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Gene Weingarten discusses his open letter to Dan Snyder

Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 3, 2011; 2:00 PM

Gene Weingarten was online for a special chat session on Thursday, Feb. 3 at 2 p.m. to discuss his open letter to Redskins owner Dan Snyder who is suing the Washington City paper over an unflattering article.

He took your questions and comments earlier. Feel free to write your own open letter to Snyder or tweet it at #dearsnyder.

UPDATE: Snyder has filed his lawsuit against the City Paper. Read it here.

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Gene Weingarten:

Isn't this GREAT?

Between the time I started writing this piece, and the time I finished it, the story had changed. Originally, Dan Snyder merely was trying to get the reporter fired, which seemed petty, small, mean-spirited and un-American. By end of day he had filed a lawsuit, though his actual goal seems pretty similar, judging from this:

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"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."

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So, if he doesn't think they could afford to defend the lawsuit, what CAN they do? I guess they might mollify Mr. Snyder by firing the reporter, huh? The reporter in question is one Dave McKenna, who wrote this devastating piece in November, a piece that has probably been read today by 100 times more people than had read it initially, thanks to this lawsuit. If I may repeat myself, people are reading it by going to this website.

Not wishing to be sued by Mr. Snyder, I would not myself characterize the nature of a lawsuit filed in the expectation that the defendant cannot afford to defend it and would be wiser to settle in some other way. But I can see how some uncharitable persons without a sophisticated understanding of the law might uncharitably call this, you know, like, extortion.

Nice little newspaper you got there. Sure would be a shame if you had to close it down, when all you'd really have to do...

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The actual lawsuit is filled with a lot of self-righteous bluster about how unfairly Mr. Snyder has been treated, and how scurrilous was the piece in question, but what I find interesting is that in responding to a story containing dozens and dozens of specific allegations that he is a terrible, greedy, meddling, incompetent failure of an owner who cares not a whit about his fans...he actually is suing over three very small alleged errors that have nothing to do with the Skins.

But the most amazing part of this lawsuit is its ludicrously dishonest, bogus allegation of anti-Semitism, based upon this art that accompanied the offending story, which, I'd like to remind you, can be found here.

I guess, if you draw horns and a beard on a picture of someone, CLEARLY your point is that this person is an evil Jew. What else could it possibly mean?

But on to the matter at hand, which is discussing my op-ed piece today, and this issue in general. The first item of business is an observation just made by a friend of mine, that Snyder may have just established himself as the biggest jerk in the history of Washington D.C., which is a jaw-dropping distinction, when you think about it. Do you think that's even possible? Let's find out!

Today's first Instapoll!

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Okay, maybe that's a little broad. Let's turn this into an issue of religion and culture, the way Snyder did. Among Jews, there is a term "shanda for the goyim," used disparagingly to describe a Jewish person who has done something so bad that Jews fear he will be used, by non-Jews, as a broad-brush example of how bad all Jews are. Jewish people are embarrassed by shandas for the goyim. Which leads pretty much to our...SECOND INSTAPOLL.

Okay, let's proceed to the chat.

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A fan in despair: Mr Weingarten,

Thanks for your hilarious open letter. Never thought I would ever be in step with a fan of a hated rival.

This fan has heard that in a galaxy far, far away, there are sports franchises that understand that there is no distinction between a consistently winning team and a sound organization, with sound culture. Do tell, what's it like to be a fan of one such franchise? What does it feel like to root for a franchise that has a long-term plan always in place, that always has a plan B, C, D, and E? That knows and practices patience? That understands there has to be a clear chain-of-command in order for the organization to function? That treats its employees as human beings? That values youth and constantly building?

There are many experiences I covet, like a $1000 plate in a Michelin-starred Parisian restaurant. Another is that of being a fan for a classy ownership and organization. So tell us what it feels like.

Gene Weingarten: You know, seriously, this is true. The Giants have had lousy seasons, but I always have hope because the ownership is classy. Internal grievances are never flogged through the media, mature decisions are made my mature people. Coaches get support. It's great.

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Gene Weingarten: I'm not sure if this idea is already out there, but I've gotten a few emails suggesting something interesting.

Redskins fans are in a pickle: There is no way to fire the owner. If you love the team, you'll still go to games. Etc.

