Ben Affleck’s past is affecting Finding Your Roots‘ future.
PBS announced today that it was delaying the scheduling of the third season of the learn-about-your-lineage series after concluding that a 2014 episode featuring the actor/director omitted the fact that his ancestors owned slaves violated the public network’s editorial standards.
PBS said that in conjunction with New York station WNET, which produced the first two seasons of the show, it launched an investigation into the episode on April 18, the day after the media reported on emails between the show’s host/executive producer, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., to Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton, which were released as part of the Sony hack. (The network said it had no prior knowledge of Affleck’s request, only learning of it from the media reports.) In the correspondence, Gates sought counsel from Lyton after Affleck had asked him to edit out of the episode any mention of his ancestors owning slaves.
The PBS investigation determined that Finding Your Roots‘ co-producers were in violation of 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.” As a result, the network will not move forward with scheduling season 3 until the producers implement “staffing and other process changes,” namely an additional researcher/fact-checker and independent genealogist. In addition, any decision on a fourth season is being delayed until the network is “satisfied that the editorial standards of the series have been successfully raised to a level in which we can have confidence.” Affleck’s episode is being removed from reruns, streaming and home video.
Back in April, Gates defended leaving out the information about Affleck’s slave-owning ancestors to a PBS ombudsman: “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.” (Affleck took to Facebook at that time to explain why he had asked for the edit—”I was embarrassed. The very thought left a bad taste in my mouth”— though he also said he regretted making the request.)
In a statement on Wednesday, according to The New York Times, Gates said: “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.”