From our Late to the Ancestral Party desk
The current Henry Louis Gates Jr./Ben Affleck/PBS/Sony Entertainment/WikiLeaks rumpus over the excising of Affleck’s slave-owning ancestry from Gates’s documentary series Finding Your Roots got very different play in Thursday’s local dailies.
Let’s let the Boston Globe’s Ty Burr set the scene.
Lessons in inconvenient truths
Affleck revelation shows that nothing stay hidden nowadays
This week’s celebrity tempest in a teapot is brought to you by Ben Affleck, Henry Louis Gates Jr., PBS, and Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton. Oh, and WikiLeaks, which, if it had hands, would be rubbing them together in adolescent glee.
The website, whose editor in chief, Julian Assange, is still living in political asylum at the Ecuadoran Embassy in London, recently released tens of thousands of documents left over from the Sony hack late last year — the ones that the original hackers (North Koreans or whoever; the jury’s still out) hadn’t bothered to make public. Among those memos is a back-and-forth between Harvard professor Gates and Lynton about whether to expose the fact that Affleck had ancestors who owned slaves on Gates’s PBS documentary series, “Finding Your Roots.”
Affleck asked Gates to omit that part of his ancestry. Gates turned for guidance to Lynton, who said “all things being equal, I would take it out.” But Gates clearly knew it would be wrong to do so, telling Lynton that if the issue ever became public, “It would embarrass [the star] and compromise our integrity. . . . Once we open the door to censorship, we lose control of the brand.”
Well, consider it lost, Henry, since you did omit the Affleck family’s slave-owning past and, according to the lamest press statement since Mark Sanford hiked the Appalachian Trail, “focused on what we felt were the most interesting aspects of his ancestry.”
Burr’s conclusion: “The stain isn’t that Affleck had ancestors who owned slaves. It’s that he thought we’d think less of him — or his celebrity brand — if we knew. And now, poor schmo, we do.”
A Globe editorial also spanked Affleck: “This Cambridge homeboy needs a reality check. You can edit truth out of movies, but not out of family history.”
Actually, it’s the Boston Globe that needs a reality check.
The issue here isn’t Ben Affleck, who did what most people might instinctively do. The issue is Skip (Journalism 101) Gates.
And the Boston Herald’s Mark Perigard nailed him on it in Thursday’s edition.
‘Roots’ censorship shows host Gates has got to go
Stop stalling, PBS.
You know what needs to be done.
Either cancel “Finding Your Roots” or fire host, executive producer and Harvard professor Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr.
As Perigard notes, Gates could have used this whole kerfuffle as a “teachable moment.”
He could have reminded [Affleck] he is not responsible for the sins of his ancestors.
He could have appealed to his ego and told him his reputation would only be enhanced by acknowledging this shameful bit of family history.
He could have informed him that previous guests — including Anderson Cooper, Derek Jeter and Ken Burns — have discovered slave owners lurking in their family trees.
Most critically, Gates should have recognized his own obligation to the truth.
But he didn’t.
The great Henry Louis Gates Jr. tried to cover his ass.
And, as Mark Perigard says, his ass should now be fired.
(More, no doubt, to come as we head downstairs for today’s papers.0