In a suit filed yesterday, Washington Redskins owner Dan “Chainsaw” Snyder has accused the Washington City Paper of libel and defamation and asked for $2 million. This is the worst move he could have made.
Relatively few people had read the article, “The Cranky Redskins Fan’s Guide to Dan Snyder,” written by Dave McKenna and published on November 19, 2010. It’s a local, alternative weekly paper with circulation of maybe 100,000 on a good week. I love football commentary in general and mockery of Dan Snyder in particular, and even had I picked up the paper or found the link at the time, I would have skimmed it at best.
Now, everybody’s reading it. Judging by the slow load times, I’d venture to say the paper’s website is getting orders of magnitude more traffic than it’s designed for. I read the full article in detail, as well as the publisher’s eloquent response to the lawsuit. I have long since adopted Gregg Easterbrook’s derisive moniker for the meddling football owner, “Chainsaw” Dan Snyder, and even I had no idea how many truly scummy things Snyder has done. Now I have the man’s entire list of foibles in one centralized location. Thanks, Chainsaw Dan!
Snyder clearly has no idea how the media works in general and how the internet works in particular. This is a fantastic example of the Streisand Effect. Snyder wanted the article to go away; instead, he’s helped bring national attention, ensuring that millions more know about his shameful past behavior.
Snyder also has no understanding of First Amendment case law, and his law firm’s willful ignorance on this count is reprehensible. Read the City Paper’s lawyer’s letter to Snyder’s legal team, which is a brief, well-written, and legally sound “Go to Hell.” I hope the judge dismisses the filing as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) suit and awards attorneys’ fees (and maybe even damages) to the City Paper.
In addition to accusations based on the article itself, the suit also includes as a basis for action the photograph accompanying the article–an ordinary photo of Snyder, defaced with ballpoint pen-style sketching of bushy eyebrows, a mustache, a pointed goatee, and horns. The style is much like one might find on a subway billboard or in a high school yearbook. As part of the allegation of defamation, the suit claims that this photo is “a blatantly anti-Semitic” depiction of Mr. Snyder, “precisely the type of imagery used historically, including in Nazi Germany, to dehumanize and vilify the Jewish people and associate them with a litany of libels over the last 2,000 years” (p. 6).
Snyder has hit Godwin’s Law at a record pace. The paper specifically addresses the accusation of antisemitism here. Many of the paper’s employees are Jewish, “including staffers who edited the story and designed the cover,” and they certainly didn’t intend or see the drawing as antisemitic.
Also, I find the allegation in the context of this particular legal filing to be deeply troubling. There is no basis in law for suing somebody for deriding a public figure’s religion. We could debate the merits of this until the cows come home, but it’s a policy decision our society has made, and lawsuits have to be structured by current law. Thus, including an allegation of religious intolerance is more than irrelevant; it’s willfully incendiary. The goal is presumably to get the court and the public to hold a prejudicial opinion of the defendants before the matter is even heard before the court.
This lawsuit shows that “Chainsaw” Dan Snyder is even worse at managing his public image and understanding the First Amendment than he is at running an NFL franchise. Which is really saying something.
P.S. Here’s an awesome, heartfelt thank you to Snyder from Washington Post writer Gene Weingarten—a lifelong New York Giants fan. To whit:
I know you are taking some criticism today from carping media types. They seem to think that you are not only behaving like a petty, vindictive bully but also that you are being strategically stupid – by bringing a vast new audience to a three-month-old, otherwise-obscure alternative-media piece, which can be found here.