Two PBS executive producers — Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates and Dyllan McGee apologized for agreeing to ignore the fact that one of the ancestors of movie star Ben Affleck owned slaves on the PBS show Finding Your Roots. Not only did they agree to Affleck’s request, they did not offer any explanation to viewers or apparently inform PBS.
Gates and McGee said in part: “We regret not sharing Mr. Affleck’s request that we avoid mention of one of his ancestors with our co-production partner, WNET, and our broadcast partner, PBS. We apologize for putting PBS and its member stations in the position of having to defend the integrity of their programming.”
The pair promised “an increased level of transparency” after this incident. “We respect PBS guidelines and understand our obligation to maintain editorial integrity at all times,” they said.
PBS and member station WNET are still reviewing the incident, PBS’s press statement said. “It is in everyone’s interest that we move quickly to bring the internal review to completion, but we also want to ensure that we are being thorough,” the PBS memo said. “We will share the findings of the review as soon as it is concluded.”
PBS ombudsman Michael Getler responded to the apology, calling it “late, but welcomed.”
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“The apology is a little late, it seems to me, coming after what seem like scores of articles in the media, not to mention two previous ombudsman columns, but it does add an important element to this still unfolding story,” Getler wrote yesterday.
Getler also pointed to Gawker, which posted the interview transcript with Affleck, including the part the movie star didn’t want broadcast.
Getler previously wrote that PBS’s initial statement, saying Gates was not influenced by Affleck’s request to edit out the information, was “not credible.” PBS was not aware of Affleck’s request and Gates’ discussions about it or “part of editorial decisions,” the networkt told Getler.
“It seems to me that any serious program about genealogy, especially dealing with celebrities, cannot leave out a slave-owning ancestor,” Getler wrote. ” It also seems clear from the emails that Gates knew the stakes involved in terms of PBS credibility yet went with the advice from the Sony executive to squelch the factoid about a slave-owning ancestor and try to keep it quiet.”
Getler described Gates’ decision to cut Affleck’s slave-owning ancestor as “a bad one” because he didn’t tell PBS and knowingly put “serious journalistic and credibility issues at stake.”