‘Find­ing Your Roots’ Af­fleck episode vi­o­lated stan­dards: PBS

The China Post - - ARTS - BY LYNN EL­BER

PBS put its “Find­ing Your Roots” se­ries on hold Wed­nes­day af­ter de­ter­min­ing an episode that omit­ted ref­er­ences to Ben Af­fleck’s an­ces­tor as a slave owner vi­o­lated its stan­dards.

The public tele­vi­sion ser­vice said it is post­pon­ing the show’s third sea­son and de­lay­ing a com­mit­ment to a fourth year un­til it is sat­is­fied with im­prove­ment in the show’s ed­i­to­rial guide­lines.

PBS launched its in­ves­ti­ga­tion af­ter it was re­ported that Af­fleck re­quested the pro­gram not re­veal his an­ces­tor’s slave-hold­ing history in the 2014 episode. The As­so­ci­ated Press ex­am­ined his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ments and found that Af­fleck’s great- great- great- grand­fa­ther owned 24 slaves.

The re­view found that co-pro­duc­ers vi­o­lated PBS stan­dards by al­low­ing im­proper in­flu­ence on the show’s ed­i­to­rial process and failed to in­form PBS or pro­duc­ing sta­tion WNET of Af­fleck’s ef­forts to af­fect the pro­gram’s con­tent.

In a state­ment, se­ries host and ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Henry Louis Gates Jr. apol­o­gized for forc­ing PBS to de­fend the in­tegrity of its pro­gram­ming. He said he’s work­ing with public TV on new guide­lines to en­sure in­creased trans­parency.

Af­fleck’s re­quest came to light last spring in hacked Sony emails pub­lished online by whistle­blower site Wik­iLeaks.

“These re­ports marked the first time that ei­ther PBS or WNET learned of this re­quest,” PBS said Wed­nes­day.

PBS said it will with­draw the episode from all forms of dis­tri­bu­tion in­clud­ing on-air, dig­i­tal plat­forms and home video. The show was also or­dered to hire an ad­di­tional re­searcher and an in­de­pen­dent ge­neal­o­gist to re­view pro­grams for fac­tual ac­cu­racy.

Asked for com­ment from Af­fleck, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive re­ferred to re­marks he had posted when the is­sue first was re­ported.

“We de­serve nei­ther credit nor blame for our an­ces­tors and the de­gree of in­ter­est in this story sug­gests that we are, as a na­tion, still grap­pling with the ter­ri­ble legacy of slav­ery,” Af­fleck said on his Face­book page in April.

The award-win­ning “Good Will Hunt­ing” and “Argo” ac­tor said he was “em­bar­rassed” for a TV show about his fam­ily to in­clude a slave owner. He added, among other com­ments, that “Find­ing Your Roots” isn’t a news pro­gram.

Gates and PBS said in April they didn’t cen­sor the slave-owner de­tails. In­stead, more in­ter­est­ing an­ces­tors of Af­fleck emerged and Gates chose to high­light them in­stead in the show that traces the an­ces­try of well-known guests.

But in an email ex­change be­tween Gates and Sony Pic­tures chief ex­ec­u­tive Michael Lyn­ton, Gates asks Lyn­ton for ad­vice on how to han­dle Af­fleck’s re­quest.

“Here’s my dilemma,” says Gates in one email, dated July 22, 2014, “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 (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?”

Lyn­ton replied that it all de­pends on who knows that the in­for­ma­tion was in the doc­u­men­tary al­ready.

Last Jan­uary, PBS sta­tion WETA in Washington, D.C., suc­ceeded WNET as the show’s pro­duc­ing sta­tion.

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