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CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves signed off on a decision for its technology subsidiary CNET to re-vote its Best in CES Awards after Dish Network’s set-top box Hopper With Sling took the top prize, a source confirms to The Hollywood Reporter.
Moonves, who didn’t make the decision to revoke the award, nonetheless strongly supported the decision to pull the honor after CBS Corp. executives briefed him on the pending announcement, the source said. Moonves believes the technology puts CBS’ business at risk, the source added.
News of the top office’s involvement in the award snafu was reported Monday by the technology news site The Verge. As a result of the incident, CNET reporter Greg Sandoval tweeted Monday that he had resigned.
“I no longer have confidence that CBS is committed to editorial independence,” he wrote.
CNET, whose staff votes on the award winners, posted a notice on its “Best of CES” web page last week that the device “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.”
CBS, along with NBC, ABC and Fox, are embroiled in litigation against Dish over the device, which allows viewers to skip commercials automatically. The networks have said that the device would undermine their business model and make it impossible for them to buy the content that attracts viewers, so it would literally destroy their business.
On Monday, technology news site The Verge broke the news that Hopper had actually been voted as best in show before the re-vote was forced.
CNET Reviews editor-in-chief Lindsey Turrentine confirmed that Monday in a post on the CNET site, writing that she and her management staff voted on the awards Wednesday and had already notified the winners when they got word of the legal conflict from 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,” she wrote. “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.”
She added: “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.”
Turrentine added that she and CNET senior vp/GM Mark Larkin told the staff “the only thing we were allowed to say, which was and is the truth as far as I know: That because of active litigation between CBS and Dish, we had to disqualify Dish and that the only fair thing to do in this new reality was to revote and inform Dish about what had happened. That is what we did.”
According to The Verge, Larkin received that message directly from Moonves’ office. As the site points out, Moonves has been very outspoken against Hopper, once telling investors: “If Hopper exists, we will not be in business with [Dish].”
It should be noted that the statement on CNET’s site was later amended to note that the Hopper was “the original pick for best home theater and audio product and best of show.”
CBS responded Monday with the following statement:
“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 percent editorial independence, and always will. We look forward to the site building on its reputation of good journalism in the years to come.”
In her post, CNET Reviews editor-in-chief Turrentine apologized to the CNET staff and readers for not being able to override the original decision not to reveal that Hopper had won the first vote. She also noted that she “could have quit right then” but decided that would be the equivalent of “abandoning the ship” and chose to stay to “fight the fight from the other side.”
Added Sandoval on Twitter after announcing his resignation: “CNET wasn’t honest about what occurred regarding Dish is unacceptable to me. We are supposed to be truth tellers. Please know no one in News or Reviews editorial did anything wrong. I believe CNET’s leaders are also honest but used poor judgement.”
Sandoval, who spent seven years at CNET, previously wrote for the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.
Meanwhile, the Razer Edge tablet ended up taking best in show in the CES awards.
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