PBS has suspended the ancestry-finding program Finding Your Roots following allegations that actor Ben Affleck used his clout to get the network to censor information about a slave-owning ancestor, the Washington Post is reporting.
Affleck appeared in a 2014 episode of Finding Your Roots that the actor had hoped would reveal information about his ancestors that would give credibility toward the actor’s interest in activism in progressive causes, says Post writer Sarah Kaplan. And, in fact, the show did turn up some ancestors that made Affleck look good, including an ancestor who had fought in the Revolutionary War.
But the show also turned up a less-than-savory ancestor — Benjamin Cole, a great-great-great grandparent on his mother’s side — who records show was a “trustee” of several slaves.
However, Affleck didn’t want this information revealed on Finding Your Roots, and he used his star power to convince show producers to censor that information, according to MSN. The censorship was revealed last spring when whistleblowing website WikiLeaks published hacked Sony emails. In an email dated July 22, 2014, host Henry Louis Gates Jr. asked Sony Pictures co-chairman and chief executive Michael Lynton for advice on how to handle Affleck’s request.
“Here’s my dilemma: confidentially, for the first time, one of our guests has asked us to edit out something about one of his ancestors — the fact that he owned slaves. Now, four or five of our guests this season descend from slave owners, including [prolific documentary filmmaker] Ken Burns. We’ve never had anyone ever try to censor or edit what we found. He’s a megastar. What do we do?”
Eventually, the episode aired, with no mention of Affleck’s slave-owning ancestor.
On Wednesday, PBS announced that it had conducted an “internal review” of the Finding Your Roots censorship and concluded that Affleck had wielded “improper influence” over show content — an unacceptable violation of PBS’ standards.
“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.”
While Finding Your Roots producers work on getting their standards up to snuff, PBS has delayed airing the third season of the show and plans to hold off on committing to any further seasons unless and until they’re satisfied with the improvements.
Do you think PBS was right to suspend Finding Your Roots because the show gave in to Ben Affleck’s censorship demands? Share your thoughts in the Comments below.
[Image courtesy of: Getty Images/Mark Wilson]