First let me state that I am not representing Dan Snyder or any of his business ventures, and I have no stake in the outcome of his suit.
Snyder’s refilled lawsuit against the Washington City Paper and Dave McKenna alleges that McKenna erred in his reporting. Snyder attorney Lanny Davis told me “Snyder filed because when he was factually reported as having been personally ‘caught’ as a forger, that could genuinely hurt his reputation as a businessman, it is a serious crime, it is false, and McKenna knew it was false (since on the inside page he reported the company settled). To suggest there is no difference between an individual and a company may be a cute argument. But if you are the person being reported as ‘caught’ forging a signature, you might not be so dispassionate.”
On this narrow issue, Snyder has a just claim.
But can Dan Snyder win a lawsuit? His attorneys must also prove, in John Feinstein’s words that “that the defendant was not only completely wrong but was wrong because of malice.” I think it’s unlikely Snyder will prevail in court but the suit is now squarely focused on one issue, not several.
Few people can find a good thing to say about Snyder, who has been a convenient piñata for the national media since he bought the Redskins and, most recently, since he sued the Washington City Paper. Columnists cast this as a simple “good versus evil” storyline that makes for nice copy and gives everyone a bandwagon they can jump on.
But — precisely because I see no one else doing it — I’ll lay out that case for Snyder.
• It isn’t Snyder’s fault that Albert Haynesworth turned out to be a Stay Puft marshmallow man with anger issues. While the size of Fat Albert’s contract is extraordinary, many aging players find new life with a new team such as LaDainian Tomlinson with the Jets in 2010 and Randy Moss with the Patriots in 2007. It could have easily worked out.
• Reasonable people can by unhappy with Snyder’s management. But he didn’t deserve to have fans demonize him with signs using foul language during games. To paraphrase Sam Wyche, “you don’t live in Philadelphia...you live in Washington.”
• The Redskins have an owner who is a passionate football fan and willing to spend the money to make a great team. The Cincinnati Bengals and MLB’s Pittsburgh Pirates would love to have an owner like this.
• Outside of Team Snyder, I see no evidence that anyone thinks filing a suit was a good idea. On Fox 5 (shameless plug) I said Snyder compounded a bad decision (filing a lawsuit and making Dave McKenna a national cause celebre) by refilling a suit and reviving the whole issue. Far better to let it die and admit it was a mistake.
There are folks in my field (crisis communications) who say a high profile figure should never let a charge go unanswered. Punch back and fight until your last dying breath.
But there’s another school of thought that says such a suit is a distraction to the plaintiff and that tilting at windmills can be exhausting, do even more damage by highlighting issues people had forgotten about, and may ultimately be fruitless. Only time will tell if Snyder is vindicated.
Hopefully, Snyder will soon realize that his credibility has little to do with a fine for slamming that the vast majority of Redskins fans never heard about.
It’s all about what you’re doing today and Snyder will find that his public perception will change markedly when he is less involved in day-to-day operations of the Redskins, when good people he’s hired are empowered to make decisions, the players they coach play well and the Redskins start winning football games again.