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Rumor: Gamespot's editorial director fired over Kane & Lynch review

Kyle Orland

Update 2:45 PM EST:
Gamespot has issued a massive Q&A addressing many outstanding issues surrounding the firing.

Update: 11:50 AM EST Dec. 5, 2007:
Check out Joystiq's analysis of the edits to Gerstmann's Kane & Lynch review. GameSpot editors comment on their Hot Spot podcast. Also: Tuesday and Wednesday updates from around the web.

Update 10:00 PM EST:
Gamespot has posted official notice of the firing on their website. Meanwhile, some editors at CNET have commented on the controversy in a podcast.

Update - 11:20 AM EST Dec. 3, 2007:
Further updates, and Gerstmann's exclusive comments to Joystiq.

Update - 11:00AM EST Dec. 2, 2007:
More updates from around the web.

Update - 3:45PM EST: Ziff Davis employees rally for Gerstmann

Update - 9:00AM EST
Dec. 1, 2007: The latest developments on the story.

Update - 5:45PM EST:
CNET has amended their earlier statement with Joystiq.

Update - 3:20PM EST:
We just noticed that Gerstmann's video review, previously accessible only through a direct link, has been removed from the site. Here's an alternate YouTube link.

Update - 2:20PM EST:
We got a response from CNET, GameSpot's parent company, that totally explains the whole thing away ... you see. Actually, they don't say much.

Update - 12:52 AM EST: Penny Arcade, which helped popularize this story with their comic last night, has posted an accompanying commentary piece on the issue. The story they were told (by whom, we do not know) has Gamespot management angry at Gerstmann for long-standing problems with his reviewing "tone." The Kane & Lynch review, which allegedly caused Eidos to withdraw "hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of future advertising from the site," served as the straw that broke the camel's back. There's no named source for this information, but the piece does say that "the firm belief internally [is] that Jeff was sacrificed."

Update - 11:00 AM EST:
The anonymous source/speculation train rolls on. Rock Paper Shotgun has posted a story citing an unnamed "very reliable source" as saying that "while Gerstmann wasn't the most popular man with the CNET owners, it was his Kane & Lynch review alone that saw him lose his job." Meanwhile, a poster at Forumopolis who claims to be directly involved with the Kane & Lynch ad campaign says that the whole thing is just a matter of bad timing. "I sincerely doubt that Eidos made Gamespot fire him," the poster writes. "CNET doesn't kowtow to its advertisers, and I've more than once seen the higher-ups turn away big advertising dollars for the sake of the company's integrity." Make of this what you will.

Update - 10:44 AM EST:
Gamespot PR representative Leslie Van Every has responded to Joystiq's request for comment with ... a predictable 'no comment.' "It is CNET Networks' policy to never comment on individual employees--current or former--regarding their job status," Van Every told Joystiq. "This policy is in place out of respect for the individuals' privacy."

Update - 7:12 AM EST:
Jeff has confirmed his firing to us via e-mail, but says he's "not really able to comment on the specifics of my termination." He added that he's "looking forward to getting back out there and figuring out what's next." We're still digging.

Update - 1:35 AM EST: The Kane and Lynch ads that blanketed Gamespot's front page are no longer being shown. Check out the picture above to see what the site looked at just an hour ago.

Original Post:
So before we get going, we should make it clear that this post is still just a rumor and many of the facts behind it are still up in the air. That being said, word around game journalism's virtual water cooler is that Gamespot Editorial Director Jeff Gerstmann has been fired because publisher Eidos was unhappy about his negative review of Kane & Lynch: Dead Men.

What seems in little dispute, going by forum chatter as well as multiple published sources (referencing conversations with multiple CNet employees), is that Gerstmann has indeed been fired after over ten years working at the site. We were not immediately able to confirm the firing with Gamespot or Gerstmann directly, but an e-mail sent to his Gamespot address did get returned with a "permanent failure" error. Seems pretty serious to us ...
(see 7:12 AM update above)

What is in some dispute is the reason behind the firing. The current leading theory is that Eidos, a major Gamespot advertiser (just look at the current Kane&Lynch-ified front page shown above) was unhappy with Gerstmann's review of their game and brought pressure to bear on the site to remove the longstanding editor (Eidos representatives were not immediately available for comment). Gamespot's text review of the game is definitely very negative, and the 6/10 score rather low, but it's the video review of the game that really eviscerates it for "impossible to like" characters, a "lazy" script and excessive profanity, among other things. It does seem plausible that Eidos might not be too happy with either review, and that Gamespot might be willing to do anything to prevent losing such a large advertiser (notwithstanding the site's posted review guidelines, which state they have never "altered our verdict about any game due to advertiser pressure").

But there are some parts of the story that don't quite fit. For one, the review was posted on Nov. 13, yet the evidence points to Gerstmann being fired only recently. For another, it stands to reason that if Eidos was so unhappy with the review, that they would also demand it be taken down from the site, a step that has not yet been taken (though the video version doesn't seem to be actively linked on the site's Kane & Lynch videos page has now been removed from the site completely. See 3:20 pm update, above)? And while GameSpot's 6/10 score was low, it certainly wasn't out of the ordinary. Why would Gamespot be singled out, and why would such a senior and generally respected editor be demanded (and accepted by Gamespot) as sacrifice?

The ramifications of the story, if true, are huge. Readers should fairly expect there to be an inviolable firewall between advertising and editorial in journalism, and game journalism (yes, that includes "just reviews") is no different. While our industry has had its fair share of accusations of impropriety, nothing so far has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. Giving a publisher the power to fire a senior editor is a line no outlet should be willing to cross.

We hope that everything is not as it seems here, and that there has simply been some sort of misunderstanding brought on by a game of telephone. The circumstantial evidence, however, is hard to ignore, and significant enough to make us seriously question what exactly is going on here. We'll of course be following this story as it inevitably develops over the next few days.

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