Now, there MIGHT be a way to fire the owner. These readers suggested that someone set up a City Paper Defense fund, which Redskins fans can donate to. By thus voting with their wallets, fans could assure a VERY expensive, robustly contested and counter-sued lawsuit for Mr. Snyder. Plus it would be enormously bad publicity if, say, the defense fund immediately got, like, $20 million by loyal Redskins fans who are sick of what this guy has done to their team.

Interesting, no?

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Legal fees: We need to start a City Paper Legal Defense Fund.

Gene Weingarten: See? It's OUT there.

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Anonymous: Wow, the owner of the Reds---s is filing a suit that charges anti-Semitism. If he wins, will Native Americans sue him in return?

Gene Weingarten: Oooh. Interesting. You're right, he is alleging cultural insensitivity!

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Legal Costs: So is there a way to donate to defray the City Paper legal costs? A tangible way to let Danny know how you feel?

Gene Weingarten: These all came in before the chat begin. It is SUCH a good idea.

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Washington, DC: The first numbered paragraph of Snyder's complaint pretty much cements him in my mind as the biggest d-bag currently alive. I recommend that everyone read it. Is there any hope for the Redskins?

Gene Weingarten: That whole suit is brilliant. Top to bottom.

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Ithaca, NY: I was going to ask a contrarian question like "what is one to do if one feels slandered and libeled - doesn't Snyder have a right to sue and shouldn't we respect that?"

Then I read the suit.

Holy cow, who are his attorneys? The future lawyers club at Potomac Middle School? That is the worst written piece of junk I've ever seen, with the main claim being "they're meanies and hurt my feelings!"

They don't even know the difference between "principle" and "principal" (item 15).

I also thought that they were insane for asking for a jury trial, until I realized that they were also asking for jurisdiction in New York City. Apparently they read your article!

Gene Weingarten: Hahaha.

It doesn't read like a lawsuit. It reads like a press release.

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Central Virginia: Dear Gene,

Hahahahahahahaha! That was GREAT!

By the way, you do know I love you, don't you?

Gene Weingarten: I love you too. Don't tell my wife.

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Baltimore MD: Gene: I know that The Rib is an attorney. What does she make of this from a legal standpoint? And if she knows any hotshot 1st Amendment lawyers who want to earn the undying love of current and former Redskins fans, she should encourage them to pick up a little pro bono work. I am emphatically not an attorney, but it seems to me that a well written motion to dismiss will end this farce in minutes. (See Jerry Falwell vs. Larry Flynt.)

Gene Weingarten: Haven't talked to her, but reading this complaint, and knowing a little about libel law, I am not seeing very many "try-able issues of fact." One, maybe.

That's not Snyder's biggest problem, IMO. He is emphatically a public figure, meaning he has to do more than prove that something was false: He has to prove that the newspaper printed it KNOWING it was false, or in reckless disregard of the truth.

That is a notoriously difficult obstacle to overcome.

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Arlington, VA: If I were Mr. Snyder's dry cleaner, I'd be very, very careful not to lose his pants.

Gene Weingarten: Haha.

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Native Americans everywhere: You forgot to include that it has been a few years now that the team should have realized that their name is an insult to a group of people. They could make a quick and simple change, like to Reds, or Commies, or Buckskins, or Foreskins.

Gene Weingarten: They won't be the foreskins so long as Snyder is in charge.

Haha. Circumcision joke!

It's okay, I'm Jewish.

Why do Jews wear those skull caps?

Because those little propellers cost extra!

It's okay, I'm Jewish.

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Eagles Fan: Dear Dan: Thank you for taking Donovan off our hands. You also made Andy Reid look like a Mensa candidate.

Gene Weingarten: I should make something clear: I really respect McNabb. To continue the ongoing Jew theme, he is a real mensch. I think he's past his prime, but I am hoping the Giants pick him up as a formidable backup to Eli Manning. Throw the scare into Manning that he needs.

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Shaker Heights, OH: Wow - You can not draw horns on a picture of a Jewish person without being cast as an anti-Semite. I did not know that.

Gene Weingarten: I consider any criticism of me, of any sort, to be rank antisemitism.

