Monday, January 14, 2013

CNET's Greg Sandoval quits over editorial independence following CBS interference in site's CES awards process

If I have advice for Greg Sandoval, the now former senior reporter for CNET, it is to get back to work and don't pretend for a moment that your honorable action will lead to anything good.

Sandoval resigned today from the tech website after the much publicized incident where CBS forced its tech web property CNET to withdraw Dish Network's award nomination due to CBS's corporate legal battle with the satellite TV provider.

The retraction of the award nomination for "Best in Show" at CES was embarrassing for CNET, Sandoval's resignation will compound that embarrassment. But let's be real here, the real loser is the reporter who feels they must resign their position.

In my 30 years in this business I have only resigned once in a similar fashion – but it was an easier decision to make than Sandoval's. My employer was making hiring decisions based on trying to recreate the OJ Simpson trial at work – yep, he was hiring people who had last names similar to names of the lawyers and witnesses involved in the Simpson trial. Leaving that disaster was a pretty easy decision.

But I've also had to tell a newspaper publisher to go stuff it when he actually said he wanted me to kiss his ass because that is what he had to do his whole career. That was a tougher call, it cost me a dream job. But I didn't lose my job, I merely lost a promotion. A month later I accepted a job at McGraw-Hill and never looked back. But my newspaper career had apparently come to a close.

Journalists are applauding Sandoval today, but they shouldn't. Instead they should be wondering why the industry is in such bad shape that media owners no longer have a clue about what editorial freedom is about. For every Sandoval who resigns over the issue there are ten more who gladly work for companies where they are told to spew the day's talking points. Most collect their paycheck and go home, never losing sleep over that day's events.

Incidents like that at CNET get a lot of attention, but journalists – and just about everyone in the media business – face working in a tough work environment every day. The fact that one reporter said 'enough' isn't a cause for celebration, it is a sign of a sick industry.

(As John Gruber speculates, Sandoval is probably already receiving offers to work for other tech sites – hopefully, one of these offers even includes pay.)

Update: This statement has been issued by CBS:
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% editorial independence, and always will. We look forward to the site building on its reputation of good journalism in the years to come.

I have been mulling in my head whether I had anything important to say about the death of Aaron Swartz.

This online post on the financial blog Naked Capitalism is preferable. This paragraph, for me, stood out (I broke it out into two paragraphs for easier reading):
As we think about what happened to Aaron, we need to recognize that it was not just prosecutorial overreach that killed him. That’s too easy, because that implies it’s one bad apple. We know that’s not true. What killed him was corruption. Corruption isn’t just people profiting from betraying the public interest. It’s also people being punished for upholding the public interest. In our institutions of power, when you do the right thing and challenge abusive power, you end up destroying a job prospect, an economic opportunity, a political or social connection, or an opportunity for media. Or if you are truly dangerous and brilliantly subversive, as Aaron was, you are bankrupted and destroyed.

There’s a reason whistleblowers get fired. There’s a reason Bradley Manning is in jail. There’s a reason the only CIA official who has gone to jail for torture is the person – John Kiriako - who told the world it was going on. There’s a reason those who destroyed the financial system “dine at the White House”, as Lawrence Lessig put it. There’s a reason former Senator Russ Feingold is a college professor whereas former Senator Chris Dodd is now a multi-millionaire. There’s a reason DOJ officials do not go after bankers who illegally foreclose, and then get jobs as partners in white collar criminal defense. There’s a reason no one has been held accountable for decisions leading to the financial crisis, or the war in Iraq. This reason is the modern ethic in American society that defines success as climbing up the ladder, consequences be damned. Corrupt self-interest, when it goes systemwide, demands that it protect rentiers from people like Aaron, that it intimidate, co-opt, humiliate, fire, destroy, and/or bankrupt those who stand for justice.