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Ben Affleck wanted slave-owning ancestor struck from PBS’ ‘Finding Your Roots’

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LOS ANGELES — A lot of information has been released to the public via the hacked Sony emails, the latest being that Ben Affleck requested that PBS censor his slave-owning ancestor segment from his episode of “Finding Your Roots.” WikiLeaks has put a searchable database of the hacked emails online where anyone can read the July 2014 email exchange between Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton and Henry Louis Gates Jr., a Harvard scholar, filmmaker and “Finding Your Roots” host.

“Here’s my dilemma,” Gates asks 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.”

“The big question is who knows that the material is in the doc and is being taken out,” replies Lynton. “I would 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.”

Gates then responds, “All my producers would know; his PR agency the same as mine, and everyone there has been involved trying to resolve this; my
agent at CAA knows. And PBS would know. To do this would be a violation of PBS rules, actually, even for Batman.”

Lynton says it’s hard because it “may get out” that they cut the segment at the actor’s request. He says it “comes down to editorial integrity,” which Gates agrees with, writing that if it got out, “it would embarrass [Affleck] and compromise our integrity.” Gates also says he thinks Affleck is “getting very bad advice” in regards to this matter and that he’s offered to fly to Detroit, where Affleck was currently filming, to talk it through with him.

Gates ends by saying that they didn’t censor Anderson Cooper’s slave-owning ancestor and that “once [they] open the door to censorship, [they] lose control of the brand.”

The segment in question ultimately didn’t make it to air.

In a statement in response to the leaked emails, Gates says that the decision came down to putting forth the most noteworthy aspects of Affleck’s family’s past. “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 … and his mother who marched for Civil Rights during the Freedom Summer of 1964.”

In a second statement, PBS says, “It is clear from the exchange how seriously Professor Gates takeseditorial integrity. He has told us that after reviewing approximately 10 hours of footage for the episode, he and his producers made an independent editorial judgment to choose the most compelling narrative.”