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US Embassy, Overseas: regarding the two polls -- I voted for McCarthy -- hands down -- he was evil incarnate, and frankly really screwed up people's lives forcing them to turn on one another -- Dan Snyder has not yet reached that level. HOWEVER, in the shanda for the goyim poll, I think that Snyder is worse than Madoff -- primarily because the investors -knew- they were getting unreal returns -- in other words, something doesn't smell right. With Snyder, he's looking to bilk the Redskin fans anyway he can -- come on, airline peanuts?? charging for practices?? charging thousands for seats where you can't even see?? Redskins fans are not those who are elite investors who should know better -- Snyder is taking advantage of people who have no other avenue but to sit in front of their TVs -- he wins hands down.

Gene Weingarten: Okay.

I'm not sure there IS a worse shanda than Madoff, though. I think he passed the Rosenbergs!

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Burke, VA: Mr. W:

First of all, mega-kudos on your column; I bow to you.

Second, I ask this question as a student of human nature: is there NOBODY in Dan Snyder's life who can turn to him, and say, "This is an awful idea; you should not do this; in a year, you will look back and wonder what you were thinking"? Or does he HAVE those people, and chooses to ignore them?

Gene Weingarten: I think the Saddam effect is happening: People are afraid to give him bad news.

Saddam didn't KNOW he didn't have WMD.

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Washington, D.C.: Why did Snyder have to go all the way to Los Angeles and "solicit" a complaint that the CityPaper's illustration was supposedly anti-semitic? Certainly there was no such complaint around here when the article came out. And did he attempt to solicit one from the local Jewish community, but was unsuccessful?

Gene Weingarten: That's rank speculation. We shall have none of that!

I'll bet you're right. The charge is totally preposterous.

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Frederick, MD: Acting as devil's advocate takes on a whole new meaning when trying to defend Snyder, no?

Gene Weingarten: Hahahaha!

That's really clever.

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Alexandria by way of Boston: As a devout N.E. Patriots fan, I also love Dan Snyder. Long may he rave.

Gene Weingarten: I'm a bigger fan, because we get to play him twice a year.

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Washington, DC: What is completely mind-boggling about this, other than the fact that he has now guaranteed that millions of people have now read the article, is that he's making Jack Kent Cooke look like a saint (not the New Orleans type), and that was a cuckoo family there. At least then, the crazy wasn't spread to the team.

Gene Weingarten: The guy who owes Snyder a LOT is Peter Angelos. He's even making Angelos look good.

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NY: From your discussion on the Volt: Your method of psyching yourself up for difficult parts of your job (conjuring up "The Machine") is remarkably similar to Gisele Bundchen's method for mentally preparing for photo shoots (she conjures up "It").

Are you actually Gisele?

washingtonpost.com: No.

Gene Weingarten: I resent that, Ms. washingtonpost.com.

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Washington, DC: Gene,

Sorry to mix my sports metaphors, but that Open Letter was a home run. Way to throw him a googly, old chap!

~A fan

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.

There is an expression that journalists sometimes use: The story wrote itself.

Took me about an hour.

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Should Dan care?: He is rich. He owns a successful business that has enough loyal customers (who call themselves "fans") who will patronize his business no matter what the owner does that he doesn't have to worry. I do get a laugh when some say the team needs a new owner, as though this is up to a popular vote. If he is able to crush the "City Paper," many will criticize him loudly, but the stands will still be filled, the team's merchandise will still sell, broadcasting deals will be signed, etc. Poor guy.

Gene Weingarten: The bottom line is that he has the fans by the short hairs, and he knows it. He is a businessman, and he knows that the fans are the least of his concerns. They;ll fill the stadium regardless of what he does.

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DC: Amy Austin makes clear in her defense of the article that while McKenna wrote it, editors and artists that worked on it were Jewish. Can they then use your defense? "It's ok, we're Jewish! Now I'm not saying Snyder is cheap, but..."

Gene Weingarten: The whole antisemitism thing is completely transparent. And everyone nose that.

Haha.

See what I did there?

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Albuquerque, NM: Your column revives a question I've asked from time to time over the years, to which I've never had a satisfactory answer. How come sports journalists are so much better writers than the hard news and feature writers elsewhere in the paper?

Gene Weingarten: You ain't from around these parts, are ya?

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Annandale, VA: Just curious -- how different was your letter before the Post's legal staff edited it?

