Background: Who's pulling the strings at CNET?

CNET employees loved CEO Shelby Bonnie, according to the San Francisco Chronicle (and a CNETter confirms to me that there was loyalty since he'd been at the company since Day One). So it was a shock when he seemingly fired himself this week over overseeing improperly backdated stock options.

At first it looked like Bonnie (pictured) had made the decision himself — for instance, he stays on as a director, which would be odd if he were fired for misconduct. But when the chief counsel and human resources head were fired too, it became clear someone — maybe those leading the internal investigation — forced Bonnie to take one for the team.

Now CNET named Neil Ashe as Bonnie's replacement. Ashe was key in bringing in CNET acquisitions like Webshots, TV.com, and mp3.com. Some inside CNET say Bonnie had long planned for Ashe to succeed him, but president and COO Barry Briggs (who came with the acquisition of ZDNet) will feel stung for being passed over. Briggs is publishing royalty, son of a partner at former ZDNet parent Ziff-Davis Publishing.

Cnet loses its heart and soul executive [SF Chronicle; photo by JD Lasica]