Ben Affleck refused comment to The NY Times on Finding Your Roots (update)

Yesterday we reported on PBS’s somewhat scathing report detailing their internal investigation as to whether journalistic integrity had been compromised on the genealogy show Finding Your Roots. It came out during the Sony hack that Ben Affleck had petitioned executive producer and star, professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., to remove clips referencing his slave-owning ancestor. Gates instead focused on other ancestors in Affleck’s past, which removed the common theme throughout the episode of race and slavery. (Affleck didn’t ask for the changes until 6 months after his part was taped, when production was presumably close enough to completion that they couldn’t move his segment to a more relevant episode.)

PBS found that Gates’s edit, which he did not inform PBS about, did violate standards. As a result they suspended production of the show and delayed the release of the third season, pending the appointment of additional staff members to fact check the genealogy findings. It’s possible that Finding Your Roots could be canceled if standards for journalistic integrity fall short of PBS’s expectations.

This story has been picked up by the NY Times, and they did a good job recapping the background. The relevant part to me is that Gates has commented, he basically repeated the same statement he made previously that this was an editorial decision that did not compromise standards, and that Affleck refused comment. The article was titled “A PBS Show, a Frustrated Ben Affleck, and a Loss of Face.” Damn.

In a statement released on Wednesday, Mr. Gates said he regretted not informing PBS about his conversations with Mr. Affleck. He did not apologize for omitting the detail in the broadcast. Mr. Gates said in April that other relatives of Mr. Affleck’s were more interesting, such as an occult enthusiast and a relative from the Revolutionary War.

Mr. Gates still contends the omission was an editorial decision, his spokesman said on Thursday. That assertion is in stark contrast to opinions he expressed in emails to Mr. Lynton last July, in which he expressed exasperation over how Mr. Affleck “asked us to edit something about one of his ancestors — the fact that he owned slaves.” He said that it was in “violation of PBS rules” and that “once we open the door to censorship, we lose control of the brand.”

If it became known that he cut that part of the interview with Mr. Affleck, Mr. Gates wrote, it would embarrass Mr. Affleck and “compromise our integrity.” Mr. Affleck said in a Facebook post in April that he was embarrassed to learn about his relative and that he “lobbied” Mr. Gates, who also goes by Skip, about what should go into the show. He said it was Mr. Gates’s decision alone.

“To clarify, because I see this story being framed as ‘censorship’ on some sites, when I told Skip I was uneasy about the slave owner, he told me he had not included it in his preliminary cut because there wasn’t much detail — a name and no details, so he wasn’t going with it to begin with,” Mr. Affleck wrote on Facebook.

While PBS treated this as a violation of standards, Mr. Affleck was quick to point out in April that the program “isn’t a news program” and that the celebrities voluntarily provide information about their family history.

Mr. Affleck declined to comment on Thursday. PBS also declined to comment further. The investigation that it conducted will remain private, a spokeswoman for PBS said.

The show has featured other celebrities who have had slave-owning ancestors, including Derek Jeter, Ken Burns and Anderson Cooper.

In a statement released Wednesday, PBS’s chief programming executive and general manager, Beth Hoppe, said that “improved editorial and production processes will ensure that all future projects will adhere to PBS’ editorial guidelines.”

[From The NY Times]

Make no mistake, this is a HUGE blow to Affleck’s ego. This is not TMZ or a handful of gossip blogs complaining that he’s an arrogant diva, this is PBS and the NY Times reporting the facts. Affleck just compromised the future of a highly regarded show run by a fastidious academic who bent the rules for him. Affleck refused comment to the NY Times because he realized that he made it worse last time by sounding defensive and then changing his story. The Times picked up on that and worked it into their coverage.

I want to mention something related. Today is the last Friday before Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner’s tenth anniversary. You gossip sleuths know what I mean.

