CBS Limits On CNET Editorial Independence Cause More Damage

A ham-fisted decision by CBS to force its tech news network CNET not to review devices that are part of active litigation looked bad when it emerged late last week. Now a new report from CNET competitor The Verge shows that the damage by CBS runs even deeper.

According to sources familiar with the matter, the Hopper was not simply an entrant in the Best of CES awards for the site: it actually was chosen as the winner of the “Best of Show” award (as voted by CNET’s editorial staff).

When CBS corporate found out, The Verge says, orders were sent to the edit staff to revote. They attribute it directly to the office of CBS CEO Leslie Moonves, the same CBS exec who acquired CNET in 2008 for $1.8 billion and championed its value.

Moonves is also fiercely opposed to anything that strikes at the economics of CBS and the company is among those suing Dish over the family of ad-skipping DVRs that CNET’s editorial review staff finds so appealing. Whoever thought it would look bad in court if CNET gave the newest Hopper the CES seal of approval as “Best in Show” had no clue how bad trying to stop it would look. In the immortal words of Julia Roberts, “Big mistake. Huge.”

Fallout starts

The way CBS interceded in CNET editorial accomplished something other news orgs have been unable to do: convince veteran CNET reporter Greg Sandoval, who I know has been recruited often, to leave.

This specific event doesn’t reflect badly on any of the reporters at CNET. But now that CBS execs have shown how willing they are to reach in and twist CNET editorial, Greg is right to realize that anything and everything can start to seem suspect. That doesn’t mean I think less of the reporters and editors who stay but I understand why he feels the need to go.

More to come.

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