There oughta be a law against Daniel Snyder’s lawsuit accusing Washington City Paper of defamation—and, it turns out, there very well may be.
Snyder sued the District’s main alternative weekly over its sportswriter Dave McKenna’s brilliant, apt, and accurate “The Cranky Redskins Fan’s Guide to Dan Snyder,” a comprehensive brief against the petty tyrant who has owned the beloved franchise for more than a decade of mediocrity, and that’s just on-the-field. Snyder’s case is dependent on deliberate misreadings that a fairly intelligent child could see through, as well as, on the part of the plaintiff, skin thinner than mesh work-out shorts. In fact, the suit is intended not actually to be adjudicated but to use the wide discrepancy between the resources of the multibillionaire Snyder and the small weekly in order to bully the latter into firing McKenna and stop pointing out the obvious shortcomings of the Skins’ diminutive (in all senses) owner. This isn’t only my opinion; it’s something Snyder’s general counsel acknowledged months ago when he wrote to WCP’s investment fund, “We presume that defending such litigation would not be a rational strategy … Indeed, the cost of the litigation would presumably quickly outstrip the asset value of the Washington City Paper.” (If you’d care to narrow the discrepancy, the legal defense fund is here.)
But exactly such lawsuits, according to a new motion filed Friday by WCP, are banned under an innovative and brand-new D.C. law known as the Anti-SLAPP Act (“Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation”). The D.C. Council (I quote from court documents accessible here) intended the law, WCP says, “to bring an early and definitive end to lawsuits instituted by those plaintiffs who have made litigation their ‘weapon of choice’ against their public critics, ‘not to win the lawsuit but to punish the opponent and intimidate them into silence.’” The special motion to dismiss places the burden on Snyder to prove that his claim—to quote from the law itself—“is likely to succeed on the merits.” Certainly Floyd Abrams, the nation’s top First Amendment attorney, thinks it won’t—he’s working for WCP. (Snyder, by contrast, has notable dirtbag Lanny Davis on his side.)
Oh, and what of the allegation that the WCP cover image (above) was anti-Semitic—the ludicrous notion that it harnesses Snyder’s Jewishness to impute demonic qualities (as though the Skins’ record during his tenure weren’t enough to impute that)? The charge was featured prominently in Snyder’s first complaint; Snyder even got the Simon Wiesenthal Center to echo it (and it has yet, to my knowledge, to retract its own statement). In a footnote, WCP takes special care to deal with this: “Both Washington City Paper and Mr. McKenna emphatically reject Mr. Snyder’s accusation that the scribbling of facial hair and horns on his photograph was intended by them or reasonably understood by readers as an anti-Semitic slur,” a memorandum accompanying the motion states. It continues:
To the contrary, it represents a common (if arguably adolescent) way of poking fun at someone. That, however, has not stopped Mr. Snyder from making the spurious charge, both in his complaints and in his various public relations initiatives, that the scribblings are evidence of the defendants’ anti-Semitism, notwithstanding Mr. Snyder’s knowledge that his religion is never mentioned in the [article] and that responsible editors of Washington City Paper are themselves Jewish. See Smith Aff. ¶ 7 & Ex. 5 (managing editor observing in blog post that “we at Washington City Paper take accusations of anti-Semitism seriously—in part because many of us are Jewish, including staffers who edited the story and designed the cover. So let us know, Mr. Snyder, when you want to fight the real anti-Semites”); id. ¶ 8 & Ex. 6 (Huffington Post report observing that “Washington City Paper managing editor Mike Madden, who has taken it upon himself to address this matter specifically, was bar mitzvahed in August of 1989”).
Step 1: Drop the lawsuit.
Step 2: Sell the team.
City Paper Seeks Dismissal of Dan Snyder’s Lawsuit [WCP]
Related: The Cranky Redskins Fan’s Guide to Dan Snyder [WCP]
Bully Pulpit [WCP]
Earlier: AJC Dismisses Charge of Anti-Semitism
Earlier: Wiesenthal Center Out-of-Bounds on Snyder
Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.