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.
“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.”
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