On Friday, some troubling news came out of CES: Multiple tech news outlets reported that CNET had pulled a product, the DISH Hopper with Sling, from consideration for the CES “Best of Show” awards. CNET is part of the CBS Interactive division of CBS Corporation. CBS is currently involved in a lawsuit with DISH over said product. It apparently had the ability to automatically weed out commercials. CBS legal urged CNET to issue a statement that the Hopper was removed and they no longer going to be reviewing products that were involved in litigation with their parent company. Crappy, but there was a conflict of interest there. The story was allowed to smolder over the weekend.
It Gets Worse
On Monday, Verge Editor-in-Chief Joshua Tapolsky was able to dig up some new info. The Hopper was not only a contestant, not only a finalist, but it had in fact won the “Best of Show” award. The CNET staff apparently assumed they had Editorial Independence. They were very, very wrong. The story also gets much, much worse. Despite desperate pleas from CBS Interactive execs Mark Larkin and Jim Lanzone as well CNET’s Editor-in-Chief Lindsey Turrentine, CBS President and CEO Leslie Moonves was adamant in his directive that this product be stripped of its award and the editors revote. CBS’s Chief even forbade full disclosure on the matter. The most disturbing part, CNET capitulated. I should also note that CNET was acting as the Official Media Partner of CES during this debacle.
Then the fallout happened. Senior Writer Greg Sandoval, who had been with CNET since 1995, resigned citing a loss of confidence in CBS’s commitment to editorial independence. CNET E-in-C Turrentine then issued her side of the story. It confirmed everything save telling how far up the CBS totem pole this actually went. She contended that CNET, and herself, were put in a “Impossible Situation as Journalists.” She also contends resigning would have meant abandoning her editorial staff and that they were team of unbiased writers who would continue to do good work into the future.
Yeah, Not Buying It
Sorry Lindsey, but I can smell the bullsh…droppings. Yes, you were put in an impossible position, but you choose your job security over your own integrity. Point blank, Les Moonves scuttled CNET the moment he made that decision. The right thing to do would have been to take the high road and proceed to the lifeboats. That can be applied to everyone save Sandoval who already made the decision to seek employment with an actual news organisation, which CNET no longer is. A news organisation is only as good as its readership’s trust in its editorial independence, and we can’t trust them when CBS has already played puppeteer.
Les Moonves did what’s best for the entertainment arm without considering what the decision was doing to CNET. I should also note that this seriously affects the credibility of CBS News and any other news outlet in the CBS empire. I can see his point, at their hearts, television networks are advertising businesses. As are news organisations. The ads we despise so much pay for the content we want to see whether it’s a TV show or a Product review. Without sponsors, you wouldn’t be seeing GeekBeat.TV three times a week or Geek Beat Live on our cable partner YouToo. The difference here is that advertising does not affect our opinion on a product. When I write something, I am under no obligation to color something a certain way and if that day ever comes, I would not be here. I have contacts at other blogging sites and could write elsewhere if I wished. Likewise, the staff of CNET would have had little trouble finding someone to pick them up.
CNET has been tarnished beyond repair by this. Current editorial staff is also tarnished. They have shown that they will roll over to corporate concerns if push comes to shove. Therefore we can no longer trust a word of what CNET says (or has said) while owned by CBS. CBS’s tarnishment is much greater. They showed they were not only willing to place financial concerns above integrity, but what’s more, they were willing to cover it all up to save face. What’s more, they were more than willing to betray the trust of a partner; remember the CEA contracted them to be the official media source of CES and the awards were a function of that.
Time to Conclude this Rant
I never went to school for journalism. I was a History major. However, even I know the two guiding principles of any decent journalist, you make your piece above reproach and you never ever make yourself the story. Fulfill those and you’ll never finding yourself having to answer any really hard questions. CBS and CNET ignited a dump truck full of RDX here on both of those. They went to CES to cover the event and came out its biggest story. Compared to CBS’s other ventures, CNET is a small fish. However the handling of that small fish has created a big black mark on the company and it goes right to the top. In my opinion, heads have to roll. Les Moonves has turned CBS into a company devoid of integrity. Chairman Sumner Redstone and his board need to remove him as President and CEO. Likewise, there needs to be a house cleaning at CNET. A lot of good folks can’t be trusted right now and new leadership is needed. One award and one court case led to a lot of very bad decisions. The big question is, how do those involved move forward now?