Must wine bar threatens local blog Eater LA with legal action after negative post
Restaurateurs have long voiced their displeasure at negative comments left by anonymous diners on sites such as Yelp. But what happens when a site runs negative -- and potentially defamatory -- comments from anonymous tipsters under the guise of news?
A blind item about the Must wine bar in downtown L.A. has left the restaurant's co-owners, Coly Den Haan and Rachel Thomas, angry enough to threaten local dining blog Eater LA with legal action.
Today the blog ran an item asserting that the Must falsely advertised items on its menu and, perhaps more crucially, threatened diners' health with poor sanitation and food safety. Their source? An anonymous tipster.
"Cheese plates are not as advertised - Double Glouster Chedder, Explorateur Triple Cream Brie, Point Reyes, etc. are all in fact US Foods low-budget generic. You are paying $15 for $4 worth of generic cheese... House Made Peanut Butter is US Foods Generic... Besides not adhering to simple food saftey standards, such as soap, sanitizing, and throwing out chicken salad that's 2 weeks old, 90% of all 'fresh' menu items are cooked days beforehand and sit in the fridge, including all vegetables; even the ones that would take 5 minutes to cook per order." (19:59:27 UTC)
"Those accusations are completely false and we have receipts to prove it," says Den Haan.
"We do order from U.S. Foods. We order janitorial supplies and cayenne pepper and a few things like that from them," Thomas says. "We don’t order any cheese from them. We don’t order any meat, poultry or seafood from them. Most of our produce and cheese we can't get from them. There's no such thing as a cheap imitation Humboldt fog, so it doesn’t even make sense."
Thomas and Den Haan contacted a lawyer and sent an email to Eater LA, part of the Curbed network of blogs, asking them to remove the post.
"I got a response from them saying that they would like to post our side of the story and that they were willing to remove the direct quote from their source, but that's all they could do. They wouldn’t recant anything or make a formal apology," Thomas says.
"We honestly don’t want to post anything on their website. We're so disgusted by what they’ve done. I do think there should be some repercussions as to what people can post as factual," Den Haan says.
Haan raises a crucial point: In an era when anyone can become a publisher with a few mouse clicks, what responsibility do blogs, especially well-established blogs with a sizable readership, have when they run unsourced information? Slander and defamation are tricky charges to prove, but somewhere in the gap between what's legally actionable and what's expedient is the issue of what's ethical.
"I think they definitely know they’ve done something pretty darn wrong," Den Haan says. Eater LA's readers seem to agree. Shortly after 6 p.m. this evening, the post had generated 60 comments, most of them critical of the website for running the post.
Stay tuned as we try to get Eater LA's side of the story.
-- Elina Shatkin
Photo: Screen grab of Eater LA website taken by Elina Shatkin