CNET: You Can't Trust Our Reviews, But You Can Trust Our News! Honestly!

from the uh,-yeah dept

The fallout from CBS’s ridiculously short-sighted interference with CNET’s editorial process, concerning staffers awarding Dish’s new DVR “best of show” at CES, continues to cause problems. Whle one of CNET’s best reporters quit in protest, and Dish has turned the whole thing into a marketing opportunity, now any news article about any company that CBS is in a legal fight with has become suspect.

Note this recent article about the updated Aereo app. While it kicks off by saying that Aereo “just became a much more potent alternative to traditional cable TV” stuck right smack in the middle of the article is a big “disclosure”:

Disclosure: CBS, the parent corporation of CNET, is currently in active litigation with Aereo as to the legality of its service. As a result of that conflict of interest, CNET cannot review that service going forward.

In other words, “HEY EVERY BODY, YOU CAN’T TRUST US TO REPORT FAIRLY ON THIS BECAUSE OUR CORPORATE OVERLORDS INTERFERE WITH EDITORIAL!” The whole thing is a joke. As Rob Pegoraro correctly noted, CNET’s claims that “news” reporting won’t be impacted because these bans just apply to “reviews” is simply wrong, wrong, wrong.

To say that there’s “actual news” and then reviews devoid of news value shows a basic misunderstanding of how journalism works.

Hard-news stories (like search-engine results!) are never entirely objective; people made value judgments in assigning them, choosing sources to quote, and giving those pieces their spot on the page or in the paper. Reviews are never entirely subjective and ought to cite objective defects such as slow performance, poor battery life, privacy risks or missing features.

And in the evolving and sometimes fumbling tech industry, assessing the hardware, software and services it serves up is an especially important part of the work of journalism. We need to suffer through these products ourselves–unless you’d prefer that we waited to see you find their problems, then reported the controversy.

Readers, in turn, don’t view news and reviews as distinct entities. If they start seeing one part of a site’s work subject to a corporate overlord’s remote control, they will read everything there skeptically. If they stick around at all.

Indeed. All that disclaimer does is remind people that CNET’s coverage of any such topic is not to be trusted at all.

Update: And… things are apparently going downhill. According to reports and internal notes, reporters at CNET are pissed off and morale is falling. There was a meeting where some believed CBS was going to go back on its position, but the company did not. Reporters have been pushing back, but to no avail. The Romenesko link here includes an email from CNET reporter Declan McCullagh ticking off example after example of publications associated with other companies suing Aereo giving perfectly normal reviews of the product:

The Wall Street Journal’s Katie Boehret (who reviews products along with Walt Mossberg, as I’m sure you know) reviewed Aereo three months after the litigation began. Boehret concluded: “It has a thoughtful, clean user interface that works well on the iPad, where I tested it most.. If you’re a fan of TV and want a better way to watch it on the go, Aereo is a pleasure.” The WSJ is owned by News Corp., which is in active litigation with Aereo. published a review of Aereo this month. It said: “I’ve been trying out Aereo since September to record and watch all sorts of programs on Aereo — both highbrow shows such as ‘Downton Abbey’ and guilty-pleasure ones such as ‘Revenge…’ It makes cutting cable service tempting.” ABC News is owned by Walt Disney, which is in active litigation with Aereo.

The Chicago Tribune published a syndicated review of streaming services including Aereo, which said “the most exciting development might be a scrappy start-up called Aereo that lets you watch TV on any Web-connected device with a screen via a network of miniaturized antennas.” The newspaper is owned by the Tribune Company, which is in active litigation with Aereo.

It’s true that CBS has the right to set the editorial policies that CNET journalists must abide by. And it’s also true that this policy is prominently disclosed to our readers. But I’m not aware of other media companies that have enacted a similar policy.

This has the makings of quite the business school and journalism school case study…

Filed Under: , ,
Companies: aereo, cbs, cnet, dish

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Comments on “CNET: You Can't Trust Our Reviews, But You Can Trust Our News! Honestly!”

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weneedhelp - not signed in says:

Re: Re: now any news article about any company that CBS is in a legal fight with has become suspect.

It is sad but it is what I believe happened to the MSM. Well that and consolidation of owners. Thats why bloggers have exploded. You can usually tell if a blog is slanted, and im ok with that because you can tell and adjust from there. But the MSM, you constantly ask yourself, ok whats the angle. Where is this coming from.

And that’s when, no matter the subject, I will fire up my laptop and search the internet to find out what really happened.

Thankfully we have the internet and its millions of fact checkers. Oh wait thats right bloggers dont fact check. 🙂

Have a good weekend everyone.

Chosen Reject (profile) says:

Re: now any news article about any company that CBS is in a legal fight with has become suspect.

