in a statement released on Facebook. “I regret my initial thoughts that the issue of slavery not be included in the story.”
The future of Finding Your Roots, which uses DNA and archival records to look into the ancestral history of famous Americans, is now in doubt. PBS said it was putting a third season of the show on hold until it was satisfied with editorial standards.
“Editorial integrity is essential to PBS. As a mission-driven media enterprise, we know that earning and keeping the trust of the American public are our most important priorities,” said Beth Hoppe, PBS chief programming executive and general manager, General Audience Programming. “The co-producers of Finding Your Roots have a strong track record of creating high-quality programming for PBS over many years. Improved editorial and production processes will ensure that all future projects will adhere to PBS’ editorial guidelines.”
Affleck seems to have made the affair worse by trying to cover it up. If he had allowed the show to go forward unedited, there would have been some momentary embarrassment which wouldn’t have lasted long. Instead, he created a huge public relations disaster by trying to suppress the information. The leaked emails make him look like an egotistical movie star. They also reveal how studios can get members of the media to play ball. If Gates had not omitted the information, he would have likely no longer had access to Sony or its stars.
An Atlanta Blackstar article stated Affleck had some ancestors he could be proud of. His mother was a freedom rider and one of his ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War. The article also said any in-depth review of Affleck’s lineage was bound to turn up a slave-owning ancestor.
“It is interesting that Affleck’s people would make such a brash show of power when it is widely assumed that a deep look into the ancestral history of most white Americans would unearth a slave owner somewhere,” said writer Curtis Bunn. “Some historians claim that more than 70 percent of white Southerners didn’t own slaves—which means that a quarter of them did. Massachusetts, where Affleck grew up, was the first slave-holding colony in New England, reaching its peak in the early 1700s.”