The Irony Of Wikileaks: Yes, It Is Despicable…But It’s Still Useful To Know That PBS, Ben Affleck And Prof. Henry Lewis Gates Are Despicable Too.

Batman is ashamed of you, Ben...

Batman is ashamed of you, Ben…

Once a secret is out, it isn’t a secret any more. Once privacy is shattered, it’s gone: that egg can’t be put back together again. I wish Sony’s e-mails hadn’t been hacked: everyone who isn’t operating under a policy that mandates that their communications must be archived and available for media and public examination, like, oh, say, Hillary Clinton, has a right to have private business and personal communication.

Julian Assange is a fick, and an uncommonly arrogant one. He encourages, aids and abets the theft of proprietary information in the interests of world anarchy, which is in the interests of nobody. So let’s see now…North Korea hacks Sony to chill our First Amendment rights, and Wikileaks helps magnify the damage by spreading private e-mails and documents far and wide.


But it’s all out there now, and there is no virtue in averting our eyes and plugging our ears. There is a lot of unethical conduct exposed in those 30,000 documents and 170,000 emails hacked from Sony, and while the means by which it was exposed was illegal and wrong, we should still learn from what is now public information.

The fact that PBS and Harvard prof Henry Louis Gates Jr. can’t be trusted, for example, is good to know.

Professor Gates—he of the infamous “beer summit”— hosted the 2014 PBS genealogy series “Finding Your Roots,” in which various celebrities learned about their ancestors and reacted in filmed interviews with Gates. Ben Affleck was one of those celebrities, but when he learned that he had an ancestor who owned slaves, poor Ben’s delicate progressive sensibilities couldn’t handle it, so he pressured Gates and PBS to omit the revelation from his segment.  There is a simple, elegant, ethical response to Affleck:

No. The show is called ‘Finding Your Roots’, not ‘Hiding Ancestors You’re Not Proud Of.’ Play by the rules, or don’t let the door hit your butt on the way out, Batman.”

But Gates is evidently an ethics weenie, so he asked Sony chief Michael Lynton for advice regarding Affleck’s squeeze play in a hacked  email chain dated July 22, 2014.

Gates wrote, “. . . For the first time, one of our guests has asked us to edit out something about one of his ancestors — the fact that he owned slaves…We’ve never had anyone ever try to censor or edit what we found. He’s a megastar. What do we do?” Gates acknowledged that such a cover-up to salve an actor’s ego and self-image could look bad if word got out [uh, that’s because it IS bad, Professor] and that it would constitute a violation of PBS rules, also known as broadcast journalism ethics.

Why didn’t Gates realize he had answered his own question? Ethics weenie. Worse, really: this is like Bill Clinton asking slimy advisor Dick Morris whether he should lie about Monica or not, specially since a Hollywood executive is about as likely to value ethics and integrity over expediency as Morris was, which is to say, not likely at all.

Sure enough, Gates was apparently looking for an unethical answer, and got one, just as Clinton did. Lynton responded,

“I would take it out if no one knows, but if it gets out that you are editing the material based on this kind of sensitivity then it gets tricky. Again, all things being equal I would definitely take it out.”

So Gates took it out.


This gets worse, though. When the e-mails came out via Wikileaks, both Gates and PBS denied in public statements that Affleck’s objections were the reason for the whitewashing of his family tree! They really did.

First PBS:

“It is clear from the exchange how seriously Professor Gates takes editorial integrity. He has told us that after reviewing approximately ten hours of footage for the episode, he and his producers made an independent editorial judgment to choose the most compelling narrative. The range and depth of the stories on Finding Your Roots speak for themselves.”

Can you believe that PBS would put such an obvious lie in print? Can you believe that PBS believes that anyone paying attention would fall for it? Can you believe that PBS has such a low opinion of its own viewers?

Gates calls up a typical Hollywood Machiavellian to ask whether his supposedly truthful documentary program should censor information to comply with an actor’s PR demands.The movie-mogul, predictably says, “Sure! What the rubes don’t know won’t hurt ’em! (See: Rationalization #10 , “The Unethical Tree in the Forest”).Gates and PBS do omit the sensitive information to comply with Affleck’s demands, and now PBS argues that the episode reflects well on Gates and the program and has the gall to use the word “integrity” to describe the antithesis of integrity!


This is a Jumbo: “Elephant? What elephant?” It proves that PBS’s imaginary journalistic independence caves to pressure, which belies the ridiculous claims of its executives and supporters that it is independent, and not prone to cater to the political needs of the liberal government officials who control its budget.

But amazingly, Gates’ statement is even worse!

