PBS Says Ben Affleck Had Undue Influence on ‘Finding Your Roots’

Ben Affleck Valentine Davies Award
Smallz & Raskind/Getty

PBS will postpone new seasons of its documentary series “Finding Your Roots” after determining actor Ben Affleck was able to convince the series’ producers to omit a reference in an episode that aired in October to the fact that he has slave-owning ancestors.

PBS said Wednesday that it, along with New York station WNET, “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.”

WNET produced the first two seasons of the series, while WETA, based in Washington, D.C., has taken over production of the third season.

The actor’s request — and its influence on the production of the series — came to light in April, as media outlets reported on private email exchanges between Henry Louis Gates Jr., the Harvard professor who is an executive producer on the series, and Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton in which Gates sought Lynton’s counsel over requests by Affleck to remove a segment from the episode that mentioned that slave owners were part of his family history.

“I didn’t want any television show about my family to include a guy who owned slaves. I was embarrassed,” Affleck said in a Facebook post made in April. “The very thought left a bad taste in my mouth.”

PBS said it had decided to delay the third season of the series until its producers could hire an additional factchecker and an  independent genealogist. PBS also said it would not commit to a fourth season of the series “until we are satisfied that the editorial standards of the series have been successfully raised to a level in which we can have confidence.” The episode in which Affleck’s ancestry is examined will be withdrawn from all forms of distribution, PBS said, including digital streaming and homevideo.

The review was led by Beth Hoppe and Stephen Segaller, the executives who oversee primetime programming for PBS and WNET, respectively. To investigate the lapse, PBS and WNET said executives examined correspondence, production records, agreements, talent releases and other documentation regarding the episode, as well as publicly available material. Representatives also interviewed the co-producers, who, PBS said, “fully cooperated in this review.” The law firm of Covington and Burling assisted in the process.

Gates previously said he had decided to focus on the most intriguing parts of Affleck’s background. “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 third great-grandfather who was an occult enthusiast, and his mother who marched for Civil Rights during the Freedom Summer of 1964,” he said in an explanation provided to PBS ombudsman Michael Getler in April.

“I want to thank PBS for its thoughtful internal review,” Gates said in a statement issued Wednesday. “I sincerely regret not discussing my editing rationale with our partners at PBS and WNET, and I apologize for putting PBS and its member stations in the position of having to defend the integrity of their programming. Throughout my many years of producing genealogy documentaries, I have always operated with rigorous ethical standards. Even so, we have been working with PBS and WETA to create new guidelines to increase transparency going forward. My career has been dedicated to improving race relations and intercultural understanding in our country. We are very excited about the third season of ‘Finding Your Roots’ and look forward to uncovering and sharing many more incredible ancestral stories with our viewers.”

“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 Hoppe, who is PBS’ chief programming executive and general manager of general audience programming, in a prepared statement.  “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.”

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  1. John Stone says:

    “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,”

    What a joke! PBS is just another arm of the liberal media but paid for by the taxpayers!

  2. trueholygoat says:

    Hiding unsavory history seems to be a predilection of authoritarian Progressives like Affleck and Skip Gates. Look at the current move to purge all history of the racist Democrat Party roots. See university plaques presenting Lincoln as a Democrat, and network news shows presenting George Wallace and Bull Connor as Republicans. The naked attempts to cleanse their own history — to present not only themselves but their entire family histories — as *perfect* and without sin is disturbing.

  3. Robin says:

    How sad that the intellectual elites must bow down to the celebrity elites. And just how pretentious is that of Affleck? Not only ignoring the slave owning past but celebrating the civil rights ancestor? What a sad commentary on this disingenuous and egotistical and insufferable prat.

  4. Chuck Long says:

    How does Gates get to keep his position? Oh yeah, I forgot: friend of Obama. The police acted stupidly. THAT’S how. This is all cover by leftist PBS for leftist Gates, nothing more.

  5. Eric says:

    As Skip Gates was complicit, he shouldn’t be permitted to host any future seasons.

  6. Reynolds says:

    Just skip Ben Affleck! Surely there are better candidates that one who wants to hide the truth. He was not directly involved and neither were any alive today. with family from MS, GA, KY, VA, etc. I had family who were involved too, but I am not them, and I don’t live in the same era. Just move on.

  7. lila fowler says:

    It’s never the crime, it’s the cover up.

  8. Leslie says:

    We all have relatives in our Family Tree past that have done something or been involved in something that causes embarrassment or is against what we, ourselves, are against. I am not responsible for what any of my ancestors have done, I am only responsible for what I do and what I believe in. Integrity of this show should never be swayed because of what an actor wants. Genealogy can be dicey. That’s the risk you take when you go on a show like this. This whole scenario has reached far more people than the the show ever did. You can’t change your past …

  9. Isn’t it fascinating that his influence to keep this information out of the program has probably resulted in more people knowing about his slave owning ancestor than if he had just kept quiet and let the program evolve as it was designed?

  10. We are so determined to make this a big deal, and its not. only an ignorantly childish person will hold it against Ben for his ancestors actions. …. but then again, in today’s twitter generation, ready to feel offended by anything, you never know.

