Finding Your Roots has been suspended by PBS after Ben Affleck had the show censor embarrassing details about his family’s past.
As the Inquisitr previously reported, Affleck agreed to appear on the genealogy program because he “hoped would reveal information about his ancestors that would give credibility toward the actor’s interest in activism in progressive causes.”
However, the program found some things that Ben wasn’t necessarily proud of, and he used his star power to influence the producers to censor those details. According to the Washington Post, Benjamin Cole, a great-great-great grandparent on Affleck’s mother’s side, was a sheriff in Chatham County, Georgia, in the 1850s and 1860s, and owned seven slaves.
The episode eventually aired, and made no mention of Benjamin Cole. It wasn’t until the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks shared leaked Sony emails to the public. The email, dated July 22, 2014, shows host Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. asking Sony Pictures co-chairman and chief executive Michael Lynton for advice on what to do with Ben’s request to keep the slavery information out of his episode.
“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?”
PBS made the decision to suspend the program earlier this week, citing Ben’s “improper influence” as the main reason.
“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.”
In an original statement from PBS, posted in April, the network said they had left out the information to share a more “compelling narrative.”
“It is clear from the exchange how seriously Professor Gates takes editorial integrity. He has told us that after reviewing approximately ten hours of footage for the episode, he and his producers made an independent editorial judgment to choose the most compelling narrative. The range and depth of the stories on Finding Your Roots speak for themselves.”
“The mission of Finding Your Roots is to find and share interesting stories from our celebrity guests’ ancestries and use those stories to unlock new ways to learn about our past. We are very grateful to all of our guests for allowing us into their personal lives and have told hundreds of stories in this series including many about slave ancestors—never shying away from chapters of a family’s past that might be unpleasant,” Henry Louis Gates Jr. said in April.
“Ultimately, I maintain editorial control on all of my projects and, with my producers, decide what will make for the most compelling program,” he continued. “In the case of Mr. Affleck — we focused on what we felt were the most interesting aspects of his ancestry—including a Revolutionary War ancestor, a 3rd great–grandfather who was an occult enthusiast, and his mother who marched for Civil Rights during the Freedom Summer of 1964.”
What do you think about Finding Your Roots being suspended by PBS? Should they have allowed Ben Affleck to censor the show? Leave your comments below.
[Photo by Frazer Harrison / Getty Images]