We ran this tip without contacting the owners of the restaurant, who have since refuted the tip in its entirety. We apologize to the owners of the restaurant, and our readers, for not investigating our source's claims before airing them on the site. The resulting post didn't rise to our standards, and we shouldn't have published it.Well, good for Eater for acknowledging the error of its ways. The original post with the apparently false allegation, however, remains up -- and, as I explained, assuming that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act applies here (which I consider highly likely), The Must can't sue Eater, or force the site to take down the offending post. That remains true even if The Must can prove beyond all doubt that the allegations were false. (Yes, Section 230 is a very strong law, which even the California Supreme Court recognized has "disturbing implications.")
As I also said, Section 230 does not bar a defamation suit against whoever supplied Eater with the tip. But the problem for The Must is that it may turn out to be difficult or impossible to identify the tipster. The Must could file a "Doe" suit, and then take depositions and issue subpoenas to try to ID the actual culprit. There has been speculation that the tipster was a former employee of The Must; they could call in their former employees for depositions and ask them, one by one, if they know who dunnit. But they all might answer, "I dunno, wasn't me."
Of course The Must could also ask Eater LA to give up its source. But The Must would run straight into brick walls called Article I, § 2(b) of the California Constitution and California Evidence Code § 1070 -- better known as the California Reporters' Shield Law. Under the shield law, California journalists (including those who work for online news outlets) cannot be forced to give up their sources or unpublished information in a state civil case, which is what a potential libel suit over the Eater LA post would be.
So it seems unlikely that the The Must would be able to find much vindication in the courts. Hopefully they can take some comfort knowing that, judging from the reaction among Eater's own commenters, The Must has come out smelling like a rose, and Eater like a fetid pile of month-old Humboldt Fog.
UPDATE: This seems like a good solution too.