Is There Anyone Who Didn’t Know?

Back in 2015 when Wikileaks revealed the contents of the Sony email hack (apparently performed by the North Koreans?), there was a minor scandal about that fact that the producers of the PBS series “Finding Your Roots” had edited out the fact that Ben Affleck had lobbied to have removed from the documentary that he is descended from slaveowners. Ironic now that Affleck is being swept up in the back eddies of the Weinstein scandal.

Because it turns out that in the crucial email thread between PBS series honcho Henry Louis Gates and Sony executive Michael Lynton, the subject of Weinstein came up in a revealing way. Here’s the whole thread, rearranged and cleaned up a bit from the original and with the best parts highlighted, with the Affleck stuff transitioning in the middle:

On Jul 22, 2014, at 7:19 AM, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. wrote:

Would you consider coming to cambridge to present Harvey Weinstein with the Du Bois Medal on September 30th? Meryl is receiving one, Steve Mc Queen, Shonda Rhimes, Maya Angelou, and Valerie Jarrett. Maybe Poitier.

From: Lynton, Michael
Sent: Tuesday, July 22, 2014 10:24 AM
To: Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Subject: Re:

I would do many things for you, almost anything, but not that. 

On Jul 22, 2014, at 7:38 AM, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. wrote:

Sorry, bro! After he received this huge award from the black film makers, he was unanimously selected–though after considerable discussion about his personality.

On Jul 22, 2014, at 11:04 AM, “Lynton, Michael” wrote:

no worries, just not on my watch.

On Jul 22, 2014, at 8:47 AM, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. wrote:

I know.  I’ve had my moments with Harvey, too, believe me. 

On Jul 22, 2014, at 11:50 AM, “Lynton, Michael” wrote:

not like mine, maybe i should step down from the board.

On Jul 22, 2014, at 8:50 AM, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. wrote:

OH, NO!  Please don’t do that, Michael.  I would be devastated.

On Jul 22, 2014, at 11:55 AM, “Lynton, Michael” wrote:

ok, will stay quiet on the subject. 

On Jul 22, 2014, at 9:01 AM, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. wrote:

As long as you stay on the board, you are free to say this is crazy!  I hardly know Harvey; you are my friend.  I really would be devastated if you left. By the way, I need your advice:  I’m on a flight to L.A. for the TCA Press Tour.  We launch season two of Finding Your Roots tomorrow at noon, and four celebrities, including Nas, are showing up.  Here’s my dilemma:  confidentially, 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.  Now, four or five of our guests this season descend from slave owners, including Ken Burns.  We’ve never had anyone ever try to censor or edit what we found.  He’s a megastar.  What do we do?

On Jul 22, 2014, at 12:09 PM, “Lynton, Michael” wrote:

Of course I will stay on the board if you want me to.  On the doc the big question is who knows that the material is in the doc and is being taken out.  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.

On Jul 22, 2014, at 9:11 AM, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. wrote:

Good; relieved.  As for the doc:  all my producers would know; his PR agency the same as mine, and everyone there has been involved trying to resolve this; my agent at CAA knows.  And PBS would know.  To do this would be a violation of PBS rules, actually, even for Batman.

On Jul 22, 2014, at 11:28 AM, “Lynton, Michael” wrote:

then it is tricky because it may get out that you made the change and it comes down to editorial integrity.  We can talk when you land.

On Jul 22, 2014, at 9:30 AM, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. wrote:

Will call.  It would embarrass him and compromise our integrity.  I think he is getting very bad advice.  I’ve offered to fly to Detroit, where he is filming, to talk it through.

On Jul 22, 2014, at 12:28 PM, “Lynton, Michael” wrote:

yeah,, the past is the past…..

On Jul 22, 2014, at 10:30 AM, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. wrote:

And he wasn’t even a bad guy.  We don’t demonize him at all.  Now Anderson Cooper’s ancestor was a real s.o.b.; one of his slaves actually murdered him.  Of course, the slave was promptly hanged.  And Anderson didn’t miss a beat about that.  Once we open the door to censorship, we lose control of the brand.

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