Ben Affleck Slavery Controversy Causes PBS to Delay ‘Finding Your Roots’

Actor convinced series’ producers to omit reference to ancestor who owned slaves

Last Updated: June 24, 2015 @ 7:59 PM

PBS will delay future seasons of “Finding Your Roots” after an investigation determined that the Ben Affleck episode violated network standards, it was announced Wednesday.

“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,” PBS said in a statement.

As a result of the investigation, the series’ planned third season has been postponed and the decision on whether or not to renew the series for a fourth season has been deferred until PBS is “satisfied that the editorial standards of the series have been successfully raised to a level in which we can have confidence.”

In addition, the network will require the show to employ an additional fact-checker, an independent geneaologist, and will withdraw the Affleck episode from circulation.

The public TV network started an investigation after it was reported that Affleck requested the program not reveal his ancestor owned slaves. Affleck’s request was revealed in the WikiLeaks archive of a leaked conversation between Sony Entertainment Chairman Michael Lynton and the show’s host and producer Henry Louis “Skip” Gates, Jr.

The email chain showed Gates and longtime friend Lynton discussing Affleck’s request. “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,” Harvard scholar Gates said in the thread, sent in July 2014.

Lynton advised Gates to “take it out if no one knows, but if it gets out that you are editing the material based on this kind of sensitivity then it gets tricky. Again, all things being equal I would definitely take it out.”

In response to Wednesday’s findings, Gates wrote, “I want to thank PBS for its thoughtful internal review. 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.”

“My career has been dedicated to improving race relations and intercultural understanding in our country,” Gates continued. “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.”