A little over a month ago, Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder published an op-ed in the Washington Post, explaining that he's not such a bad guy -- in fact, he was the son of a journalist! -- and the only reason he was suing the Washington City Paper was because metaphors about Agent Orange confuse him.
No one should have thought that the lawsuit was a warning shot at the media for offering critical coverage of Snyder and his exploits. That is, until two days later, when Snyder's flack Tony Wyllie actually said out loud that the lawsuit was intended as a warning shot at the media.
Well, today, Snyder sends his thanks to the Washington Post in the form of a subpoena, just like he learned to do from his journalist father.
But why on earth is he subpoenaing the Post? Oh, because people who work there might have noticed Dave McKenna's "The Cranky Redskin Fan's Guide to Dan Snyder," and maybe even talked about it with McKenna, or tweeted about it on Twitter.
The City Paper's managing editor Mike Madden explains:
According to the court papers Snyder's legal team sent the Post, they're interested in learning why blogger Dan Steinberg linked to City Paper's "Cranky Redskins Fan's Guide to Dan Snyder." Steinberg writes about the off-field antics of just about every sports figure in the area, and he's often linked to McKenna's work; the two are friendly rivals on the same culture-and-business-of-sports beat. Snyder's team told the Post in February they intended "to explore whether there was any agreement between McKenna and Steinberg to cross-promote McKenna's pieces on Snyder."
By delivering the subpoena, they showed they meant it. Among other requests, it seeks, from both Steinberg and the Post as an institution:
"All Documents evidencing or Relating to any Communication between You and McKenna pertaining to Snyder... All Documents evidencing or Relating to any Communication between You and McKenna pertaining to Snyder's wife, Tanya Snyder... All Documents evidencing or Relating to any Communications between You and McKenna pertaining to the [City Paper cover art]... All Documents evidencing or Relating to the reasons for the inclusion of links in Your Washington Post columns, blogs, or on Twitter to McKenna's City Paper articles... and All Documents evidencing or Relating to Your policies Relating to the inclusion of links in Your columns to other sources."
So, through the process of discovery, Snyder's legal team seeks to understand why a sports blogger at the Washington Post may have linked to a sportswriter at the Washington City Paper, and used Twitter to inform his Twitter followers about a sports story that happened in Washington.
This is an awfully strange way to learn a basic lesson about journalism circa the 21st century. Isn't there some new media seminar happening this week where Snyder can find out about how all of this stuff works?
The media economy these days being what it is—which is to say, dying—every news organization spends a lot of time linking to, and getting links from, competitors. City Paper links to the Post frequently (including twice in this post), and vice-versa. But getting dragged into court to explain why reporters chose to link to a story—especially on Twitter, which practically exists to share links—hasn't been part of the equation. Up to now.
My favorite part of the subpoena is the fact that Snyder's team is seeking all manner of documents, including "projections" and "telegrams." What about semaphore communications, carrier pigeon relays and old-timey daguerreotypes?
I think that the Washington Post should just give Snyder's legal team the complete published history of their paper on microfiche, and make them comb through every single word until everyone is on the verge of a complete emotional breakdown.
There's little doubt that one of the few things Snyder's lawsuit has accomplished is to bring an astounding amount of attention to McKenna's original piece, long after the hubbub had died down. It's also pretty clear that Snyder's efforts amount to a strategic lawsuit against public participation (or "SLAPP" suit) -- a suit basically intended as a form of intimidation.
As we've pointed out, the District of Columbia is not a particularly amenable venue for this sort of litigation, but at this point, I doubt that Snyder's "legal team" even cares. Rather, they probably see Snyder as an anthropomorphic ATM that wont force them to care much about whether they win or lose.
In this way, they're just like every single one of Snyder's free-agency acquisitions.