CNET rescinds positive review because parent company is suing manufacturer

Tech site CNET was about to give Dish Network's latest set-top box a best-of-show editorial award, but rescinded the plaudits because its parent company, CBS, is suing the manufacturer. Mathew Ingram points out how this compromises CNET's journalistic credibility, and Buzzfeed's John Hermann says it exposes a profound difference in product journalism and actual journalism at the site.

While it looks like clueless corporate spite, I bet it's really about lawyers wanting to lower CBS's exposure to uncertainty in its boring lawsuit over contracts and copyright. The product review could end up influencing the court, and that alone is reason enough for it to come down.

The misery of litigation (including a plaintiff's perceived need to pursue it) blinds us to other risks, expecially for a business as frequently exposed to it the media. For some, it seems inconceivable not to accept legal advice after it's been sought—even when the negative consequences of taking it are profoundly obvious. And it's easy to imagine that lawyers get to micromanage a huge, change-averse company like CBS.

When it defends itself by saying that the litigation blackout "applies only to reviews, not news", though, CNET shows its colors badly. Gadget reviews might be the journalistic outhouse, but it's still bad form to burn it down when your own hacks are on the pot.