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Robert Trigaux

Washington Redskins owner ends lawsuit against DC paper owned by Tampa's Creative Loafing




No more lawsuit: Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder. "We prefer to focus on the coming football season and the business at hand, says a spokesman. The Skins open their season today against the New York Giants. (Photo: AP)

Wake up and good morning. Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder called off his lawsuit Saturday against the Washington City Paper, an alternative newspaper serving the D.C. market that Snyder claims defamed. The paper is owned by Tampa's Creative Loafing Inc.

washingtoncitypaper_logo.jpgAccording to the Washington Post, Snyder had sought $1 million in general damages as well as unspecified punitive damages from the weekly paper; its parent company, Creative Loafing; and journalist Dave McKenna. McKenna’s story in November, The Cranky Redskins Fans’ Guide to Dan Snyder (yep, you can still read it here), was an unflattering account of Snyder’s tenure as owner of Washington’s NFL team, the Post reports.

Why do we care? Because this has Florida written all over it. And frankly, it's a bit bizarre. In today's Sunday New York Times, Snyder is interviewed and asked if he has even read the article that he says defamed in. His answer. "No." Read that interview here.

The Venture blog has tracked this lawsuit here, here and here because (1) Creative Loafing (based in Ybor City) is a prominent Tampa Bay alternative news weekly chain; (2) the source of Snyder's wealth that allowed him to buy the Redskins came extensively from his Snyder Communications which made its money providing telemarketing services to Florida's GTE Communications telephone business (now owned by Verizon), and (3) it's a fascinating look at what can happen when a feisty newspaper bumps heads with a testy multi-multi-millionaire.

Snyder (who is, incidentally, the son of a University of Missouri School of Journalism graduate) denounced the story and the newspaper, and filed suit in early February after the newspaper declined to apologize or retract the piece. But the Post, citing people close to Snyder, says the team’s owner felt vindicated when City Paper’s publisher, Amy Austin, acknowledged in a story published in April that one aspect of the story was not meant to be construed as literally true. 

Says the Post: "Snyder agreed to dismiss his suit, and both sides agreed to bear their own legal costs as well as to a mutual release of future claims in negotiations that were completed Saturday evening. City Paper said in a statement Saturday that the cost of defending itself went 'well beyond' the $34,000 its readers had contributed to a legal defense fund. It did not say how much was spent. City Paper has maintained that Snyder’s lawsuit was meritless and an attempt to stifle criticism of the Redskins’ owner. It stood by the story and McKenna from the beginning."

It should be noted that it was only a few years a ago that the alt paper's owner, Creative Loafing Inc., went through a bankruptcy and ownership change. So this legal contest was partially an occasion to glimpse how the firm would deal with a potentially expensive liability confronting one of its publications.

In his original lawsuit, the Post notes, Snyder said he was defamed by several parts of the article, including the suggestion that he had been kicked out as chairman of the board of the Six Flags amusement park chain and had gone “all Agent Orange” by cutting down a stand of trees on federally protected land that blocked river views from his Potomac mansion in 2004. He also objected to the story’s assertion that he had been “caught forging names” on consumers’ long-distance phone contracts (this is one of the Florida connections and ultimately, Snyder's biggest complaint) while he headed Snyder Communications, before taking over the Redskins in 1999. He denied all of those allegations.

At the time, Florida officials said they found "thousands of instances" in which employees of Snyder’s company switched customers from their existing provider to GTE without permission.

Read the complete Washington Post story here.

-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, St. Petersburg Times



[Last modified: Sunday, September 11, 2011 7:42am]


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