Last May, Tony Wyllie became the new head of P.R. with the Washington Redskins. Given owner Daniel Snyder’s image and reputation in D.C. during a decade-plus of running the team, the challenge is arguably the industry’s equivalent of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.
After a full season on the job, Wyllie’s strategy seems to include making Snyder more available to the media. Based on our visit with Snyder on February 4 for a special bonus edition of PFT Live, Snyder was friendly and cordial and nothing like the way that he often has been portrayed, deservedly or otherwise, by the D.C. media.
But if the goal is to demonstrate that Snyder is something other than ruthless, short-sighted, vindictive, and/or mean, the better approach may have been to not file a lawsuit against the Washington City Paper, since doing so allows his critics to paint him as ruthless, short-sighted, vindictive, and/or mean.
Indeed, the November 24, 2010 letter from Redskins general counsel Dave Donovan to the company that owns the City Paper arguably reads like the kind of letter that would be commissioned by someone who is ruthless, short-sighted, vindictive, and/or mean. The attack begins almost immediately, with the second sentence of the letter alleging that the scribbling of horns and a mustache/goatee on a photo of Snyder constitutes anti-Semitism, even though the application of horns and facial hair doesn’t seem to be obviously anti-Semitic. And the final paragraph of Donovan’s letter to the company that owns the Washington City Paper hints that the goal of litigation may not be to vindicate Snyder but to financially cripple the publication.
The real goal could be to put other publications on notice that Snyder will no longer remain silent when he is criticized with untrue facts serving as the ammo.
If Snyder, via Wyllie, hopes to change the manner in which the owner is perceived, Snyder, via Wyllie, should say and do things that contradict Snyder’s current image. Showing up at Radio Row and giving interesting content to the media in a loose, friendly was helps change the way people may think of Snyder. Pushing ahead with a defamation suit, as viable as it may be, probably will not change the way people may think of Snyder.
Filing a defamation suit has another potential consequence, as Roger Clemens learned the hard way. The plaintiff opens his or her life to extensive scrutiny, because the defendant will be entitled to reveal the impact of any untrue statements on the plaintiff’s reputation by determining the content of the plaintiff’s reputation before the untrue statements were made.
That said, Snyder has articulated a compelling reason for taking a stand. “Because what’s right is right, and what’s wrong is wrong,” he said February 4 in a visit with PFT Live. “Look, I take the criticism all the time, as you know. And it’s not a problem, it comes with the territory. I understand it, I respect it. My father was a journalist. . . . And I understand what heat I take. But you can’t call me a criminal, and you can’t particularly what bothers more than anything make fun of my wife’s breast cancer cause where she’s the national spokesperson for breast cancer for the National Football League and you make it into a mockery, all of her efforts. She is a survivor . . . and that’s full time what she does. All [they] had to do was apologize and run a correction and apology, and they wouldn’t do that.”
Though Snyder has every right to fight, if the City Paper indeed published untrue facts about him (the November 19, 2010 article that spawned the lawsuit says nothing about his wife’s efforts to fight breast cancer), the best way to change his reputation in the eyes of many Redskins fans would be, in our view, to say and do things that contradict that reputation. Filing a lawsuit for defamation doesn’t, in our opinion, accomplish that.