Well, this is potentially troubling. Toronto Life magazine appears to be hiding a critical restaurant review of one of its advertisers from the online public. According to the media critics at Canadaland, the magazine stealthily pulled a negative review of steakhouse Blueblood from the internet last month. The review, by restaurant critic Mark Pupo, appears in the January print issue, along with a full-page ad for the restaurant in question.
The Blueblood review first appeared online December 19, but was taken down within a few days. Now, the URL and social media links for the critical post redirect to an article covering the restaurant with no critique. In addition to running an ad for Blueblood in the January issue of the magazine, the restaurants’ owners, Liberty Entertainment Group, have hosted multiple Toronto Life events at its properties.
Pupo gave Blueblood two (out of five) stars, and although he was favorable towards the food, he took issue with the expense. Canadaland quotes Pupo: “Everything I ate on my trips to BlueBlood was good, some of it very good, but at queasy prices.” He described it as a “celebration restaurant” and a place to visit “more for the pomp than the cooking.”
Canadaland tried to learn the motives for the online disappearance, but met with a dead end. Toronto Life’s publisher Ken Hunt said it was “internal matter” and that “no explanation is needed or will be provided.” It is, however, typical for publications to leave a note of explanation after making a retraction.
When asked, Liberty CEO Nick Di Donato denied putting pressure on Toronto Life to take down the review, but did express disappointment with the two stars. “I think it’s a poorly written, inaccurate review, which is not a food review in my mind, but it seems like a personal attack [from] somebody who’s Ubering around town, doesn’t have a lot of money, can’t afford Blueblood or anything luxurious, and wants to criticize people who can,” he told Canadaland. Di Donato also said Toronto Life should have notified the restaurant group of the review to give them the chance to pull the ad.
Like the separation of church and state, the divide between advertising and editorial in media isn’t always what it should be. As former Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl noted to Eater back in 2014, “the advertising pressure is to make safe stories because that’s what advertisers like. Advertisers don’t like controversy.” She added, “Magazines used to be reflections of their editors, quirky and surprising. I think that that happens less and less.” Whether or not the advertiser was the cause, the Blueblood review’s sudden disappearance was certainly a surprise.