Gene Weingarten: They edited out one line. I had no problem with that.

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Regarding your letter to Dan Snydor, excoriating him for attacking a newspaper that wrote an unflattery article about him, while at the same time neglecting the football time of which he is in charge that led to the original writing of said article, which offended Dan and led him to attack them, which metastasized into your article in the Washington Post today:: Ouch.

Gene Weingarten: Indeed.

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He has to prove that the newspaper printed it KNOWING it was false, or in reckless disregard of the truth. : I thought he also had to prove that the CP deliberately set out to injure him. Isn't that a requirement for a libel conviction?

Gene Weingarten: Not really. What you are thinking of is "actual malice," but the legal definition of malice and the dictionary definition are a little different. Reckless carelessness is enough.

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Arlington, VA: I dressed up last Halloween as Dan Snyder. I had horns and money pouring out of my pockets. I am also on the board of a couple of Jewish organizations. Does this make me as bad as George Soros or Noam Choamsky in the self hating jew category?

Gene Weingarten: You are a monster.

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Fairfax: If the story wrote itself, does that protect you from being sued by Snyder?

Gene Weingarten: Yes, that will be my defense!

You people are good today.

And by "you people" I am of course subtly insulting the Jews.

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MS Washington Post dot com: LIZ?!

washingtonpost.com: Sadly, no. But she said she'd be watching this chat while typing in her own. Hi Liz!

Gene Weingarten: I urge you all to go to Liz's chat right now.

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Chevy Chase, MD: I think every sports writer in America who wishes to should file a similar story on Snyder. How many people can he actually sue? It would be very 'I am Spartacus'.

Gene Weingarten: There is a famous story I am vaguely remembering about a press conference where a public official was asked a really nasty (but deserved) question by Drew Pearson, the muckraker. He answered haughtily "I do not answer questions from Drew Pearson."

There was an embarrassed silence.

Then a very respected and famous journalist (I forget who) raised his hand. "Do you answer questions from me?"

"Of course," the guy said.

And then the famous respected guy asked the first guy's question.

Sorry to be so imprecise about this. It may not have been Pearson, either.

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Downtown, DC: When writing the column, Gene, did you use a thesaurus? Or did all those wondrous words in the third paragraph simply roll trippingly off your tongue?

Gene Weingarten: I AM a thesaurus.

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Snyder Be Dam, MD: Q: How did Snyder make the Redskins the second-most valuable NFL franchise?

A: He started out with the most valuable franchise.

Gene Weingarten: Ha.

My favorite sports-related Onion headline recently was after the Yankees lost to the Texas Rangers because their stars suddenly forgot to hit. "A-Rod Finally Wins Pennant for Rangers!"

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Giants over Jets: I've always wanted to ask someone from New York why they're fans of the Giants over the Jets? Can you explain? I'd think someone of your age would have been more likely to be a Jets fan since you were likely a teenager/young adult when Joe Namath was playing.

Gene Weingarten: Easy answer: I grew up about ten blocks from Yankee Stadium.

I don't hate the Jets, though. And I also don't hate the Mets.

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Thin-skinned: Do you think Dan Snyder has been taking thin-skinned lessons from Sarah Palin?

Gene Weingarten: You know, I don't even think this is exactly about being thin-skinned. This is about being almost incomprehensibly arrogant.

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PSLs Coming?: Given all we know about Snyder it really surprises me that he hasn't instituted PSLs at FedEx. Why do you think this is? Do you think he is waiting until they have a good year or two before he does it? The exodus will be massive, but with such a high number of people on the waiting list he should have no trouble still filling the stadium even with PSLs, right?

washingtonpost.com: For the uninitiated, PSLs are personal seat licenses.

Gene Weingarten: He probably never thought about it until your post.

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Arlington, VA: Your third chat in a week! We could get used to this.

Gene Weingarten: I know. It's harrowing.

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Lewins, KY: Your shanda poll left off Monica Lewinsky. She perpetuated the stereotype that young Jewish women only want rich, powerful, preferably non-Jewish older men. OK, maybe not the worst of all time, but still.

Gene Weingarten: I left her off because, ironically, she also did something good for Judaism. She debunked the untrue myth about how Jewish girls never do a certain thing....

