Daniel Snyder, the owner of the Washington Redskins, is suing City Paper for $2 million in addition to punitive damages and court costs. Why? Because an article in the paper by Dave McKenna was packed with lies. And it was anti-Semitic. And it was mean. Really, really mean. Except that others don't see it this way (well, maybe it was a little mean).
For instance, in citing a falsehood, Snyder's legal team points to McKenna's introductory paragraph, in which he states that Snyder "made a great view of the Potomac River for himself by going all Agent Orange on federally protected lands." The owner did not in fact use Agent Orange, his lawyers insist. City Paper argues this was merely an expression, not to be taken literally. I, for one, pictured the end of Platoon. Or the famous napalm scene from Apocalypse Now—a neat row of fireballs along the Potomac. It's a good thing no one is describing Snyder as having gone ballistic—readers might think he went on a shooting rampage.
Now about that column, entitled "The Cranky Redskins Fan's Guide to Dan Snyder," an A to Z list of one atrocity after another. Under B, you will find "Bankrupt Airline Peanuts":
What Snyder was selling to fans at FedExField. During the 2006 season, vendors offered shelled nuts in royal blue and white 5 oz. bags adorned with the Independence Air logo. Problem: The airline had gone under about a year earlier. The supplier told Washington City Paper that it stopped shipping the airline’s nuts “before Independence Air went out of business.” A spokesman for the Peanut Council told City Paper that to prevent rancidity, the recommended shelf life of a foil bag of out-of-shell peanuts was “about three months.”
Or under F, "Fan Appreciation Day":
Gimmick used in 2006 by Snyder to draw people to FedExField, where he charged $25 to park to watch the team scrimmage and hear an address from Vinny Cerrato. The parking charge was not mentioned in the advertisements the team produced for the event.
McKenna even quotes AEI economist Kevin Hassett who called the Redskins operation "seriously mismanaged." Under the numbered section, there's this priceless entry (so to speak):
$10: Amount Snyder charged fans for admission to the team’s workouts during the 2000 training camp at Redskins Park in Ashburn. He also charged another $10 to park, thereby becoming the first owner in NFL history to use team practice as a gouging mechanism.
I'll stop here—if I reprint anything further, I, too, may wind up subpoenaed. Meanwhile, Snyder's lawyers have asked the Washington Post to preserve any email exchanges its sportswriter Dan Steinberg might have had with McKenna. Writes the Post's Paul Farhi:
According to several people with direct knowledge of the situation, Snyder's attorneys contacted The Post last week and asked the newspaper to preserve e-mails between Post sports blogger Dan Steinberg and McKenna.
The attorneys said they intend to explore whether there was any agreement between McKenna and Steinberg to cross-promote McKenna's pieces on Snyder. Steinberg routinely links to sports content across the Web.
And then there is the issue of the cover—Dan Snyder's face with devil horns, mustache, and beard scrawled over it. Snyder has found a rabbi from the Simon Wiesenthal Center who says the image is anti-Semitic. (And Post columnist Robert McCartney found another rabbi who told him, "'I don't think this is anti-Semitic. I think it's highly juvenile,' [Rabbi] Zemel said. If the paper had set out to do something anti-Semitic, he said, it would have given Snyder 'a large nose, a bigger kind of beard, a hat, to give it a horrible, medieval rabbi look.'")
There are some serious charges outlined by Snyder, including libel against his wife and McKenna's assertion that the owner "got caught forging names as a telemarketer with Snyder Communications." In a November 24 letter to the City Paper, Redskins COO and general counsel David Donovan called this a "most obviously reckless and false statement." Donovan adds that "We presume that defending such litigation would not be a rational strategy for an investment fund such as yours. Indeed, the cost of litigation would presumably quickly outstrip the asset value of the Washington City Paper." (Atalaya Capital Management, a hedge fund, owns the publication.)
If Snyder is trying to dispel the notion that he's a thin-skinned tyrant, the current suit is not working to his advantage. Read the comments section in the original article or the comments attached to any number of Post followups (including Gene Weingarten's letter of "appreciation").
One of the lines that stands out in Donovan's missive is "the many blatantly false, misleading or simply irrelevant items" in the piece. Who defines what is "simply irrelevant"? Would the anecdote about the expired peanuts being sold at the stadium count as irrelevant? And how does that merit legal action?
As McCartney mentions, "Like any public figure, Snyder must overcome sizable legal obstacles to win in court, given the media's First Amendment rights.... The arguments against suing a newspaper are so strong that professional business consultants usually try to talk clients out of it. One of the biggest drawbacks, of course, is that the suit itself calls attention to the original, negative article." Which is why the ideal outcome for Snyder is for the City Paper to throw up its hands and say it's not worth the cost. But the paper has now set up a legal defense fund. And with so many people in this town holding such negative opinions of the owner, there's a good chance the paper will survive litigation long enough to see Snyder lose. Yet again.