Dan Snyder lawsuit: A complete analysis

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

Here's how it works: City Paper will pay a certain deductible to handle the claim from Snyder. Once that deductible is paid off, its insurance policy will cover attorney's fees and at least a big chunk of any settlement payout or jury award.

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Now to the question of whether that deductible exceeds the asset value of the City Paper. The "asset value" of the paper — of any paper — is always a matter of speculation and negotiation. On the valuation question, there are reams of financial data on the City Paper and its fellow Creative Loafing chain members sitting in a bankruptcy file in federal court---it's all there for the public to enjoy. Probably safe to say that the City Paper number is in the low seven figures. 

We're not at liberty to talk about the deductible. But think about it this way: The paper's managers have been in the newspaper business for decades and decades. Why would they swallow a deductible that "outstrips" the paper's asset value? 

The point here is that a dip in the futon market, a breakup with key advertiser "Mr. Wash," or a cover story on Bill Duggan are all events that pose a greater risk to Washington City Paper than the Snyder complaint.

Question No. 2: Is there any merit to Snyder's allegations?

Snyder's lawsuit makes four specific claims about what it calls "egregious falsehoods" in "The Washington City Paper Article."

• CLAIM 1: "that 'Dan Snyder ... got caught forging names as a telemarketer with Snyder Communications;'"

Here, in full, is an Associated Press story from April 26, 2001. Emphasis added.

Verizon, marketing agent fined $3.1 million for slamming

 DATELINE: TALLAHASSEE, Fla.

Verizon and its former marketing agency, at the time owned by Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, were fined $3.1 million for illegally switching Florida customers' long distance telephone service without authorization.

The state Attorney General's Office said representatives of Bethesda, Md.-based Snyder Communications forged thousands of customer signatures to switch them to service provided by GTE, which is now Verizon. Investigators also found GTE employees forged signatures and "used deceptive tactics" to get customers to switch service.

GTE hired Snyder Communications to market its long distance service in 1998.

The state has received more than 3,000 complaints of "slamming" involving Snyder Communications and Verizon, officials said. The majority of the customers lived in South Florida.

"Slamming" is the act of unlawfully switching someone's local or long distance telephone service without their consent.

Under the agreement announced Wednesday, Snyder and Verizon must pay $2.5 million to a state trust fund for investigations and consumer education. Verizon also must pay an additional $600,000.

Snyder, now owned by Paris-based Havas Advertising, told state officials that previous managers are no longer with the company, including Daniel Snyder.

Verizon has a "zero tolerance policy" against slamming, said spokeswoman Briana Gowing.

Is Snyder's claim here something along the lines of It wasn't me, it was the employees I managed, and the thousands of complaints filed against my company somehow escaped my notice? To quote the father of one of this piece's authors: "Marine, is this the hill you want to die on?"

CLAIM 2: "that Mr. Snyder caused Agent Orange to be used to destroy trees 'protected by the National Park Service' on 'federally protected lands,' a matter about which previously published reports have been publicly corrected;"

This would seem to be Snyder's most actionable claim — if it bore any relation to what was printed in the City Paper. McKenna never said Snyder "caused Agent Orange to be used to destroy trees." Instead, he wrote that Snyder "made a great view of the Potomac River for himself by going all Agent Orange on federally protected lands."

Next step for the courts: Is "going all Agent Orange" a fair abridgement of what Snyder did to those poor trees?

There's only one way to tell: by reading publicly available documents, like the devastating report from the Department of the Interior about l'affair des arbres (PDF).

Likening someone's actions to those of a long-banned herbicide is not the same thing as accusing them of using the herbicide themselves. For example, one could reasonably say that Dan Snyder "has a toxic reputation" without being held to the question of whether he is or is not "acting like a poison," a claim that many Redskins fans might nonetheless welcome the  opportunity to discuss.

As to the claim that "previously published reports have been previously corrected": That does not appear to apply to Tim Craig's May 2006 account in the Washington Post, which leads with the following words: 

A high-ranking National Park Service official improperly helped Washington Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder broker a deal to cut down more than 130 trees on a hillside between his Potomac estate and the C&O Canal, according to a report by the Interior Department inspector general's office.

The 2004 decision should have been left to park biologists and horticulturists, who had advised against the deal on federally protected land, and should have been opened to public debate, the report says.

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