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Dan Snyder lawsuit: Who is Dave McKenna?

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McKenna, far right, a Zelig for our time, jams with Alex Chilton, far left (photo courtesy Dave McKenna)

Dave McKenna will not speak to TBD on the phone. Nor will he respond to e-mails that seek some kind of comment, or even confirmation of basic biographical facts. But a public records search finds a citizen with that name, who matches certain characteristics of the Washington City Paper sports columnist, who is 49. According to the accounts of numerous pals and contemporaries, the bearded McKenna has the fashion sense of an indie-rock fixated Oscar Madison. One former City Paper editor, Jack Shafer, says some of McKenna's cars were solid contenders to be declared Superfund sites. He works from home much of the time, is married, and has two young sons.  

Long story short

Meet Dave McKenna, the man Dan Snyder is suing.

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This was once trivia known largely to pals and co-workers, but is now suddenly of broader interest. Because, as everyone reading this surely knows by now, City Paper and its owners at Atalaya Capital Management were sued on Feb. 2 by Redskins owner and D.C. media chew-toy Dan Snyder, over specific statements made by McKenna in his now-famous piece from last November, “The Cranky Redskins Fans’ Guide To Dan Snyder.”

This has brought a ton of attention to his work, but less is known about the guy behind it. McKenna’s decidedly uninterested in the public aspects of being a sportswriter, but his reach and influence at home is nonetheless such that TBD had to turn to me — someone without the slightest passing interest in either the Washington Redskins or pro football in general, someone who’s never met Dave McKenna, someone who’s never had an actual conversation with Dave McKenna, unless you count the extremely brief phone calls in which I failed to jolly him into discussing any aspect of this piece —  to flesh out a profile of the guy and the singular niche he’s carved out for himself, because all of the usual and sorta-usual local suspects had some kind of personal tie to him.  

“I think he sends me a yearly thank-you message for giving me his break in journalism,” says Shafer, who edited City Paper between 1985 and 1995, and who was running the joint back when McKenna was an intern there.  

“He spends a lot of time looking at guitars on Craigslist,” says Dan Steinberg, a staff writer at the Washington Post.    

That obsession with guitars and amplifiers has followed McKenna into middle age, and he is known for leaving solo renditions of “Happy Birthday” and “Auld Lang Syne” on pals’ voicemails, depending on the occasion. He remains enthused enough about music to write frequent freelance concert reviews for the Washington Post.  

He played in a short-lived band, the Bremers, with former D.C.ers David Segal, now a business reporter at the New York Times, and Eli Attie, an executive producer of House. (Segal on the ensemble: “Terrible. Terrible band.”) Attie, a close friend, wrote a “Dave McKenna” character into a House teleplay, in fact — a character who received a false positive result from a biopsy. When the onscreen McKenna was informed the original diagnosis was incorrect, he “got extremely angry and upset when he found out he was going to live,” says Attie. (Attie adds that character’s situation is based on a true story, but it does not involve the real-life McKenna.)    

“In a paper that used to be full of very young and hip types — he is not,” says Michael Schaffer, the current editor of City Paper.  

“He is a very good reporter, and a very careful reporter,” says David Carr, a former editor of City Paper who’s now a media columnist at the New York Times. “He is, for sure, the best finder of stories of any columnist I ever edited. By a long margin. He was always coming in with something. Like, ‘where in the hell did you get that?’”  

“He is really committed to his particular project, which is this reported sports journalism about the local scene,” says Tom Scocca, another former City Paper editor. “He spends all of his time standing outside the national sports conversation.”  

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