“The mission of “Finding Your Roots” is to find and share interesting stories from our celebrity guests’ ancestries and use those stories to unlock new ways to learn about our past. We are very grateful to all of our guests for allowing us into their personal lives and have told hundreds of stories in this series including many about slave ancestors—never shying away from chapters of a family’s past that might be unpleasant. Ultimately, I maintain editorial control on all of my projects and, with my producers, decide what will make for the most compelling program. In the case of Mr. Affleck — we focused on what we felt were the most interesting aspects of his ancestry—including a Revolutionary War ancestor, a 3rd great–grandfather who was an occult enthusiast, and his mother who marched for Civil Rights during the Freedom Summer of 1964.”

Another Jumbo!

If the fact of Affleck’s slave-owning ancestor was so uninteresting that Gates wasn’t going to use it anyway, why didn’t he just tell Ben that, as in “Not to worry, Ben, we’ve had enough slave-owners on this show already” ? Why did he feel he had to contact Michael Lynton and ask his “advice”? Why had he included the slave-owning ancestors of his other subjects? Gates is obviously lying, and badly.

So let’s review the ethics carnage, shall we?

Ben Affleck is a craven bully.

Professor Gates is a disgrace to his institution–thanks for devaluing my diploma, Hank—academia, the historical discipline, journalism, and even his race: now Harvard’s Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research is enabling a rich white actor who wants to pretend slavery didn’t exist? Then he lies in public, denying the evidence of his own words.

I didn’t respect Gates very much  before this episode; I thought his conduct in his Cambridge confrontation with the police officer showed a petty, mean, arrogant and entitled little man. Now I respect him even less.

PBS lacks integrity and is contemptuous of its public. It caters to its wealthy, Democratic benefactors, and their allies, like Ben Affleck. The ethical way to handle the revelation of this fiasco would have been to admit that PBS was wrong and that Gates was wrong, apologize, and strengthen its polices and oversight. Instead it chose to spin.

This is useful information, for those who are willing to accept its implications. The unethical bias of the news media isn’t being revealed by North Korean hacks or Wikileaks, but its own conduct. All of the “liberal” news media are reporting this story with headlines like this one at the Huffington Post: “Ben Affleck Reportedly Asked PBS To Censor His Slave-Owning Ancestor.”  In these stories, that’s the problem. Not that PBS and Gates did censor it…oh, no! PBS and Gates explained that they didn’t censor Ben’s slave-owner forebearer…they independently made that decision, and Ben had nothing to do with it! As for those e-mails that are the only reason we know about this…“E-mails? What e-mails?”

ABC, NBC, CBS, HuffPo…they all are pushing this utter fiction. Why? Because PBS is a member of their club, I guess.


Pointer: Fred,  Mediaite

Facts: New York Daily News



23 thoughts on “The Irony Of Wikileaks: Yes, It Is Despicable…But It’s Still Useful To Know That PBS, Ben Affleck And Prof. Henry Lewis Gates Are Despicable Too.

  1. Everyone knows that once a secret is out, it isn’t a secret anymore so I don’t understand why you are bringing this up now. I just don’t see the point.

    (I’m practicing my Hillary obfuscation techniques)

    Otherwise, nice job.

    • I get it. I went through that exercise because sometimes when someone’s privacy is abused, we, me, blogs, have an obligation not to validate the unethical theft of it by circulating it further.

      This is not one of those times, and I wanted to make it clear why.

  2. As a card-carrying liberal, I can find nothing that remotely excuses this. You are 100% right, and they all deserve exactly what you have served them up here.

  3. Nice job, Jack. Sure, it was a hanging curveball just spinning and spinning right at eye level, but you crushed it. Major dinger. Thanks. I despise PBS and its smarmy employees. ugh.

  4. I don’t see why you come down on Affleck for this. I haven’t seen anything about exactly what Ben Affleck did to try to get PBS to omit the slave-owning ancestor from the documentary.

    If you find out that a journalist is planing to reveal some facts about you, your family, or your friends, that you would rather not have revealed, there is nothing wrong with letting the journalist know it would be painful for you and asking them not to do that. There isn’t even anything wrong with a journalist taking that into account — weighing harm to the subject against news value is a common issue in journalism. I had the subject of one of my posts ask me to take their name off so it didn’t show up in search results for them, and I thought it was a reasonable request, so I went ahead. In other cases, I’ve refused to change my post. I found it annoying that they asked, but I don’t blame them for trying.

    (On the other hand, Lynton’s incredibly craven “let’s pussy-out unless we’ll get caught pussying-out” response is…just…wow.)

    It would be different if Affleck were a producer on the show or an owner of the studio or in some other way involved on the journalism side in a way that gave him a conflict of interest. It would also be different if he pulled strings — e.g. contacting politicians with control over PBS funding. So far, all we have are Gates’s characterizations, and even they don’t mention any kinds of overt threats that I have seen. He also appears to have gone through channels, speaking directly to Gates, rather than going over Gates’s head or using his contacts to apply pressure higher up at PBS.

