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PBS puts 'Finding Your Roots' on ice after Ben Affleck investigation

Actor Ben Affleck appears on Capitol Hill in

Actor Ben Affleck appears on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 26, 2015 after testifying before the Senate's State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs subcommittee hearing on diplomacy, development and national security. Credit: AP

PBS late Wednesday postponed a third season of "Finding Your Roots" after determining that its editorial standards had been violated when Ben Affleck asked that a reference to a distant relative's slaveholding past be deleted from the edition featuring him.

In a statement released Wednesday night -- after a monthslong investigation -- PBS also said that it was "informing the co-producers" and host/producer Henry Louis Gates Jr. "that any commitment to a fourth season of 'Finding Your Roots' is being deferred until we are satisfied that the editorial standards of the series have been successfully raised to a level in which we can have confidence."

Those included employing a fact-checker and "an independent genealogist to review all versions of program episodes for factual accuracy."

The postponement is a very small surprise but hardly a fatal one: "Roots" host Henry Louis Gates is an important supplier to PBS, with this and other programs, while his co-producers on ""Roots,'" Kunhardt McGee Productions and WETA, are as well. Moreover, the Public Broadcasting Service has only nominal control over the editorial content of the programs that go out on its air, but it does have control over which shows do, and when they air. Clearly, this putative measure -- even though minor -- was within its purview.

When WikiLeaks found -- via the Sony hack -- that Affleck had prevailed upon "his friend" Gates to remove a reference to a great-grandfather who had held slaves, PBS decided to launch the investigation, which began in late April. You can read the full statement here.

Per PBS: 

"Under the PBS Editorial Standards, primary responsibility for content necessarily rests with the producer [which is] uniquely positioned to control its elements. The standards require that the creative and editorial process be shielded from political pressure or improper influence from funders or other sources. The standards also require producers to keep PBS apprised of potential issues during the production process to provide opportunities for early notice and resolution of problems."

 It was unclear when "Roots" was returning to the schedule while Gates said in a statement to The New York Times: 

"I sincerely regret not discussing my editing rationale with our partners at PBS and WNET and I apologize for putting PBS and its member stations in the position of having to defend the integrity of their programming."

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