Ben Affleck, ‘Finding Your Roots’ And Why Our Standards Point To A Different Decision

The PBS-distributed show Finding Your Roots says its mission is to help people “discover long-lost relatives hidden for generations within the branches of their family trees.” But it granted actor Ben Affleck’s request that it not mention his slave-owning ancestor. Affleck says he was embarrassed by the discovery and “didn’t want any television show about my family to include a guy who owned slaves.”

For the record, the decision made by Finding Your Roots was not in line with our standards.

Let’s keep this simple: The people we interview, the sources we use and the supporters who give us money do not shape or dictate what we report.

From the Ethics Handbook:

– “We don’t allow sources to dictate how a topic will be covered, or which other voices or ideas will be included in the stories we do.”

– “NPR greatly appreciates the financial support it receives from individuals, from foundations and from corporations. Their support is essential. At the same time, NPR makes its own decisions about what stories to cover and how to report them.”

– “Decisions about what we cover and how we do our work are made by our journalists.”

PBS ombudsman Michael Getler has had some things to say about what happened:

– “Any serious program about genealogy, especially dealing with celebrities, cannot leave out a slave-owning ancestor.”

– “This censorship should have been stopped cold and mistakes should have been admitted publicly.”

Code Switch blogger Gene Demby talked about all this today on Morning Edition.

(Memmos; April 22, 2015)

April 22, 2015

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