Gates apologizes to production partners over Finding Your Roots controversy

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Henry Louis Gates, right, discusses the second season of Finding Your Roots, which featured Ben Affleck’s ancestors’ stories, at the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour last July in Beverly Hills, Calif. Other stars on the program, from left: actor Courtney B. Vance, actor and playwright Anna Deavere Smith, recording artist Nas and actor Khandi Alexander. (Photo: Rahoul Ghose, PBS)

Henry Louis Gates, right, discusses the second season of Finding Your Roots, which featured Ben Affleck’s ancestors’ stories, at the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour last July in Beverly Hills, Calif. Other stars on the program, from left: actor Courtney B. Vance, actor and playwright Anna Deavere Smith, recording artist Nas and actor Khandi Alexander. (Photo: Rahoul Ghose, PBS)

Henry Louis Gates has apologized for not disclosing to Finding Your Roots co-producers and to distributor PBS that actor Ben Affleck wanted details of his family’s slave-owning past omitted from an episode.

“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,” said the Thursday statement, signed by Executive Producers Gates and Dyllan McGee. “We apologize for putting PBS and its member stations in the position of having to defend the integrity of their programming.”

The statement added: “Moving forward, we are committed to an increased level of transparency with our co-producing partners. We respect PBS guidelines and understand our obligation to maintain editorial integrity at all times.”

PBS responded: “We are glad to see this apology and acknowledgement of the failure to disclose Mr. Affleck’s request to WNET and PBS and re-affirmation that they respect and understand PBS’ editorial guidelines.”

PBS, which distributes the genealogy program, and New York City public TV station WNET, co-producer, are continuing separate internal investigations into whether Gates bowed to pressure from the movie star to keep the story of his ancestral slave-owners out of an October 2014 episode.

The issue emerged in emails between Gates, creator and executive producer of the PBS genealogy show, and Michael Lynton, c.e.o. of Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE). The notes were part of a trove of SPE emails and documents unveiled April 17 by WikiLeaks. The Daily Mail, a British publication, broke the story that day about Affleck’s request to Gates.