By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 2, 2011; 11:55 PM
The war between Redskins owner Dan Snyder and Washington City Paper just got a little hotter.
Snyder filed suit late Wednesday against the weekly newspaper and its parent company, Atalaya Capital Management, in New York state court, seeking $2 million in general damages plus unspecified punitive damages and court costs.
Snyder alleges in the suit that City Paper libeled and defamed him in a series of articles dating to 2009.
City Paper, whose articles about Snyder included an unflattering Nov. 19 cover story, released a letter from Snyder's attorneys to Atalaya that suggested the company would be in for an expensive fight if it didn't accede to Snyder's objections.
"Mr. Snyder has more than sufficient means to protect his reputation," said the Nov. 24 letter, which was written by David Donovan, the Redskins' chief operating officer and general counsel, and posted on City Paper's Web site Wednesday afternoon. "We presume that defending such litigation would not be a rational strategy for an investment fund such as yours. Indeed, the cost of litigation would presumably quickly outstrip the asset value of the Washington City Paper."
Before the suit was filed, Snyder spokesman Tony Wyllie said that any damages won would be contributed to a fund for the homeless.
In an interview Wednesday, City Paper Publisher Amy Austin once again stood by the Nov. 19 article, titled "The Cranky Fan's Guide to Dan Snyder," and defended its author, staff writer Dave McKenna. "We don't believe there's anything wrong with what we published. The facts are correct."
In her statement, Austin said the newspaper "emphatically" rejects the idea of removing McKenna from reporting on Snyder. People close to City Paper told The Post on Tuesday that Snyder had sought McKenna's dismissal. Patty Glaser, who is handling the litigation for Snyder, said Wednesday that he is not seeking McKenna's removal.
Snyder's public relations representatives also released a statement from the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles condemning the cover image City Paper used with the article: a photograph of Snyder doctored with scribbled-on horns and facial hair.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the center, which is named for the famed Nazi hunter, said it is "inappropriate and unacceptable when a symbol like this - associated with virulent anti-Semitism going back to the Middle Ages, deployed by the genocidal Nazi regime, by Soviet propagandists and even in 2011 by those who still seek to demonize Jews today - is used on the front cover of a publication in our Nation's Capital against a member of the Jewish community."
Snyder's representatives said they solicited the statement from Cooper on Wednesday.
Austin denied any anti-Semitic intent, saying the illustration was meant to suggest a childlike defacing of a Snyder photo - something an angry fan might do.
Donovan, in his Nov. 24 letter to Atalaya, specifically objected to the illustration and to "the many blatantly false, misleading or simply irrelevant items" in McKenna's article. According to Donovan's letter, "Probably the most obviously reckless and false statement is the assertion in the lead of the story that 'Dan Snyder . . . got caught forging names as a telemarketer with Snyder Communications.' "
McKenna's reference was to an investigation by officials in Florida who fined Snyder Communications in 2001 for the unauthorized switching of customers' telephone service, an illegal practice known as "slamming." Snyder denied wrongdoing at the time.
City Paper also linked to a letter from Atalaya's attorney, Curtis B. Krasik, who wrote in early December in response to Donovan: "Your Nov. 24 letter is replete with baseless characterizations . . . as well as demonstrably false statements of fact and law." McKenna's article, Krasik wrote, is "a tongue-in-cheek opinion piece expressing fans' frustration with your client's ownership of the Redskins" that is fully protected by the First Amendment right of free speech.
In her published response Wednesday, Austin said the paper made several offers to settle Snyder's complaints, including an in-person airing of grievances or a chance for Snyder to write a guest column responding to the article. The newspaper also asked him "to provide information demonstrating that what we published was false," but has not received such documentation.
Donovan's letter suggests that City Paper might have had a business motive for writing negatively about Snyder. Given that the newspaper competes for advertising against Snyder's string of local radio stations, there might be "some benefit to your fund [Atalaya] by diminishing Mr. Snyder's . . . business acumen and or his reputation in the business and investment community," Donovan wrote.
Krasik replied that such an assertion is "specious and outrageous" and threatened to subject Snyder to a countersuit if Snyder made such allegations in court.
Glaser emphasized that the team owner's complaint is centered on "hurtful and false" reporting. "A publication simply can't print what [City Paper] did and expect someone to go quietly into the night," she said. "This is not a case of the big guy versus the little guy. Every publication, big or small, has a responsibility to report accurately and truthfully. That's what this is about."