PBS - Finding Your Roots - Ben Affleck embarrasment

So in a nutshell:

Ben Affleck was a profiled celebrity on PBS’ show about genealogy. As a part of the show one of the interesting things they found about Affleck is that one of his ancestors was a slave owner.

Affleck lobbied PBS and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (the shows host) to not air or disclose that fact, as he found it embarrassing.

So PBS did not disclose it.

However, I guess the show is produced by Sony, whose emails were hacked and then published online by Wikileaks, and some people in the media discovered the communication among show execs about the cover-up.

So now cover-up is public.

Affleck now regrets his lobbying attempts.

Gates feels like nothing was wrong in not airing the part about Affleck’s slave owner ancestor as Affleck had more interesting ancestors to present.

I guess I don’t really understand Affleck’s embarrassment over his unknown ancestor that owned slaves. It’s not like it really reflects upon him.

I do however, think that Gates was right about one thing in his email: that it compromised the shows integrity.

Too funny.

Yeah, you never see an Ancestory.com ad where someone finds out their great great whatever was cold blooded murder or some such.

I didn’t see the episode, but like you I don’t see much of a scandal in having a slave-owning ancestor. Many white Americans probably do, if they had family here during the slavery years.

So, given the fact that we both reacted to the news with “so what?”, it’s also not unbelievable that the show found more interesting ancestors to focus on while at the same time, keeping their guest star happy.

It was a bit silly (but, I suppose, understandable) for Affleck to be embarrassed. But I don’t think there was anything wrong with granting his request either - it just doesn’t rise to the level of a “cover up” when you decide to not report fairly uninteresting information.

Yeah, I’m not seeing the cover up. Failing to disclose every bit of information you find is not covering things up. It’s called editing. It happens every day. Especially since they openly admitted it when asked.

I don’t see it as a violation of integrity or ethics, either.

If the decision was based solely on the request, sure, it would be a violation of editorial integrity, as Gates himself noted. But they opted to leave it out because, in addition to the request, that particular ancestor was not noteworthy in any other respect.

I love genealogy but I can’t stand this show. Henry Louis Gates is the Dr. Oz of historians and this show is the most pandering mess on PBS.

Case in point:

The Anderson Cooper episode:

Anderson acts surprised at every revelation. This is next to absolutely impossible: his mother’s family is one of the most well documented in America and so memorialized on all sides all around NYC caused Anderson’s dad to joke that when Anderson was small he actually thought when people died they became statues. These are not just the Vanderbilts but Civil War generals and diplomats and socialites of all ilks who were always in the news, and he’s an investigative journalist- no way anything on his mother’s side is surprising.
As for his father’s side: true, they were simple Mississippi farm folk, but HIS DAD WROTE A (very good) BOOK ABOUT THEM! It’s filled with anecdotes, discusses their ancestry, and Anderson has said repeatedly that he re-reads the book every year and visits his family and the places where his father lived in Mississippi fairly regularly. Not much on that side should be a surprise. Hold onto that for a moment…
Now, on the same episode he featured Ken Burns. Burns had ancestors who fought for the South in the Civil War, which I found interesting considering he’s a New Yorker but folks move around so it’s not that surprising. What irked me was that he acted as if this was news to him. We’re supposed to believe that
1- a professional researcher
2- who has a professional research staff
3- who made his bones on a long documentary about the Civil War
has never had enough curiosity to research his own family’s Civil War history?
I’ve done genealogy for myself and many other people. Do you know how long it takes for most white families whose ancestors were here in 1860 to get back to their ancestors Civil War records? For most people, I could literally have at least some of your family branches back that far and your ancestors unit and even facsimiles of their Civil War papers by this afternoon, possibly sooner.
And, it’s revealed, Burns had ancestors who… gasp! Owned slaves.

Okay, with all people who have ancestors in a slave owning state at a time when slavery was legal and the rich white person discovers his/her ancestors owned slaves or the rich black person discovers his/her ancestors were slaves the show loves to milk this as Gates explains the situation like telling them “there’s a lump in their genealogy glands” and the person acts as if this is the first time they’re ever hearing about slavery. Burns acts embarrassed and appalled at his ancestor’s ownership of other humans.
This is just freaking stupid: why should anybody be embarrassed, OR for that matter proud of, anything their ancestors did? I take great interest in the histories of my ancestors because it’s interesting in and of itself and a great way to study microhistory and get a better understanding of their time, but if they were the biggest bravest conductor on the Underground Railroad or if they sacrificed a stable boy to the chicken god who spoke to them every solstice that doesn’t reflect on me: I don’t share the glory or the blame either one. But, be that as it may…

When they go into Anderson Cooper’s ancestry they find something interesting: one of his ancestors in 1860 was actually murdered by a slave. He was a very old man- around 80- and the slave was immediately and hardly surprisingly taken out and hanged. (The slave actually got off pretty easily: in the accounts I’ve found the more common execution of a slave who killed or attempted to kill a white person tended to be flogging and burning- three runaways were burned at one time in an incident in Autauga County, Alabama, when my ancestors lived there [didn’t involve my ancestors, but I found it in looking at a newspaper archive]).

