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PBS Defends Censoring Ben Affleck's Slave-Owner Ancestry

Affleck requested that Finding Your Roots not include the information, but should they have complied?

Sadie Gennis

Ben Affleck has come under fire for asking the PBS genealogy show Finding Your Rootsto not include his slave-owner ancestry.

WikiLeaks posted one of the hacked Sony e-mails between the show's host Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Sony executive Michael Lynton. "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," Gates Jr. said in the message, as reported by The New York Daily News.

"I would take it out if no one knows," Lynton advised Gates, "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 ultimately complied with Affleck's request and has released a statement defending the decision. "The mission of Finding Your Roots is to find and share interesting stories from our celebrity guests' ancestries and use those stories to unlock new ways to learn about our past," Gates said. "We are very grateful to all of our guests for allowing us into their personal lives and have told hundreds of stories in this series including many about slave ancestors--never shying away from chapters of a family's past that might be unpleasant.

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"Ultimately, I maintain editorial control on all of my projects and, with my producers, decide what will make for the most compelling program," he continued. "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."

PBS is standing behind Gates, saying the host made the decision to leave out Affleck's slave-owner ancestry independently.

"He has told us that after reviewing approximately ten hours of footage for the episode, he and his producers made an independent editorial judgment to choose the most compelling narrative," the network said in a statement. "The range and depth of the stories on Finding Your Roots speak for themselves."

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