Earlier this year, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder filed a defamation lawsuit against the Washington City Paper based on an article by Dave McKenna that chronicled Snyder’s tenure as owner of the team.
The case has now been dismissed.
“The lawsuit was pursued as a means to correct the public record following several critical factual misstatements in the Washington City Paper article,” Redskins P.R. chief Tony Wyllie said, via the Washington Post. “In the course of the defendants’ recently filed pleadings and statements in this matter, the Washington City Paper and its writer have admitted that certain assertions contained in the article that are the subject of the lawsuit were, in fact, unintended by the defendants to be read literally as true. Therefore, we see nothing further to be gained at this time through continuing the lawsuit. We prefer to focus on the coming football season and the business at hand. We remain committed to assisting with responsible reportage of the Team and the many people involved in our organization, including Dan Snyder, and the principle that the truth and the facts matter in responsible journalism has been vindicated.”
Unless the statement was cover for a confidential settlement (which would be unlikely, in our opinion), Wyllie’s explanation strikes us, at best, an effort to save face and, at worst, a subtle admission that the lawsuit was filed for reasons other than vindicating Snyder’s legal rights.
Whether the person who publishes defamatory statements didn’t intend the statements to be read literally as true doesn’t make the statements non-defamatory — unless the statements constitute jokes that no reasonable person should regard as being true.
Wyllie’s current statement reflects a sharp contrast to a statement he previously provided to PFT.
“The lawsuit was a last resort, filed only after much soul searching and looking for any other way to put a stop to unconscionable personal attacks from a writer who, as far as we know, has never been to a Redskins game, has not even been in the stadium, and has never met Daniel Snyder,” Wyllie told PFT via email in February. “Most importantly, and an important journalistic point, [Dave] McKenna and [the City Paper] did not call the Redskins for a response or a fact check before publication of the November article. We saw it for the first time on the day of publication.
“You accurately quote Dan’s interview with PFT Live as to the reasons for the suit: ‘I understand what heat I take. But you can’t call me a criminal. . . . All they had to do was apologize and run a correction and apology, and they wouldn’t do that.
“Obviously, our goal was not to financially cripple a hedge fund with hundreds of millions of dollars under management. As you say, ‘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.’ Add to that abusive personal attacks and you have a pretty good explanation of the reasoning behind the suit.
It’s hard to reconcile those remarks with the notion that the Redskins suddenly accept the contention that the City Paper and McKenna didn’t expect anyone to believe the content of the “unconscionable personal attacks” that were published without a call for a response of a fact check.
It’s reasonable, based on Wyllie’s statement to PFT from February, to assume that the lawsuit was filed to make people think twice (or thrice) about writing or saying something bad about Snyder. And while we don’t encourage libel, we hope that no one will be intimidated by the fact that Snyder has enough money to sue anyone who says something that he doesn’t like, regardless of whether the statement in question rises to the level of actionable defamation.