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CNET podcast hosts comment on Gerstmann controversy

Kyle Orland

While today's episode of CNET's Buzz Out Loud podcast was delayed for a "mandatory meeting," (hmmm, we wonder what that might have been about ...) the wait was worth it, as hosts Molly Wood, John (Update: Typo fixed) Tom Merritt and Jason Howell were able to comment on Gamespot's firing of executive editor Jeff Gerstmann from a somewhat insider perspective. Their overall impression? As Merritt put it, "Wow does this whole situation suck."

While Merritt did say up front that "there are things that we're not allowed to talk about because they're internal matters," the team said they weren't sitting on any super-secret information about the reasons behind Gerstmann's firing. "[Human resources is] not going to come and tell us why a dude got fired," Wood said. That said, the hosts could offer their commentary on the matter, and their thoughts on that score were somewhat of a mixed bag.

Officially, Merritt said they've "seen the statement from CNET, and we have been told internally, frankly, that CNET will never dismiss someone based on outside advertiser pressure." Wood gave CNET the benefit of the doubt. "In the total black and white, I think that's true. ... I mean, Eidos isn't like the biggest advertiser we have at CNET, are they?" This view was partially based on her personal experience working for (a distinct unit from Gamespot) "I have never encountered even a shred of 'you should change your review because of an advertiser,'" Wood said. "We work here and that's our experience."

This doesn't mean advertisers don't try to bring pressure to bear, just that the team is shielded from it. "I am certain that the stuff they probably say to our sales team would probably make our heads explode," Wood said. "They will literally call up a sales team and say 'look, you need to change the review,' and because we have a responsible sales team at CNET, they say 'Um, I don't think so.'"

Merritt was a little more skeptical regarding the official line behind the firing. "Hopefully that's true, but man, this sure does smell," he said. Merritt's main sticking point was the removal of Gerstmann's Kane & Lynch video review. "Hopefully that video review goes back up on Gamespot as well, because why is that gone?" Merrit asked. "That's another question people have out there."

Howell was mainly critical of of CNET Networks' relatively slow, weak response to the controversy. "They need to respond quickly, that's the fair criticism here," he said. "CNET Networks ... have, with all of their no comments, just fueled the fire. They need to come out with a comment soon to reassure people about this."

As you might imagine, this issue is quite the big deal over at CNET. "You can't believe how seriously every editor in the house is taking this," Wood said. "This is the kind of thing that decides whether we want to work here or not. It's a big deal." Merrit added, "they need to make extra sure that they reassure us."

But at the same time, Wood was a bit peeved that the gaming community was acting based solely on rumors of impropriety on CNET's part. "You instantly jump to that conclusion and it's over," Wood said. "People are gone. We got e-mails people saying they're unsubscribing from Buzz Out Loud. ... You know what, you don't know what happened. We don't know what happened. Gerstmann knows what happened, that's it. Maybe try to tone it down a little bit."

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