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Ear to the Ground

Why CBS Can’t Be Trusted With the News

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Posted on Jan 14, 2013
Kristin Dos Santos (CC-BY-SA)

What may seem like a small story of interest merely to geeks and journalists shows that corporations do, in fact, tell their editors what they can say.

After the recently concluded Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, during which companies show off many of the new year’s gadgets, 40 editors of the online news and reviews site CNET met to vote on their best in show awards. They decided that the best device they saw in the whole show was the Dish satellite network’s Hopper, a digital video recorder that can skip commercials and send recordings to your iPad.

But there was a problem. CNET is owned by CBS and CBS is suing Dish over that very device. CBS learned of the decision and ordered CNET to revote, excluding the Hopper from consideration.

CNET reviews editor Lindsey Turrentine writes in a post, “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.”

CNET reporter Greg Sandoval did quit, saying on Twitter, “I no longer have confidence that CBS is committed to editorial independence.”

The Verge, another technology news and reviews site, reports the following: “Apparently the move to strike the Hopper from the awards was passed down directly to [CBS Interactive News executive Mark] 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).’ ”

It may seem obvious that corporations owning the news will inevitably lead to such conflicts of interest and censorship. But there has traditionally been an understanding in all forms of media that the truth is the truth and editors have independence from their paymasters. This story shows that not only is CBS willing to bend editorial decisions to its corporate interests, but with such brazenness, we have entered a new era in which the owners of news don’t even care about the pretense of truth and independence.

Forget the Hopper for a moment. Why should we believe that Leslie Moonves doesn’t pick up the phone when he sees something he doesn’t like planned for “60 Minutes”?

—Posted by Peter Z. Scheer. Follow him on Twitter: @peesch.

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