Update: Thank you to Elfie for pointing out a glaring inaccuracy in Affleck’s profile on Finding Your Roots. The episode emphasized that Affleck’s mother was a Freedom Rider during the historic Freedom Summer of 1964. While it’s true that she was active in the Civil Rights Movement, Affleck’s mother has clarified to The Daily Mail that “she was not a Freedom Rider – and was not in the South in 1964, but a year later.” Chris Affleck (nee Boldt) told The Mail “I supported what [The Freedom Riders] did. People have incorrectly said I was a member which embarrasses me because I wasn’t as good as they were.

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44 Responses to “Ben Affleck refused comment to The NY Times on Finding Your Roots (update)”

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  1. Nemesis says:

    Why would anybody give a flying frick what their ancestors did? I’m sure my great great X5 grand pappy did. That’s not a reflection on me. It’s not me. It’s history. Learn and embrace history.

    • JaneS says:

      Tell that to Ben. He’s the one who tried to hide it.

    • mytbean says:

      Because some people believe that, especially if you are a successful white person, that you don’t really deserve your successes if distant relatives had it easier due to slavery and therefor you had a leg up at their expense.,,,Basically – the Civil War butterfly affect, gave Affleck an unfair advantage.

      Not sure what he’s to do about that now… but I’m sure a lot of people, having an idea of his ancestry will probably have a lot of friendly suggestions.

      • Emma - the JP Lover says:

        @Mytbean, who wrote: “Because some people believe that, especially if you are a successful white person, that you don’t really deserve your successes if distant relatives had it easier due to slavery and therefor you had a leg up at their expense.,,,Basically – the Civil War butterfly affect, gave Affleck an unfair advantage.”

        Who in the world believes that? Ben Affleck didn’t inherit any wealth generated by his slave-owning ancestors (or any wealth at all, that I can tell), so ‘some people’ are just scratching their heads and wondering what’s the big woo? It’s really Affleck’s ego that’s made an issue out of this ancestral fact. If the show had aired with this inclusion ‘no one’ would have blinked twice at the news, including ‘some people.’

    • MoxyLady007 says:

      Narcissists don’t see it that way. It’s all about them.

  2. Pinky says:

    Look, Ben Affleck. Nearly every African American has a slave owner in their family tree! Are you so ashamed to be lumped in with those folks?

    Yes, I’m kidding, but come on. The reality is that this is American history, and our history is fascinating. Whitewashing (literally) your family tree does not solve society’s ills, it merely obscures them and allows us to repeat the same mistakes of the past. See: Bristol Palin.

  3. lisa2 says:

    He did such a silly thing. Does he realize how difficult it is for Black parents that went through racisms at it legal best to explain their hardship to their children. My father had a very hard time in the 60s.. My Grandmother who is 97 remembers that time of share cropping which was still a form of slavery. Being a young child. But they talked to us about it. As a Teacher it was a difficult thing explaining that past to children that don’t have a concept of not being able to sit in a certain place or not being able to go to a school because of the color of their skin.. Even explaining to girls that at one point in our history they were not allowed to be educated.. and that even today there are girls prevented from going to school. He could have used that as such a teachable moment in how to deal with the stigma of a past.. But one that he never experienced. Now all this fallout because someone was ashamed of something that people that are long past dead did and not him. Something that is a sad but real part of our history..

    How do we move on when it is clear from his actions that people still can’t accept what happened and still can’t face it; still want it swept under the rug and pretend it never happened. When the evidence of that pain is still very present in our lives today.

    Bad form Ben.. very bad form.

    • Kiki says:

      Exactly, what I have said. Embrace and teach your children and grandchildren about your past, and show them the true meaning of kindness, because what their ancestor did will help embrace the true sentiments of how you should be greatful of freedom, love for another and not ostracize people because of the color of skin and what is to be human. So instead of feeling ashamed of your past, be thankful for your past, because it made you the kindest human possible.

    • mytbean says:

      I was surprised in Germany when I discovered that they actually funded the construction and upkeep of several of the concentration camps, holocaust and Nuremberg trial museums with records of all of the horrible things that happened and that access to much of that is free… They know that, although there is shame from it, it would be worse for everyone to pretend it didn’t exist. They maintain those learning centers out of respect to those that survived and to make sure that people continue to head history’s warnings.