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Washington DC: Why do you think the fans will fill the stadium regardless of what he does? For all the hype about 200,000 people on the season ticket list, they were advertising on the sides of buses this year...

Gene Weingarten: I know, it's true. But I think a fan is a fan.

Personally, I don't get the thrill of being at a game. Baseball is a sport best seen live. Football is MADE for TV.

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Potomac: Gene Weingarten: The bottom line is that he has the fans by the short hairs, and he knows it.

What if we just shave our short hairs? Oops, I forgot we're not allowed to talk about that!

Gene Weingarten: Correct. We are not allowed to go there.

Chatters not familiar with Chatological Humor have no idea what we are talking about.

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Area Woman: Dear Gene: Boy, is this fun!!

Gene Weingarten: What I find great about this is that 1) Snyder called this down upon himself, and 2) It's absolutely devastating. People just HATE him, and a lot of pent-up anger is now free-flowing anger.

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D.C.: Gene, I just wanted to say that I appreciate your using your bizarre popularity and the clout of the WP for good. Mr. Snyder went hunting for rabbits and now doubtless wishes he had loaded for bear. No way he will win this, in any sense of the word.

Gene Weingarten: For reasons just stated, I think he loses even if he wins the suit, which he won't.

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Durham NC: As an Eagles fan, I share your enthusiasm for Mr. Snyder.

I feel that Washington football fans deserve no better. I was born a Baltimore Colts fan. The only thing I would enjoy more than Snyder's reign would be waking up one snowy March morning to discover that Snyder and the franchise had decamped for Oklahoma City.

Gene Weingarten: I feel bad for Redskins fans. I think they love the team. I respect that.

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Gene Weingarten: Folks, thank you all for a spirited and funny chat. Questions have tricked off, so I'm just gonna declare us done. Someone out there: Defense fund! A great idea!

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Gene Weingarten: Ooop. Wait. Some more questions!

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I'm confused: Could you tell me where I could find the article in question? I'm having a hard time tracking it down. Oh, and throw in a picture of Scarlett Johansson while you're at it?

washingtonpost.com: I think Gene said this website was good. Here's Scarlett:

Gene Weingarten: Thanks!

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DC: It's probably never a wise decision to go after The Washington Post. (Snyder did, in a sense, in this instance by questioning the City Paper's interaction with a Post sports writer.) Was there a feeling at the Post that they needed to pull out the big guns for this piece, so they asked you to write it?

Gene Weingarten: Nope. This was my idea.

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Philly Fan: Gene Weingarten: Baseball is a sport best seen live. Football is MADE for TV.

YES! Not to mention the average baseball stadium-goer is far less obnoxious than the average football stadium- goer.

Unless we're talking about Philadelphia... they're all obnoxious.

Gene Weingarten: It's totally impossible to see what's really going on at a live football game. On TV, replays, especially when they focus on an individual receiver, etc., are invaluable.

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Ward 8: Is hizzoner, Mayor For Life Marion Barry pleased that the City Paper has a new whipping boy? (Oops, is that racist?)

Gene Weingarten: It's antisemitic.

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Seattle: Here's an instapoll for you: Is Danny best described as an orifice, a personal hygiene product or an oosik?

Gene Weingarten: Hahahaha.

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Philly: Does the commissioner of the NFL have any sway over owners? Would any of the other owners step in and say something to him?

Gene Weingarten: I have to think the other owners -- especially in the NFC East -- are fond of him! For the same reason I am.

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Woodbridge, VA: Dan Snyder is Jewish? Huh. I thought he was just an incompetent, over-bearing, money grubbing jerk, possibly with a Napoleon complex. He does seem short to me.

Gene Weingarten: Are you saying all Jews are short? That is offensive to me.

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Washington, DC: Compare this to the reaction to The Decision ...

Gene Weingarten: What is The Decision?

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Somewhere else: You're on all the car blogs. You're on all the sports blogs. You are, suddenly, Mr Media Blitz.

Gene Weingarten: I know. This story took wing. Honestly, it's because people just HATE this guy.

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Washington, DC: Has anyone written an unauthorized biography of Snyder? I think it would be fascinating.

Gene Weingarten: Think he'll cooperate with me on it?

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Gene Weingarten: Okay, NOW I'll call us down.

Again, thank you all. You made this a lot of fun.

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