Dan Snyder lawsuit: A complete analysis

Dan Snyder
Dan Snyder, alone on this one? (Photo: Jay Westcott)

Team Snyder may want to watch the contradictions.

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On Wednesday, Redskins Owner Daniel Snyder filed suit (PDF) against Washington City Paper and its ownership for the "lies, half-truths, innuendo and anti-Semitic imagery" that have allegedly appeared in the weekly paper and its website of late. In an interview with the Washington Post, Snyder rep Patty Glaser said, "This is not a case of the big guy versus the little guy."

Oh yeah? Let's check the record then. In a letter threatening suit against City Paper, Redskins executive David Donovan wrote, "Indeed, the cost of litigation would presumably quickly outstrip the asset value of the Washington City Paper." 

No matter what turns this story may take from here on out, that particular line will forever color the public image of Snyder. Along with all the instances that City Paper reporter Dave McKenna documented in his lawsuit-triggering November cover story ("The Cranky Redskins Fan's Guide to Dan Snyder"), the corporate bullying of the City Paper will forever attest to the pettiness of a cigar-chomping billionaire. 

Perhaps the appeal to bottom-line considerations was strategic. After all, the threat letter was issued to Atalaya Capital Management LP, the New York-based investment firm that owns Washington City Paper. The apparent strategy: Threaten them with costly litigation, and they'll make sure City Paper stays off our backs.

It didn't work, and that's why there's a lawsuit on file in New York. City Paper wouldn't issue a retraction, wouldn't fire McKenna, wouldn't swallow any of the pride-swallowing conditions that Snyder was trying to force upon them. 

The lawsuit is explicit in its venom for City Paper and the reporting of McKenna. ("[I]n an effort to smear and malign Mr. Snyder," the suit claims, "the Washington City Paper has reached back many years to piece together half-truths and innuendo to cobble together stories that contain blatant falsehoods.") It cites several instances of allegedly libelous journalism  committed by McKenna.

Given that this spat now resides in a courthouse, it's going to move slowly — procedural hearings, scheduling formalities, maybe a venue fight. In the interests of expediting the discussion, we're going to practice a bit of shadow litigation below.

And in an article about journalism law and ethics, let us just exercise a little of the latter right now: Both authors of this piece are former employees of City Paper and remain friendly with many staffers there. We weren't involved in the story that prompted the lawsuit.  

Question No. 1: Would the cost of litigation really "presumably quickly outstrip the asset value of the Washington City Paper"?

No way.

Like most media outlets that do critical reporting on large and well-funded organizations, the City Paper has an active libel insurance policy. The utility of such insurance kicks in right when those well-funded organizations wave the threat of costly and time-consuming litigation.

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