  4. Blythe says:

    All he had to do was made a public statement denouncing slavery, human trafficking, and racism and all would have been well. Who is really going to hold it against him that his ancestors were slave owners? The fact that he tried (and failed) to cover this information up shows us Ben’s true colors. We already think poorly of you, Ben. We wouldn’t change our opinions about you any more or less.

  5. Catelina says:

    It’s all so stupid because really, if it had all been shown and they said Ben had slave owner ancestors on the show, would anybody have cared? Would it have reflected poorly on him? I don’t think so. It’s the nature of our history that many presumably good people had nasty ancestors. Nobody thinks badly of Anderson Cooper now because his great great somebody owned slaves. But orchestrating this whole cover up just blew this into a situation where there wasn’t one previously.

  6. Hawkeye says:

    Ben Affleck’s reactions have sort of eclipsed the original story. Now would be good time to ramp up the pap strolls with the kids and Jennifer.

  7. Jayna says:

    I feel bad for Ben, even though it’s of his own making. There I said it.

  8. Elfie says:

    The show didn’t just hide the slave owning ancestor, it also falsified his mothers past, wrongly claiming her to be a Freedom Rider when she wasn’t. How the hell could they get that wrong? That information came from Affleck btw.

    He did this show not to find out about and learn from the past like everybody else, which is supposed to be the point of it. He did it in an attempt to get good publicity, he falsified and hid information that so that he could bask in the glow of having a mother and ancestors who represented how he wants others to perceive him – as better than and morally superior to everybody else. Instead he’s been outed as an insincere, controlling, narcissistic fraud.

    It’s a pity that Gates ceded to his ego and he has to pay the consequences for throwing away his own credibility for an egotistical actor.

  9. Kiki says:

    Ben Affleck just embarrassed the compromise integrity of himself when he censored his slave owner past in his genealogy. And PBS is right to suspend and I am truly sorry about Professor Henry Louse Gates Jr. predicament at this time, because he is between a rock and a hard place, so therefore it is not His fault. The fault is Ben Affleck. I do not see what is wrong with showing the truth about your family, when you have an ancestor who is a slave owner that should be known anyway because nearly everyone in America has a ancestor who has either a slave owner or white Supremist in their family anyway. It s sad and pathetic, but I may be get some backlash but you should thank your slave owner family or you white Supremist family member. Because of they did is wrong and downright atrocious, they made you into a kind and wonderful human being that you have become. Ben Affleck, put your ego aside and humbly except it.

  10. lisa2 says:

    I just saw this on my local news show.. and see now it has become a HUGE story that would have been forgotten.

  11. Julimonster says:

    Why didn’t they just not air the episode? Either you play by the rules or you don’t get to play. Period.

    • kibbles says:

      That is what Gates should have done. I understand sympathizing with a guest who is ashamed of his history and caving into that pressure not to air it. I think Gates’ judgment was skewed due to Affleck’s celebrity and the possibility that he could have had Matt Damon on the show. Damon would have been a much better choice had he shown any interest in making an appearance. I don’t believe Damon would have handled a slave owning ancestor in this way. Or maybe Damon did have concerns with bad stuff coming out about his family and that is why he did not agree to appear on the show alongside Affleck. If Affleck did not like what Gates had found in his family tree, he should have just requested Gates to scrap his entire segment.

  12. InvaderTak says:

    Enough already. Afflac is just super annoying these days.

  13. Chinoiserie says:

    If you dig your family tree long enough you will find someone horrible. And probably everyone has a slave owning ancestor a couple of millenia back at least considering how common slavery has been in human history. Unless Affleck’s relative was a famous horrible slave owner he sounds someone who likes to have a “perfect” image and can not handle anything negative about him.

  14. AlmondJoy says:

    I honestly think his actions have made this whole thing a much bigger deal than it really is.

