Redskins owner says retraction from City Paper would have ended dispute

By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 4, 2011; 10:53 PM

Dan Snyder says all he wanted was an apology and a retraction.

The Redskins team owner said in interviews Friday that his legal dispute with Washington City Paper could have been averted had the newspaper retracted its Nov. 19 cover story detailing his alleged misdeeds as an owner and businessman.

"We were hoping [they'd] apologize, hoping they'd say they were sorry," Snyder told The Washington Post. "All they had to do was apologize and retract their lies."

Instead, City Paper and its parent company, Atalaya Capital Management, has stood by the story and its author, longtime staff writer Dave McKenna. That prompted Snyder to file a libel lawsuit against the weekly newspaper this week that seeks $2 million, plus additional punitive damages.

In more than a half-dozen interviews with radio, TV and print outlets Friday, during Super Bowl week in Dallas, the usually press-shy Snyder repeatedly said that the article - "The Cranky Redskins Fan's Guide to Dan Snyder" - had defamed him and insulted his wife, Tanya Snyder.

Among other things, he disputed the article's statement that he "got caught forging names as a telemarketer with Snyder Communications." Snyder was never personally accused of forgery. His former company, Snyder Communications, paid a fine to the state of Florida in 2001 for "slamming," the illegal practice of changing customers' phone service without their authorization, without admitting wrongdoing.

Snyder also alleged Friday that the article had questioned the sincerity of his wife's efforts to raise awareness of breast cancer research and prevention.

"You can't call people names, [can't call them] criminals," he told The Post. "You can't make fun of someone's wife and her effort for breast cancer awareness as national spokesperson for the National Football League and as a breast cancer survivor. It's just wrong. What's wrong is wrong, and this is wrong. And this guy [McKenna] crossed the line."

City Paper Editor Michael Schaffer said Snyder was mistaken in his characterization of the article. "I'm a little baffled," he said. "The words 'breast cancer' never appeared anywhere in the story. The idea that we made fun of his wife in any way is inaccurate and a distraction from the real issue. The real issue is that we have our facts right."

The Nov. 19 article includes a comment Tanya Snyder made in a television interview last year, saying her husband has "grown and evolved" and is now surrounded by "better people." Those comments came in the middle of a long interview that touched on several subjects but did not mention her involvement in breast cancer awareness efforts.

In his comments Friday, Snyder also expressed anger over a photo illustration accompanying the City Paper article that showed him with drawn-on horns and facial hair. Snyder, who is Jewish, alleges in his lawsuit that the illustration is anti-Semitic.

The lawsuit has drawn considerable media attention to the illustration, which has been featured prominently in national TV news reports this week.

In an interview on WJFK-FM, Post columnist and radio host Mike Wise asked Snyder whether his complaints about the illustration carried some irony considering that Native Americans have sued the team over its nickname, which some find demeaning.

Snyder replied, "Obviously, you have not read some of the history of the Redskins and the name of the team and what it means. You've seen a lot of lawsuits and a lot of victories by the Redskins overcoming those lawsuits. . . . The name [Redskins] is not meant to be offensive whatsoever. To compare that [to the illustration] is silly."

Separately, the rabbi who issued a statement on Snyder's behalf denouncing the illustration as anti-Semitic said Friday that he was not paid or compensated in any way for his statement. Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, said he issued his statement calling the illustration "inappropriate and unacceptable" after it was brought to his attention by Tony Wyllie, Snyder's spokesman.

"We're not in the quid pro quo business," said Cooper. "No one at the [center] knows Mr. Snyder. He added that his statement was heartfelt and meant to counter historically hurtful imagery. "Maybe we can turn this into a teachable moment," he said.

Cooper said he suggested that Snyder donate any proceeds from the lawsuit to the homeless, an idea that Snyder has embraced.

With no sign of a settlement to the dispute, the City Paper said Friday that it has set up a legal defense fund that will include public donations. "We will defend ourselves vigorously," Schaffer said.

Staff writer Rick Maese contributed to this report.

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