This is the main point. It’s not even the articles that are written that you have to be suspect about (did CBS alter this article) it’s even about the articles they aren’t writing (did CBS pressure them to [not] write about such and such). And it goes beyond that. No one wants to put a lot of effort into a piece just to have the powers that be editorialize or even completely block their work. So every time a CNET writer wants to write an article they have to pause and think to themselves “will this make it past the filters”. If they hesitate on that question, most likely they won’t even write it.

CNET is dead and CBS killed it. I hope CBS got their money’s worth, because 1.8 billion dollars is a lot of money.

Jeffrey Nonken (profile) says:

I’d been occasionally reading several authors at CNET (including Greg Sandoval), but… now I skip over the CNET section on and find better things to read.

A shame, I really liked a lot of the stuff they wrote. I hope those authors end up working for publishers with fewer cranial-rectal inversion issues.

I’ve been getting occasional “please come back to CNET” e-mails from them (probably because I rarely actually log in, so my account activity has been non-existent even though I’d been viewing the site a lot). I’m thinking of replying. Something along the lines of “go pound sand”.

Also thinking of adding to my site blocker so I don’t wander in accidentally. Guess I’ll do that now.

Larry says:

Re: Re:

I deleted my user account. Pretty easy to do. The only email I’ve received since:

Thank you for your feedback. We have forwarded your comments to our CNET Editorial Team for review.

Per your request, we have also deleted from our system.

Please let us know if we may be of any further assistance.

And for our most recent coverage of this issue, please see this page:

CNET Customer Help

GMacGuffin says:

This just continues to piss me off. I went first to cnet for product reviews to avoid wading through the affiliate farticles that otherwise come up on search. You knew you weren’t getting some yahoo, but a real review. Grrr. arrgh

Now CNET’s the online equivalent of Walmart to me — use only if absolutely necessary … like cannibalism.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Lanzone doesn't get it

In the Romenesko article, Lanzone says “want to remind that I did not say this thing did not affect the CNET brand. I said that CBS was the brand that took the blame for what happened.”

Although in a very strict sense he’s probably right, what he’s missing is that the CNET brand took a much bigger hit than CBS did. They made it obvious that CNET == CBS, and now people won’t expect any more from CNET than they do from CBS.

That’s a substantial loss in credibility.

kenichi tanaka says:

I read these stories all of the time about how companies seem to always be making errors and end up getting more bad publicity than before they committed to their actions. But, this whole thing regarding CBS’ decision to stifle an recognizable media entity such as CNET has pushed this whole thing into a new limelight.

This isn’t about a lawsuit or whether a company is simply aggressively pushing to protect its intellectual property rights but rather stifling journalistic integrity in favor of corporate interests.

Sure, the company has to protect itself but this CNET thing has really blown up in CBS’ face and they should have known to not interfere with the journalistic integrity of one of their media companies. Now, everything CNET posts is going to suspect and not worth reading.

CBS has traded CNET’s respectability and journalistic integrity in favor of corporate interests.

Jack says:

I feel sorry for CNET….
Its Credibility have been severely. damaged..

On every tech site – good n bad –
There’s always trolls n fanboys with comments like
“How much did X conpany pay you to give it a good review though X product is ——–blah blah…….. “

“Gezz You are bias “

“I can believe your standards have dropped this low, giving X product such a good score “

etc etc etc..

No one takes such comments at face value on good tech sites…

Due to the CBS debacle, if somebody every comes up with such comments on CNET then 80% of the readers are gonna give it a thought…

Zzzzz CNET I really liked your site…..
Sadly I can’t trust ya anymore..

Aaron Martin-Colby (profile) says:

Many years ago...

Many years ago, I sent a letter to Cnet complaining about their “CERTIFIED RETAILERS” list, or something to that effect.

When you looked up a product, say a TV, below the review would be a list of retailers selling the TV, all of which had a star rating next to them. One would think that this star rating involved some sort of quality analysis.

And one would be wrong!

It had nothing to do with quality, but some arbitrary list of things that no one cares about, like whether the website accepted Discover Card or not.

As such, with concerns of actual retailer quality out of the way, the lists were overrun with companies like “Brooklyn Camera Stores.” Google it.

Bait and switch shops! Genuine scams being listed on Cnet with a five-star rating. It was a travesty.

So as I said, I sent a letter… No response.

I sent another letter… No response.

This was around the same time that Cnet introduced its new rating system, where instead of using academic numbers (where anything below a 60 was bad), they used Bell Curve numbers (where 5 was perfectly average).

One would thus expect reviews to cluster around 5… i.e. average. But no. The average review was actually a 7.something. They expressed, in quantifiable terms, that their reviews are bullshit.

I haven’t been back to Cnet since.

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