  15. nic says:

    This is the kind of dumb that comes out of smart people. Like, Ben Affleck thinks we’re all too dumb to realize that he’s not his ancestors, and he thinks if he takes them for occasional walks, we won’t notice he’s not really there for his family, and he thinks that we’re too stupid to take a well phrased apology.

    Here’s one on me, for free:

    “I was so shocked and repulsed by my connection to slavers that I just went into defense mode. It’s such a source of personal shame – I’m so icked out by it, that I pushed my weight around and did my best to distance myself from the truth by covering it up. I am deeply embarrassed that my… Bullying, really, became public because I don’t want any of you to see that weakness in me, and because I wanted my secret – both my ansestreal past that I now see you would not have blamed me for and my cover-up – to stay hidden away. I’m sorry. I’m sorry I got caught being a Hollywood jerk. But you know what, Im kind of happy about it in a way. Because now I can see how wrong I was and how I compounded a problem. And I promise to stop being such a douche. Really, I’m sorry. I won’t do it again. And thanks for the lesson in self awareness. I’m gonna go home and hug my kids and have a little chat with them about our ancestors and the importance of owning the past so you can correct the future.”

  16. The Eternal Side-Eye says:

    Idiot. Btw top marks to whatever publicist or or agent it was who told him to go back 6 months after the fact because *gasp* having an ancestor who sold slaves would just be too devastating to have publicly known.

    Good job Sir or Madam, no one ever learns from Watergate, it’s the cover up that kills you.

    Honestly Ben is now the best example I have of how some people get super defensive when you even mention slavery or racism. “Not me! I was descended from a noble group of farmers who just so happened to have darker skinned migrant workers!” So much ignorant defensiveness.

  17. anne_000 says:

    I think PBS is not happy that Gates refuses to fess up when he already did in those leaked emails. Own it man. They’re not idiots. They know about those emails.

    For Affleck to say that there wasn’t much details about his slave-owning ancestor, how was it that the DM got loads of info about two or three of his slave-owning ancestors, including one who was of a prominent family and included in various documents and even a book.

    When Affleck says that celebrities volunteer information about their family history, does that mean he volunteered the fake history about his mother being a Freedom Rider in 1964? This lie has been spread in show business mags since 2000, and had been included in his Wikipedia page according to the DM. Note that the DM got her on record saying it wasn’t true, so how come Gates’ people didn’t interview her too?

    I don’t like that Affleck calls Gates “Skip” during this scandal because it makes Gates sound immature and childish while he is trying so hard to appear otherwise.

    Gates probably wanted more celebrities (like Matt Damon whom Affleck dangled in front of Gates) and thus bent the rules for Affleck, but also, the DM reported that they have the same PR firm. So maybe there was influence from that too?

  18. Maya says:

    Now it’s almost certain that Ben won’t leave Jennifer.

    People already think bad of him regarding his drinking, gambling and women and now NYT has just reopened the scandal about the program.

    Nope – no way will Ben leave Jennifer during this, he needs that whole family man image to be able to weather this storm.

    I bet Jennifer now regrets campaigning for that law of taking pictures of children. She paraded her children during Oscar campaign and then attacked the paps. She is probably thinking what to do now – can’t use the children for sympathy.

    • backtoback says:


    • laura in LA says:

      On a previous thread, I predicted that if they decided to divorce, they’d file or announce on July 3rd before the holiday weekend…

      But seeing as how that’s next Friday, the exact day of their 10th anniversary, with the media sh*tstorm they’re facing, plus the whole Batman burden, I think a definite split will be postponed at least through the summer.

      And who knows, maybe they’ll stick it out awhile longer, even if only to avoid further embarrassment.

      • JoJo says:

        Yup, would be surprised if they divorce right now. Seems like putting off the inevitable though.

    • kibbles says:

      Yes, this couple has tried to appear a certain way, advocate for certain things, then do the exact opposite. The lies and deceit are blowing up in their faces as people are finding out the truth about many things – Affleck’s family history as well as the present state of his marriage. I’m sure they are pretty miserable together, but this incident proves that Affleck will stop at nothing to be portrayed positively in the media. He will continue his pap strolls with his wife for now, but as I stated above, I predict an eventual divorce just not right now.

