Affleck blinded by his own star power

It is just too delicious a story to pass up: A tale of political correctness that ran off the rails, involving a couple of local guys with national star power but strong connection to Cambridge, one of the great epicenters of political correctness and holier-than-thou preening. Throw in PBS (whose local affiliate once carried a news show derisively dubbed the “Brattle Street Alert”) and you have a made-to-order story of the train wreck that ensues when all the beautiful people come together and get caught tripping over each other in a desperate — and, ultimately, pointless — effort to avoid something they thought would besmirch their beauty.

After the letting the story cook slowly for a few days until tender and juicy, the Globe goes all-in today on the matter of one Ben Affleck, Cambridge homeboy, Hollywood hottie, and (gasps heard rising even from the dead in Mount Auburn Cemetery) — descendant of a Georgia slave owner.

Affleck is just one in a long line of bold face types to indulge star Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and submit to be subjects for his PBS series “Finding Your Roots.” The show traces the family backgrounds of top-name celebrities. Think of it as a cross between People magazine and a convention of the American Society of Genealogists.

Affleck’s story was told in an episode that aired last October. But emails posted recently by WikiLeaks from last year’s hacking of Sony Entertainment include an exchange of messages between Gates and Sony CEO Michael Lynton in which the Harvard historian seeks advice on the delicate matter of a Hollywood star who is pushing him to scrub from the segment on his roots any mention of the slave owning ancestor that Gates’s research team uncovered.

Gates makes it clear that complying with Affleck’s request would be “a violation of PBS rules.” Lynton says it would be bad if such censorship ever came to light, but says, “I would take it out if no one knows.” Gates worries that doing so would “compromise our integrity.” But when when the show aired without any reference to Benjamin Cole, Affleck’s third great-grandfather and the owner of 25 slaves, it was clear that Gates had done just that. And Lynton’s worry about the storm that would follow if any censoring moves came to light now seems quite well founded.

The Globe puts a piece by film critic Ty Burr at the top of the front page. He points out that lots of others profiled on Gates’s series, including filmmaker Ken Burns, newsman Anderson Cooper, and biracial ex-Yankee star Derek Jeter, have confronted the fact that their ancestors owned slaves. “There’s a probability that any American, black or white, whose ancestry on these shores predates the Civil War, has this particular skeleton in his or her closet,” writes Burr.

“Which of course is why the closet has to be opened, especially by people we raise up for adoration and scrutiny. Affleck should know that, and Skip Gates should especially know that; the abiding mystery of this particular dust-up is how and why the professorial producer choked.”

Hiram College professor Jason Johnson suggests Affleck may spend too much time around “white liberals” and not enough time around blacks, who would have assured him “that not one black person in America would hold Affleck accountable or blame him for having slave owning ancestors.”

Gawker reports on what it says is the script from the show — at a very late stage of production — that included the sequence of exchanges between Gates and Affleck on the actor’s slave-owning ancestor.  It is, as the Gawker piece says, awfully mild stuff, with Gates appearing to bend over backwards to point out the interesting twists of history that Affleck’s story showcases, as his mother was a committed civil rights activist who took part in Freedom Rides in the South in the 1960s, a hundred years after their ancestor was fully engaged in America’s “original sin.”

PBS says it’s conducting an investigation. Though it’s hard to imagine anyone believes him, Gates issued a statement saying he simply exercised his independent editorial judgment on what makes for the “most compelling program,” and that the slave stuff didn’t make the cut. Affleck posted a not-really-quite-apology on his Facebook page. And the media, of course, are having a field day.

The Boston Herald‘s Mark Perigard says PBS needs to either cancel the series or can Gates as its host.

A Globe editorial slams all those involved, and may capture best what the episode says about our infotainment saturated culture: “The whole mess shows what happens when actors and their acolytes confuse Hollywood with real life.”

–MICHAEL JONAS 

 

BEACON HILL

Gov. Charlie Baker unveils MBTA reform legislation. (CommonWealth) And state lawmakers push back. (State House News Service) The Boston Herald says the powerful Carmen’s Union, which represents T subway and bus operators, will not quietly go along with with reforms they think hurt their members. Meanwhile, transit advocates are not exactly happy with the House budget proposal. (Bay State Banner)

A new Suffolk University poll indicates Baker is the state’s most popular politician. (State House News)

A Canton biotech firm that received $7.4 million from the state’s life sciences initiative to help its growth plans has instead slumped and cut jobs — but its agreement with the state does not require repayment of the money. (Boston Globe)

A new report from state Auditor Suzanne Bump finds that 10 cities and towns with less than 8 percent of the state’s population are housing 68 percent of the homeless families in motels and hotels paid for by welfare, costing the communities millions in unexpected school transportation as well as lost revenue from motel taxes. (Patriot Ledger)

