April 25, 2011

On Tuesday I am refiling my lawsuit against Washington City Paper, a tabloid paper that published false and reckless charges about me in November 2010. The case needed to be refiled in Washington, not New York, for legal reasons; the rest of the complaint is essentially the same.

I expect to be criticized once again for pursuing this lawsuit. I originally filed it for one reason: The paper refused to issue an apology and retract false and damaging attacks on my integrity. If it had done so, there would have been no lawsuit.

For more than eight months, the same writer at this tabloid blogged or wrote about me. In producing more than 55 pieces, only three times did this particular writer bother to call my staff to check facts. The reporters of The Post and other papers know that my communications adviser, Tony Wyllie, is available 24-7 to respond to questions about me and the Washington Redskins. This writer, however, chose not to call to check the facts before he wrote an article last November that contained so many false assertions.

I am the son of a University of Missouri School of Journalism graduate whose professional pedigree includes working at United Press International and National Geographic. I am proud of that legacy from my dad and understand the journalist’s perspective and challenges.

I am not thin-skinned about personal criticism. I consider myself very fortunate to own the Redskins. Criticism comes with the territory and I respect it. I have never sued people who publish critical opinions of me, nor have I previously sued any news organization.

I understand the anger people feel toward me when the Redskins have a losing season or when we sign a veteran player who does not meet expectations. I have been a Redskins fan all my life, and I get angry, too, including at myself. I am the first to admit that I’ve made mistakes as an owner. I hope I’ve learned from them. All I want is for the Redskins to win!

But I also hope that people understand why sometimes, especially in the age of the Internet, when an unretracted lie can live forever, you have to draw the line. I honor vigorous free expression in the media. But even a public figure can sue for defamation when a tabloid paper publishes a harmful assertion of a fact, not an opinion, that it knows to be false or recklessly disregards the truth.

That is exactly what this writer and City Paper did. Among many examples in the November 2010 article, the most egregious was when the article stated: This is “the same Dan Snyder who got caught forging names as a telemarketer for Snyder Communications.” That is a clear factual assertion that I am guilty of forgery, a serious crime that goes directly to the heart of my reputation — as a businessman, marketer and entrepreneur. It is false.

Remarkably, several weeks after I filed the lawsuit, the publisher wrote in Washington City Paper that she was “baffled” that anyone could read the article and believe that I had been accused of personally engaging in forgery. “In fact,” she wrote, “we have no reason to believe he personally did any such thing — and our story never says he did.”

Well, I am baffled, too, since personally engaging in forgery is precisely what the paper explicitly said I had been “caught” doing. If the publisher has “no reason to believe” that “Dan Snyder got caught forging names,” then why not retract the words that explicitly said I was a forger and simply apologize?

Let’s be clear what this lawsuit is not about. It is not about money. I have already publicly committed to donate any financial damages I win to help the homeless. Nor did I or any of my representatives ask for the tabloid writer to be fired, despite published reports to the contrary.

The large for-profit corporation that owns Washington City Paper could have checked the public facts and done the right thing: required its paper to retract the false charges and apologize. Had they done so when I filed the lawsuit, I would have immediately withdrawn the case. If City Paper in the next several days retracts the false statements cited in my lawsuit and apologizes, I am still willing to withdraw the case.

Simply put, this lawsuit is about the truth — and the need to correct the record, even when you are a public figure, when your character and integrity are falsely and recklessly attacked. This is the case whether you are a public figure or a private citizen. Nothing more and nothing less.

Enough is enough.

The writer is owner of the Washington Redskins.