CNET clashes with parent CBS Corp., reporter resigns


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There are companies with divisions that spend billions of dollars on entertainment. There are also companies with divisions that review new gadgets and sometimes champion the spectacular ones -- even those that challenge the status quo.

And when those divisions are owned by the same company, there is a chance that they will wind up in the kind of predicament that CBS Corp. found itself in last week.

A senior writer for CNET, the technology news website owned by CBS, resigned Monday after the site was barred from presenting an award to a company being sued by CBS. Greg Sandoval, a former reporter for The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times who has spent the past seven years at CNET, said on Twitter that he no longer had confidence "that CBS is committed to editorial independence."

Mr. Sandoval did not respond to an interview request. His resignation announcement came half an hour after another technology news site, The Verge, laid bare the details of the conflict.

The case started to unfold Wednesday, when CNET's employees did something they do every year: cast votes for the Best of CES Awards, the official awards program of the Consumer Electronics Show. For the Best in Show award, the employees chose the Hopper, a digital video recorder sold by Dish Network that allows users to skip ads on prime-time network television shows. Dish had showed off the newest version of the Hopper at CES, and CNET's reviewers were impressed by it.

But CBS claims the Hopper is illegal. Along with several other network owners, it went to court last year over the ad-skipping feature; the litigation is pending.

The vote created a "legal conflict for CBS," the CNET editor in chief, Lindsey Turrentine, said in an editorial Monday afternoon that confirmed the substance of The Verge's article. (The site suggested that "CNET's reviews could be used by Dish in court to embarrass CBS or possibly refute the company's evidence.")

"All night and through to morning," Ms. Turrentine wrote, "my managers up and down CNET 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."

But her managers were overruled. The case went all the way to the CBS chief executive, Leslie Moonves, who said that CNET should disqualify the Hopper and choose a new award winner.

CNET acquiesced. When it announced the winners Thursday, CNET acknowledged that the Hopper was "removed from consideration due to active litigation involving our parent company," causing an outcry by the Dish chief executive, Joe Clayton, who said Dish was "saddened that CNET's staff is being denied its editorial independence because of CBS's heavy-handed tactics."

But CBS did not allow CNET to reveal that the Hopper had won Best in Show before being removed; when The Verge reported that Monday, further cries of censorship sprang up on the Internet. Ms. Turrentine said she wished she could have overridden CBS' decision.

"For that I apologize to my staff and to CNET readers," she said.

Mr. Moonves declined an interview request, but a statement from CBS called the case "isolated and unique" and noted that the Hopper "has been challenged as illegal" by it and other major media companies. The statement added, "In terms of covering actual news, CNET maintains 100 percent editorial independence, and always will."

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