The Baker administration wants to privatize emergency mental health services in southeastern Massachusetts. (State House News)

Attorney General Maura Healey accuses a North Shore addiction center of unlawfully profiting off of patients. (Eagle-Tribune)

In Lynn, Gov. Baker highlights a state plan to replace conventional outdoor lighting with more efficient light emitting diode, or LED, technology. (The Daily Item)

BOSTON MARATHON BOMBING TRIAL

Jurors hear heart-rending stories of lives cut short and forever changed by the mayhem Dzhokhar Tsarnaev unleashed two years ago this month. (Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Peabody Mayor Ted Bettencourt doesn’t want his $105,000 salary increased, but city councilors want to give him a raise. They say 70 city employees earn more than the mayor. (Salem News)

As housing development picks up in downtown Haverhill, city officials say another parking garage may be needed. (Eagle-Tribune)

OLYMPICS

Boston 2024 adds some star power to its roster in the form of Larry Bird and David Ortiz. (WBUR) Advocates say displacement of lower-income residents has been an all too predictable part of the Olympics story. (Boston Globe)

CASINOS

Joan Vennochi thinks there’s something fishy about the money that was sloshing around in the Republican Governors Association coffers courtesy of Steve Wynn. (Boston Globe)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Sen. Elizabeth Warren says the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement is a bad deal for US workers, the environment, and human rights, a stance that has put her on at odds with President Obama and business leaders in Massachusetts. (Boston Globe). Obama says Warren is wrong on the deal. (NPR)

The New York Times has a lengthy story tying a Russian uranium company that controls one-fifth of the US uranium production to millions in donations to the Clinton Foundation during the time the company was seeking approval for its operations from the State Department. Hillary Clinton was secretary of state at the time.

ELECTIONS

A Western New England Polling Institute survey finds Massachusetts voters don’t want Elizabeth Warren to run for president.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Maura Healey says she will not run for governor in 2018, “period, end of story.” (Boston Herald)

Fitchburg Mayor Lisa Wong will not run for re-election. Commonwealth explored the challenges facing Wong when she moved into the mayor’s office in 2010.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Brockton leaders say they’re writing a comeback story, with downtown storefront vacancies cut in half in less than a year. (Boston Globe)

A vote on fishing restrictions by the New England Fishery Management Council is delayed as members of the council deal with financial conflicts of interest. (Gloucester Times)

Federal regulators will vote Thursday on whether to reopen parts of Georges Bank to commercial scalloping. (Standard-Times)

Google is getting into the wireless service game with a plan that uses both traditional wireless technology as well as Wi-Fi at a fraction of the costs of the big carriers. (New York Times)

Oracle finds its tough to attract young people to work in Boston.

EDUCATION

The Globe reports on the possible state takeover of the chronically low-performing Holyoke school system. The new issue of CommonWealth takes a deep dive into the state use of school takeover authority granted in a 2010 law, including its possible upcoming use in Holyoke.

About one-fourth of the children at the Bridgewater State University daycare center did not return after the facility was reopened following charges of child rape by a student intern and a failure to report the allegations by the director. (The Enterprise)

The Bay State Banner explores the trials and tribulations of Roxbury Community College President Valerie Robertson.

A veteran Boston Public Schools teacher who has been in the system’s “excess” pool, getting paid but without a classroom assignment, has filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination alleging that the school department is trying to push out “higher compensated African American teachers.” (Boston Herald)

HEALTH CARE

Advocates want to identify postpartum depression before tragedy strikes, but universal screening is proving to be a tough sell on Beacon Hill. (CommonWealth)

A new report finds wide gaps in Massachusetts substance abuse care. (WBUR)

A new report on doctors’ earnings finds the pay continues to be unequal and confusing despite mandates in the Affordable Care Act to reel the costs in and make physicians more accountable for outcomes rather than service. (US News & World Report)

A federal judge approves a deal to settle concussion lawsuits filed against the National Football League. (Time)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Utility officials seeking to expand a natural gas pipeline say the region shouldn’t depend on LNG to make it through the winter on electricity production. (CommonWealth)

New England’s six governors are meeting in Hartford, Connecticut, today to discuss long-term energy strategy for the region. (Associated Press)

UMass Lowell plans to spend $27 million over the next two years making its buildings more energy efficient. (The Sun)

Despite curbside pickup, almost no one in Detroit recycles trash. (GoverningCommonWealth recently reported on the generally dismal trash situation in Massachusetts.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

The lawyer for an 18-year-old Plainville woman charged with urging another teen to follow through on his suicide is seeking to disqualify the Bristol District Attorney’s office from prosecuting the involuntary manslaughter case because District Attorney Thomas Quinn is related to the victim. (Standard-Times)

PASSINGS

R.I.P., Rosie the Riveter. (Associated Press)