    Journalists have a duty to tell news stories. Their subjects, however, have no obligation to provide one.

    • Obligation? He has no obligation. However, in my profession, law, it is unethical to try to induce a lawyer to violate the ethics rules. I go further: it is unethical to try to induce anyone to violate their professional ethical obligations,and that’s exactly what Affleck was doing.

      The rules of the show were—“we investigate your ancestry, and we discuss what we find on camera,” not “we investigate your ancestry, and you tell us how to make it make you look as good as possible.” Affleck pressured Gates and went over his head to PBS. His only ethical options were 1) to stop being a jerk and talk about his family, or 2) to pull out.

  5. A disclaimer…according to a genealogy search done, or commissioned, by my grandmother, we are related to a guy named John Of Gaunt. This clown not only owned slaves (white, English and debt-ridden) but switched allegiances between Stephen and Maude during the English Civil War (one of many) almost daily. Am I proud to be related to this guy? Well, really, who cares? This was 3-4 hundred years ago, maybe more, and his attitudes are not mine. Not only do I not share his beliefs, I dislike people who try to categorize me because of that relationship. I suspect STRONGLY that my antecedents owned slaves (from Virginia) but I HAVEN’T yet. So what is Afflek’s problem? Did he own slaves? Unlikely, that. Is he responsible for what an ancestor did, in another culture and another time? Equally, unlikely, that. WE ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR OUR ANCESTORS. Quit acting like we are.

      • Not likely, Michael. None of his slaves were black. Contrary to popular opinion, slavery in Europe during the Middle Ages was normally people who were convicted of crimes or who owed too much money, not people who were transported at prohibitive cost from Africa.

  6. Actor Bill Paxton participated in a similar program called “Who Do You Think You Are?” for the TLC network. He learned that his 4 time great-grandfather was a soldier in the American Revolution (fighting for the Colonies when he was around 18 years of age), became a delegate in the Virginia congress in the late 1700s, late a member of the Virginia state legislature (meaning he had become quite prominent and powerful), and later moved to Missouri, where he died at the age of 80. Paxton also learned that his 4 time great-grandfather was a slave owner. That news was a blow to him, obviously unsettling and discouraging. However, he accepted it as a mature, well-adjusted adult would and should as he learned more about his distant familial relation.

    He also learned that, in his will, his 4 time great-grandfather declared that his sons were to care for his slaves with honor and humanity, which ultimately lead to their liberation in the 1850s. Paxton was mature, insightful, and humbled by this news. Here is a link to the show: That is the way to handle uncomfortable news about your history; Affleck is and always has been a coward. Gates is and always has been a coward. PBS capitulated; I will be dollars to donuts that it is not the first time it has done so, and it probably won’t be the last.


    • My paternal grandmother’s family in Kentucky owned slaves. My grandmother took care of an elderly woman who had been one of her family’s slaves who was an invalid after the civil war, and cared for her until her death. I wonder how often that happened. Probably not all that infrequently.

      • Considering that owning slaves was akin to owning a vacuum cleaner at the time, I’d say not at all infrequently. Owning slaves was the rule rather than the exception. Since my family came to Texas from Virginia, I assume that they owned slaves, as well. Can’t say that I am ashamed of the fact, since the only people who DIDN’T own slaves, did not simply because they were too poor to.

        • And, as far as taking care of them in their old age, Al Sharpton would have you believe that NOBODY ever did so. But then, Sharpton, in his infinite wisdom, has no idea what the life of a slave was actually like…since he never was one.

  7. Only some elitist blowhard would care whether or not some ancestor owned slaves. Hell, if you go back far enough, you’ll likely find that any number of your remote ancestors either owned slaves or were slaves… or both, most likely. What kind of issue is that in a world where slavery has been the rule for the vast bulk of human history? Some of the greatest Americans who ever lived owned slaves themselves. What matters is not they they had involuntary labor, but how they treated them. People like Bill Paxton’s ancestor were the rule rather than the exception in the South before the War Between the States. It’s a matter of character, not the biases of present day political hacks looking back on history from their own perspective. I’d add that recent immigrants from Africa might find out that they had ancestors who took slaves and sold them off to European traders. Ethically, who would be the worst? But no modern day person should stand condemned for what his relatives- near or remote- did or allegedly did; whether that ancestor was named Churchill or Hitler, Marcus Aurelius… or Nero!

    • But no modern day person should stand condemned for what his relatives- near or remote- did or allegedly did; whether that ancestor was named Churchill or Hitler, Marcus Aurelius… or Nero!

      Bingo. Never understood the whole family shame bit, and when it’s extended to a race or a nation, it’s just guilt-mongering. My Dad was a great man—his dad was a louse. Granpdpa’s transgressions don’t reflect on me at all, and my father’s heroism doesn’t make my life more worthwhile to the world at large.

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