CNET Finally Reports On Its Own Fight With CBS Over Dish CES Award

from the a-bit-slow-out-the-gate dept

Realizing that the longer it did nothing, the worse it looked, CNET itself has finally reported on the events that transpired last week when corporate boss CBS stepped into the middle of their editorial process and sought to deny CNET the ability to choose the product they thought was the best of CES, the Dish DVR with Hopper and Sling.
After the vote, we communicated the winners, as we always do, through normal channels. CNET immediately got down to the business of preparing for a massive stage show the following morning and preparing a press release.

Later that evening, we were alerted to the legal conflict for CBS. All night and through to morning, my managers up and down CNET and I fought for two things: To honor the original vote and -- when it became clear that CBS Corporate did not accept that answer -- to issue a transparent statement regarding the original vote.

Ultimately, we were told that we must use the official statement and that we must follow corporate policy to defer all press requests to corporate communications.
Of course, this is only coming out well after tons of other sources had reported on this -- and upstart competitor the Verge had already broken the story about how CBS didn't just tell CNET not to vote on the Dish device, but made them rescind the award that had already been chosen.

The CNET post, by reviews Editor in Chief Lindsey Turrentine, suggests that most of the staff had no idea that CBS was in litigation with Dish and they were just doing what they were supposed to do. She also pushes back against the idea that she should resign:
We were in an impossible situation as journalists. The conflict of interest was real -- a legal case can impact the bottom line of our company and introduce the possibility of bias -- but the circumstances demanded more transparency and not hurried policy.

I could have quit right then. Maybe I should have. I decided that the best thing for my team was to get through the day as best we could and to fight the fight from the other side. Every single member of the CNET Reviews team is a dedicated, ethical, passionate technology critic. If I abandoned them now, I would be abandoning the ship.
The thing is, if she had quit, I would bet that many on her team would not have seen it as being abandoned, but actually as real leadership of someone supporting their editorial independence.

She then goes on to insist that she'll fight to make sure this doesn't happen again -- but that seems difficult to believe since earlier in the existing story it suggests that she and others gave up the fight when CBS told them what they had to do:
If I had to face this dilemma again, I would not quit. I stand by my team and the years of work they have put into making CNET what it is. But I wish I could have overridden the decision not to reveal that Dish had won the vote in the trailer. For that I apologize to my staff and to CNET readers.

The one thing I want to clearly communicate to my team and to everyone at CNET and beyond is this: CNET does excellent work. Its family of writers is unbiased, focused, bright, and true. CNET will continue to do excellent good work. Of that I am certain. Going forward, I will do everything within my power to prevent this situation from happening again.
Of course, the decision to quit is one that every individual has to make themselves. But completely taking it out of the realm of possibility gives CBS the easy power to do this again and again and again. She's signalling to CBS that it can continue to walk over CNET's editorial independence, and while the editor-in-chief may protest loudly, in the end, she won't leave. That's only going to add to the cloud over CNET's reviews going forward.

Filed Under: conflicts, editorial independence, journalism
Companies: cbs, cnet, dish

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  1. identicon
    Andrew D. Todd, 16 Jan 2013 @ 4:34am

    The Future of CNET's Conflict-of-Interest

    Look at it this way, just about every discount store/grocery store/drug store/convenience store chain has its own house brand of soda pop and suchlike. There are something like a hundred different Linux distributions, most of them derivative of ("downstream from") Debian and Ubuntu. As Android becomes more ramified, and has a larger assortment of functionality built into the core distribution, it will become easier and easier to build a fully tricked-out tablet, or game console, or DVR box. Furthermore, these boxes will be "opportunistic omnivores" in terms of their back-end communication, able to use multiple and alternative satellites, cellphone, WiFi, and either cable or telephone landlines, according to whichever is cheapest at the moment. It will be rather less difficult to have a house brand "data box" than it is to have house brand soda. CBS will, as a matter of course, sell its own boxes in all the major categories, just as Sears Roebuck used to have its own brands of typewriters, along with every significant household appliance or electronic entertainment device. You can see the kind of chronic conflict-of-interest CNET is going to have.

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