The discord between CBS and its tech site CNET is getting loud enough to carry beyond the realm of the super-nerds at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Outrage first bubbled up last week when CBS wouldn’t allow the DISH Network’s Hopper with Sling DVR to compete for CNET’s top award at the trade show because CBS and DISH are currently in court over the technology, which allows viewers to skip over the commercials the network needs to make money. Now the other shoe is dropping — it turns out the Hopper had already been voted the best product before CBS intervened — and one CNET writer has already quit because of the shadiness.
“Sad to report that I’ve resigned from CNET. I no longer have confidence that CBS is committed to editorial independence,” tweeted digital media reporter Greg Sandoval today. “CNET wasn’t honest about what occurred regarding Dish is unacceptable to me.” He added, “We are supposed to be truth tellers. I believe CNET’s leaders are also honest but used poor judgement.”
Just prior to Sandoval’s public resignation, the Verge reported that the CBS interference was worse than originally thought, with the order against the Hopper coming all the way down from the office of CEO Les Moonves after it had been named “Best of Show” by the CNET staff. And a grown man cried over it:
Apparently, executives at CBS learned that the Hopper would win “Best of Show” prior to the announcement. Before the winner was unveiled, CBS Interactive News senior-vice president and General Manager Mark Larkin informed CNET’s staff that the Hopper could not take the top award. The Hopper would have to be removed from consideration, and the editorial team had to re-vote and pick a new winner from the remaining choices. Sources say that Larkin was distraught while delivering the news — at one point in tears — as he told the team that he had fought CBS executives who had made the decision.
Apparently the move to strike the Hopper from the awards was passed down directly to Larkin from the office of CBS CEO, Leslie Moonves. Moonves has been one of the most outspoken opponents of the Hopper, telling investors at one point, “Hopper cannot exist… if Hopper exists, we will not be in business with (Dish).”
“I am not disgruntled. CBS and CNET were great to me,” Sandoval added in his announcement, which may just be the beginning of this headache for CBS if other disputes over independence in the fiercely tribal tech-blog world are any indication. “I just want to be known as an honest reporter.”
Update: CBS has released a statement on the matter:
CBS has nothing but the highest regard for the editors and writers at CNET, and has managed that business with respect as part of its CBS Interactive division since it was acquired in 2008. This has been an isolated and unique incident in which a product that has been challenged as illegal, was removed from consideration for an award. The product in question is not only the subject of a lawsuit between Dish and CBS, but between Dish and nearly every other major media company as well. CBS has been consistent on this situation from the beginning, and, in terms of covering actual news, CNET maintains 100% editorial independence, and always will. We look forward to the site building on its reputation of good journalism in the years to come.
Update II: And CNET’s editor Lindsey Turrentine published her take, too:
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. […]
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.