Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder is angry. No, not about the fact that the Redskins have a losing record under his ownership. No, not about the Donovan McNabb deal that went south. Not even about the Albert Haynesworth fiasco. What’s really got Snyder up in arms is a local paper’s criticisms of him. Things finally hit a boiling point last week, when Snyder sued the Washington City Paper for libel.

Throughout his suit, Snyder makes a number of ridiculous claims. He accuses the paper of “printing lies about him … and using anti-Semitic imagery, half-truths, and innuendo to smear and defame him.” The suit alleges that, since spring 2010, the paper has published over 50 articles in which Snyder was the “subject of derision, ridicule, and/or vilification.” He even accuses the paper of (gasp) “demean[ing] his wife’s prominent and public role as the National Football League’s national spokeswoman for breast cancer awareness.”

Snyder

Legally, Snyder faces a long-shot. At best, he has an extremely tenuous argument. But this isn’t about the merits of the case. This is just a disgruntled loser’s power play. Since this is a legal blog, though, I’ll provide a high-level overview of why Snyder’s case will fail (click here for a thorough, though one-sided, analysis of the suit). Given the First Amendment protections afforded to the press, a libel claim against a member of the press will always present an uphill battle. First, mere opinions do not rise to the level of libelous statements. Second, truth is always a defense. As a public figure, Snyder faces an even more arduous burden, as his right to privacy cannot protect him. Instead, he must show actual malice, which is generally understood to mean intentionally attempting to defame–as opposed to merely doing so. I find it extremely unlikely that Snyder can or will clear these hurdles.

In the end, the outcome of this suit is irrelevant. Either way, Snyder has already justified the criticisms underlying his complaint. If past performance is a reasonable predictor of future performance, though, Snyder will most likely lose.

Jesse Bland

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