Anderson does his “Oh gee, wow, I wish I didn’t know that” and puts on a tighter tee shirt to show distress or whatever, and Gates says something like “Makes you wonder just what he did to the slave”, and both allow that the ancestor was an awful human being that his slave had to kill him to be free and yadda blah.
Okay, so much wrong with this…

It is entirely possible that Cooper’s ancestor was more evil than Simon Legree.
But there’s no way whatever of knowing that from the information on hand.

It is also possible that the slave was mentally ill, or violent (the fact somebody is a victim doesn’t necessarily make them sane or always right). While I honestly don’t know of any incidences in which a slave who killed a white person wasn’t put to death, there wasn’t usually a trial (there was sometimes: I do know of a couple who went to trial- both were found guilty) so we don’t know what happened.

Cut back to Burns, who is still processing, and give me a freaking break. If you are really upset by things done by people that not only did you never meet but probably people who were dead long before the oldest person you’ve ever known was born, you really don’t want to delve into anybody’s history. We’re all here today because of one atrocity or another that our ancestors either committed, fled from, took advantage of, or was brought here by (there’s a reason that so many places from Piscataquis, Maine to Temecula, California have native American names but no native Americans there).
We can learn from it, but let’s not sensationalize it. Leave that to the History Channel.

This isn’t a news program, it’s not journalism, it’s entertainment and it’s done with the cooperation of the celebrity being featured. They give them all kinds of access to dig into their family’s past and if something embarrassing comes up it shouldn’t be a big deal to leave some of those things out per the featured person’s request.

Bahh. He most likely is embarrassed by it (his actions certainly argue the case). And probably because he is embarrassed by it he probably tends to think slightly less kindly about folks who whose ancestors owned slaves than ones who did not.

Or in other words, he’s kinda proved that he is a judgmental jerk at some level. And by his own actions and logic a damn dirty ancestor of a slave owner.

Don’t you mean descendent? And why would it make Affleck damn and dirty? Or do you mean the slave owner?

I’ll let you figure out that first part :slight_smile:

By his actions he has shown to me that he is embarrassed that great great whoever owned slaves.

Why would he be embarrassed unless he thinks there is something wrong with that?

Having an ancestor that owned slaves, not the slave owning part itself.

They found something much more interesting to air. Slave owner ancestor? Dime a dozen. Occultist or whatever it was (can’t recall offhand), first time we’ve come across that! Not too hard to decide what is going to make it through editing at that point.

No scandal or cover-up that I see. One story makes a more interesting episode of a tv show than the other is all.

I thought, “What is the big deal? Every family has skeletons in their closet, and some have a full-fledged cemetery.”

One woman told me that when she did some genealogy, she found out that at some lynchings, they would have a photographer with a portable darkroom and printing press who would take pictures and sell them as souvenir postcards. :eek: Her ancestor ran the printing press. :eek: :eek: :eek:

I can sympathize with Affleck a little- our ancestors CAN be embarrassing.

There’s a major blind alley in my own family history- in the 19th century, one of my female ancestors on my Mom’s side showed up in Ireland’s county Kerry, with a non-Irish last name and a baby. All anyone knew about her was that she’d just returned from Australia.

Now, there are any number of reasons an Irish girl might have gone to Australia early in the 19th century, but one can’t overlook the possibility that she went there as a convict! We’ll probably never know her real story, but it’s entirely possible I’m descended from a whore or pickpocket or a horse thief!

Hey, we’re all mutts if you go back far enough.

I suspect that Ben Affleck is more embareassed about people finding out he strong armed the producer/director into covering up something about Affleck’s relative(s) than he is about the acts of the distant relative. No one is supposed to know Affleck is a self-centered Hollyweird prick, who is related to some other prick.

Can I assume that the show didn’t reference Affleck’s performance in Gigli, either? :smiley:

This confirms my opinion of Affleck as an image-obsessed douche. Plenty of people have slaveowning ancestors. Other celebrities on the show accepted this information with graceful disappointment. Affleck could have used this as an opportunity to comment on how far we’ve progressed, and how far we still have to go. Instead they cherry-picked the ancestors who did “noble” things. This was not about editing the show to fit a certain theme, this was about Affleck’s insecurity and fear of looking like a bad liberal.

I’m watching the second half of Good Will Hunting tonight. Starring Ben Affleck and Matt Damon (also written by both these guys IIRC).

“Smug assed pricks” is no doubt going to cross my mind a time a two. The fact these guys have the faces and facial expressions that naturally seem to convey that concept is just icing on the cake.

Not at all surprising that left wing actor and race baiting turd who only got a Harvard professorship because of his skin color covered it up. Lots of people have unsavory ancestors. I may have some-I don’t care about genealogy-but I wouldn’t cover it up if I went on such a show. But Affleck has to present himself as pure and holy.

I’ve never watched Gates’ show, but I find your analysis convincing. Sounds like a whole lot of staging is going on.

(This part made me do a spit take:

I think these answer the OPs’ question. Affleck is one of Hollywoods Super Liberals and he thinks he has to keep that appearance up.

Not a huge deal, but a bit of cowardice on Affleck’s part.

A friend, one who admittedly, has some issues, can’t watch Good Will Hunting or anything else with Affleck and Damon when they were young because she says they look like the defendants in a fratboy roofie date rape trial.