  11. Luz says:

    Ben Affleck’s white privilege > PBS and Skip Gates’ editorial integrity.

    • GuyZero says:

      If that was the case, PBS and Gates wouldn’t throwing him under the bus. Everything isn’t black vs white. I’m sure Will Smith would get the same treatment.

  12. Patty says:

    Family History is Family History. There are going to be facts that are embarrassing and hard to swallow. When I found an ancestor was a slave trader I felt physically ill but then I had nothing to do with that and I couldn’t change the fact regardless of how I felt. But, the issue was left in the history. He later became a horse trader. All I can do is hope that he will be forgiven for being that kind of person and for not realizing that flesh is flesh, regardless of color. Hence, Ben Afflect is wrong in causing the show the problems. We all have things we don’t like, the point is to change for the good, make a good name of your family.

  13. Brenda Lyman says:

    I don’t know what is held back, but i like the finished product. The research process is as interesting as the family genealogy/history exposed. Learning the good, great, sad and ugly in our family history is what it is all about. We are not responsible for our ancestor ‘ s character/behavior. Seems obvious. I do understand being sad, I too have slave owners in my line.

  14. Tess says:

    Ben Affleck’s and Gates actions should leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouths. Affleck never fails to prove what a self-righteous pretender he is. Wish Jennifer Garner had never pulled him up out of the gutter.

    • Mariana Mari says:

      Why is Ben Affleck a “self-righteous pretender”? Maybe he really believes in the ideas and causes that he promotes and that’s exactly why he was “embarrassed” by the revelation as he himself stated. He didn’t lie, he felt uncomfortable with a part of his family’s history for which he holds no responsibility, maybe it was his family that influenced him to do that, who knows. Ben simply asked the host of the program if he could not include it in the program. He simply exercised his right and legally did nothing wrong.It was the program’s host who ultimately agreed to make the omission even though he knew it would compromise his and the program’s integrity, therefore he’s the responsible and the only one who should be blamed. And Jennifer Garner has no relation whatsoever in this, have no idea why you feel the need to mention her.

      • Sisa says:

        @Mariana Mari, I have to reply to you because you have been defending Affleck on other sites too. Are you his publicist or something? Affleck should not have agreed to do show. Period. Nothing in any family history is perfect! If he is smart, like he wanted the public to perceive him, he should have know that.

  15. JE Vizzusi says:

    Maybe we all need to step back and read and watch again “ROOTS”.

  16. Harold says:

    This is so ridiculous.

    • GKN says:

      Couldn’t agree more, along with the comments below in the same vein. As if all these goody-two shoes wouldn’t have done the same.

      • Alexa says:

        If you are on a show about your geneaology, then you are aware that that is the vein of the show…to disclose what is found in your family history (whether you are aware of it or not). So to say that “he is actor, and needs to protect his reputation” is BS! It isn’t a rap sheet! It is geaneological fact! He shouldn’t be ashamed! Most of the population owned slaves generations ago! I would have respected him more if he just said in public, what he said in print…”that he was ashamed and didn’t want to be associated with it.” He doesn’t have to like his past; but to learn from it and go forward is way better for publicity than pretending that it didn’t happen.

      • Mariana Mari says:

        Exactly. When you are in the public eye as much as Ben Affleck, you have a duty to protect your image. Even if you don’t wish to do so, your PR team will do that for you when you are a celebrity which wouldn’t surprise me if this was the case. Affleck simply made a request and Professor Gates was the one who obliged. If you want to blame someone blame him.

  17. MarinDem says:

    It doesn’t surprise me that an “actor” sought to protect his phony public image which is par for the course in Hollywood. What disturbs me is that Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the Harvard professor choose to go along with the scam and bend to Affleck’s wishes vs. showing the honesty of our history. In a world where trust in the media is quickly deteriorating and the division between news and entertainment is disappearing – two so-called icons of our society fail us miserably. It looks like even Harvard professors can become “star struck” to the point of compromising their standards:-(

    • GuyZero says:

      If you had as many follower/fans as Ben Affleck, I’m sure you would have done the same. Have you met Ben Affleck? Do you know him personally? I’m confused why you would think he has a “phony public image”

    • Maya Anderson says:

      If you’ve watched all the episodes of Gates’ show, you will notice in each episode that Gates is a bit obsessed with slavery. I think Gates’ lack of integrity has less to do with being star-struck and more to do with his desire to promote the liberal agenda, which Affleck is active in. Perhaps in Affleck’s mind, having an ancestor who did something bad 150 years ago would somehow taint Affleck’s human rights work…or maybe he was thinking that after calling Bill Maher a racist, Affleck might appear to have egg on his face.

  18. benthebag says:

    Hiding the truth does not change the truth. It just makes you look like the douche bag that you are.

  19. Mjkbk says:

    So, what Affleck REALLY meant was: “I didn’t want any television show about my family to indicate that I was just like everyone else, with human ancestors who were good, bad and in-between…..the very thought left a bad taste in my mouth.”

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