Wake up and good morning. Tampa's Creative Loafing, parent company of this area's weekly Creative Loafing alternative weekly and five other alt newspapers, just entered Round Two in an escalating legal battle with Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder. As reported here earlier this year, the billionaire Snyder (AP photo, left) sued Creative Loafing-owned Washington City Paper nearly three months ago in New York, claiming an article last fall critical of Snyder overstepped, he says, by printing false assertions about him and his telemarketing business in Florida in years gone by.
Now Snyder is back, having refined a new defamation lawsuit, dropping Atalaya Capital Management (which owns Creative Loafing), and filing it this time in a D.C. court. Now, in addition to Washington City Paper, the suit names parent company Creative Loafing, Inc. and adds staff writer Dave McKenna, who authored the Nov. 2010 piece, The Cranky Redskins Fan's Guide to Dan Snyder. In it, and this is apparently the the chief bone of contention,
Why do we care? Well, no newspaper likes to see another battle over content. But this case involves a Tampa company, Creative Loafing, defending a piece of a story characterizing Snyder as a dishonest businessman who, among other things, "got caught forging names as a telemarketer" when he ran his former Snyder Communications telemarketing firm in Florida. In this instance, it appears, Snyder believes the story accuses him of personally forging names. The alt paper says that's too literal an interpretation and the sentence means to suggest Snyder's firm forged names.
The blow-up is over this. In 2001 Snyder Communications (which Snyder has since sold) was one of several companies that paid $3.1 million to the state of Florida to settle allegations that it switched long-distance phone accounts without customers' knowledge. As is typical in such cases, the companies admitted no wrongdoing.
The Washington Post weighed in with its own coverage Tuesday. Oddly, the Post offered Snyder his own opinion column this week, headlined Why I Am Suing Washington City Paper. "If City Paper in the next several days retracts the false statements cited in my lawsuit and apologizes, I am still willing to withdraw the case."
That seems unlikely to happen, though in this economy it's tough to anticipate the direction of potentially expensive litigation. And frankly, owner Atalaya Capital is ultimately an investment firm and not a newspaper company, so it will be interesting to see how it copes with this issue. Washington City Paper publisher Amy Austin already has started a grassroots Legal Defense Fund seeking donations to help it defend against Snyder's legal actions. Writes Austin in an appeal for support:
"Redskins general counsel David Donovan made very clear, in a letter he sent to the investment group that owns our parent company last November, that this lawsuit would be expensive to fight. 'Indeed, the cost of litigation would presumably quickly outstrip the asset value of the Washington City Paper.'"
Snyder has few supporters in football-obsessed Washington, a city that considers his ownership of the Redskins a principal cause of the team's lack of recent success. That's great in the court of public opinion but may mean diddly-squat in a courtroom.
-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, St. Petersburg Times