  19. dorothy says:

    before I even read the last sentence my comment was going to be that yesterday was also known as the day that dear Afflecks divorce dream died. and the first day I ever respected Jennifer Garner. woman has got serious game she pulled this all off somehow! you know it – look at that smirk in the background of the last pic, that’s just her demeanor! she’s got “the perfect American wife stands tall” down pat lol…seriously though a few well placed calls “are you suuuree about those things he said? He does tend to exaggerate when drinking and when was the last time he was sober? Hmmmm well anyway I’m sure your show will stand up to any possible legal scrutiny it may come under through other legal proceedings so tata for now, buyeeeee,,,,”

    • backtoback says:

      I still think they will divorce eventually. Everybody hates on Ben but Jen Garner is a mombot. That can drive anybody to disaster just having to deal with them. I’ve met those kinds of moms – they are suffocating. Yes they love their family, but the family is more of a trophy garden they tend to, and if it isn’t all the way they want it, then they are just more insufferable. The irony is that attitude affects the kids in a bad way even though the mombot thinks she is being anal for ‘the sake of the family’. I don’t doubt if ben affleck was brave enough to divorce her she would turn the three children against him, and hard. Blame it on all his issues, make the kids resent him. Maybe one day he’ll have the guts. The face of ben out and about with her is the face of a man whose eyes are saying “dear god please help me”.

  20. wolfpup says:

    It is a very grave thing to ind out that you descend from whites who “owned” people. I remember horror, when I saw “Gone With the Wind”. I was a child with few filters, and the shock of controlling people in this humiliating way did not leave me. I remember watching fire hoses on black people, and asking my father if he was racist – and he told me yes. He said that it was all about real estate. I was only 8, so I listened, but still wondered. In the schoolyard, children were a rainbow, and all the colors were my friends, which is normal for children. In college, I remember watching a young black man as he walked toward the anthropology building where I was standing, and really searching my soul, as an adult, as to whether there really was a difference. How can you see a difference other than skin tone? Honestly, in the dark, when we touch one another, all nerves are the same. And all humans are the same emotionally: we all hurt each other’s feelings. So I didn’t believe my father, who was also violent with his children – maybe that was the tip-off. I had friendships with people who made me laugh or who made me feel safe, of all hues. And I avoided the South; I wouldn’t live or visit a place that was so violent to my beliefs about safety and trust.

    And then I found my genealogy. I grew up in the West, and found that my family name was preeminent in the South. My first thought was caring if they were cruel or not, but more importantly you can’t own someone. Our spirits soar! A fortnight ago I spent time looking at websites that speak of white supremacy. I am so ashamed to have an cousin (however how many times removed) who is the historian for one of these “daughter” type organizations, and there is a black senator who carries my family name. No wonder that I’ve been avoiding the South. I thought perhaps that someone can tar and feather me, but Jesus already did that, supposedly. As I said, this is very grave to find out about one’s family. This is a raw wound for me, and *definitely for the South*. There has been a great deal of change in my lifetime, but there are so many, I would gather into my arms. I work for change in our wonderful country.

    Kiki said in some of her posts yesterday, that perhaps this has made me into a kind person, but I was in the dark until recently. If anything, there is horror in my DNA with atrocities committed against flesh, that is the same as my flesh, and spirit. It’s hard to deal with the horror of it. Is this Ben’s “secret” shame? I wonder how ashamed he would be if he were born black. Whites do have to own up to this. Saying that racism does not exist because we do not say the N word is laughable.

    • wolfpup says:

      I must add, as a postscript of repentance for my father, this. He went on three missions, for his church, in Mexico. It’s different, when one is a stranger, in a strange land. He loved the Mexican people, and he has lost his right to be racist. Perhaps knowing one another is how we learn to love one another.