Following an internal review, PBS has concluded that the omission of references to Ben Affleck's slave-owning ancestor in the celebrity genealogy series Finding Your Roots — an omission that was made at Affleck's request — "violated PBS standards by failing to shield the creative and editorial process from improper influence." The episode about Affleck's family history has been pulled, and future seasons of Finding Your Roots have been postponed.
Affleck's request originally came to light as part of the Sony hacks in April 2015, when emails exchanged in July 2014 between Finding Your Roots host Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton were made public. In the emails, Gates explains that Affleck requested his slave-owning ancestor be left out of the episode. Lynton responds by suggesting that Gates should do what Affleck wants — as long as "no one [else] knows."
When the emails were leaked, Ben Affleck took to Facebook to explain why he requested the omission. "I didn't want any television show about my family to include a guy who owned slaves," he wrote. "I was embarrassed. The very thought left a bad taste in my mouth."
Subscribe to The Week
Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.
But Affleck also defended PBS' decision to omit any reference to the slave owner at his request. "It's important to remember that this isn't a news program. Finding Your Roots is a show where you voluntarily provide a great deal of information about your family, making you quite vulnerable," he wrote. "The assumption is that they will never be dishonest but they will respect your willingness to participate and not look to include things you think would embarrass your family."
PBS says producers will now hire "an additional fact-checker and an independent genealogist" as part of a larger plan to "ensure that all future projects will adhere to PBS' editorial guidelines."
Continue reading for free
We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.
Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.