Whoa — PBS is taking major action against its show, ‘Finding Your Roots.’ The network has postponed airing Season 3 episodes of the series, and will be making staffing changes, due to controversy surrounding Ben Affleck’s episode in Season 2.
The Season 3 premiere date of Finding Your Roots is up in the air. PBS announced on June 24 that airing of any future episodes has been delayed because producers decided to leave out important details about Ben Affleck’s ancestors during his Season 2 episode.
Here’s a little refresher in case you forgot! Ben’s episode aired in October 2014, but in the 2015 Sony hacks, leaked e-mails revealed that he had pressured producers to leave out a critical part of his history: His ancestors were slave-owners! PBS investigated, and found producers’ decision to go along with Ben’s request violated the network’s standards because it allowed improper influence on the show’s editorial process.
The leaked e-mails were between Finding Your Roots host Henry Louis Gates and Sony Chief Executive Michael Lynton. “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,” Henry wrote. “We’ve never had anyone ever try to censor or edit what we found. He’s a megastar. What do we do?”
In response, Michael advised, “All things being equal I would definitely take it out,” but warned the host that doing so would make things “tricky.” Tricky, indeed! Once the e-mails were leaked, all hell broke loose, but PBS insists that it didn’t know anything about Ben’s request and the producers’ decision until after the hack.
Now, the network is making major staffing changes. That includes hiring a fact checker and an “independent genealogist” to review content before it airs. “I sincerely regret not discussing my editing rationale with our partners at PBS and WNEET and I apologize for putting PBS and its member stations in the position of having to defend the integrity of their programming,” Henry said in a statement on June 24.
Ben Affleck’s Statement On ‘Finding Your Roots’ Controversy
Meanwhile, when the e-mails were leaked in April, Ben released a statement on his Facebook page, explaining his side of the story.
“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,” he wrote. “Skip decided what went into the show. I lobbied him the same way I lobby directors about what takes of mine I think they should use. This is the collaborative creative process. Skip agreed with me on the slave owner but made other choices I disagreed with. In the end, it’s his show and I knew that going in. I’m proud to be his friend and proud to have participated. 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. 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. I regret my initial thoughts that the issue of slavery not be included in the story. We deserve neither credit nor blame for our ancestors and the degree of interest in this story suggest that we are, as a nation, still grappling with the terrible legacy of slavery. It is an examination worth continuing. I am glad that my story, however indirectly, will contribute to that discussion. While I don’t like that the guy is an ancestor, I am happy that aspect of our country’s history is being talked about.”
Ben has yet to comment on PBS’ decision to postpone the show. But tell us, HollywoodLifers: what do you think about the network’s decision?
— Alyssa Norwin