Recently the editors at CNET were about to give the best of show award at CES to Dish Hopper. The trouble started when CBS alerted CNET to a legal conflict over this ad-skipping product which shows recorded programs on iPads. As you might imagine, bringing notoriety to a product which destroys the revenue of your parent company was seen as a suicidal move by CBS. On the flipside was the integrity of the journalists who believed this product was the best in show.
The problem was, even though this product had already won, the directive was given from above that it had to be disqualified from consideration.
As a result of this embarrassing situation, Greg Sandoval quit in protest, taking to Twitter to say that he no longer had “confidence that CBS is committed to editorial independence.” He also said, “I just want to be known as an honest reporter,” adding “CNET wasn’t honest about what occurred regarding Dish.”
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.
Here is that official statement:
The Dish Hopper with Sling was removed from consideration due to active litigation involving our parent company CBS Corp. We will no longer be reviewing products manufactured by companies with which we are in litigation with respect to such product.
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.
I certainly see why CBS would react the way they did – after all who wants to have part of your company help drive sales of a product which will directly decrease your profits. But the challenge for CBS now is they have damaged the CNET brand in a big way. Whether the market will once again believe the brand can report independently remains to be seen.