Dan Snyder, the owner of the Washington Redskins, dropped his libel suit against the Washington City Paper over the weekend on the eve of the team’s season opener, saying he had nothing further to gain from the seven-month legal battle that had drawn steep criticism from numerous media organisations. Snyder had originally sought 1 million US dollars, plus additional damages, in a suit against the alternative weekly paper and the author of a scathing cover story about him last November headlined “The Cranky Redskins’ Fans Guide to Dan Snyder.” (The news prompted the City Paper to prominently repost Dave McKenna’s story to the top of its homepage Sunday, giving the piece — as it has for months — more page views and a longer life than it ever would have without Snyder’s protestations.)
Both parties have agreed to pay their own legal fees. The City Paper said its share has topped the 34,000 USD raised by its followers in a legal defense fund. In a statement, the City Paper said:
“Today, we got what we wanted all along: dismissal of a case expressly designed to pressure us, and filed by a man who now apparently says he never even read the story in the first place. Now we’re eager to get back to our business of covering the city’s politics and culture—including its sports culture—without this distraction.”
In a statement issued by a spokesperson for Snyder, the owner claimed a level of dubious victory as well, saying “the principle that the truth and the facts matter in responsible journalism has been vindicated,” even as the lawsuit has been abandoned.
At the heart of the dispute was McKenna’s tongue-in-cheek tone. In the story, for example, he described Snyder as “going all Agent Orange on federally protected lands” — meaning that he had cleared trees to get a better view of the Potomac River from his property. Snyder’s lawyers insisted that this line implied Snyder literally sprayed Agent Orange (the shrub-killing toxin deployed by the US military in Vietnam). The suit took much of McKenna’s figurative language and recast it as libelous assertion, creating justification for a legal attack that many media critics interpreted as a mere bullying tactic from the beginning.
From the team’s statement:
“The lawsuit was pursued as a means to correct the public record following several critical factual misstatements in the Washington City Paper article. 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.”