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Snyder changes strategy in newspaper defamation lawsuit

HAGERSTOWN, Md. -- Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder refiled a defamation lawsuit against the Washington City Paper on Tuesday, marking a change in strategy by the billionaire businessman.

Snyder initially filed the complaint in New York state court in February, naming the owner of the alternative weekly newspaper, New York City-based Atalaya Capital Management, as a defendant.

The new complaint, filed in D.C Superior Court, drops Atalaya and adds columnist Dave McKenna, the author of a biting Nov. 19 cover story, "The Cranky Redskins Fan's Guide to Dan Snyder," that prompted the lawsuit. The $1 million lawsuit also names the Washington City Paper and its Tampa, Fla.-based publisher, Creative Loafing Inc.

Editor Michael Schaffer said Tuesday that the City Paper stands by McKenna and his article.

"We had a good, solid story and we will defend it vigorously," Schaffer said.

Snyder's new complaint tones down the previous version's rhetoric about anti-Semitism and McKenna's supposed lack of respect for Snyder's wife to focus on three alleged falsehoods in the article. Chief among Snyder's revised complaints is his dispute with a statement in the third paragraph that Snyder "got caught forging names as a telemarketer with Snyder Communications," a marketing company Snyder owned.

The basis for the statement appears in the 67th paragraph: Snyder Communications was fined by Florida authorities in 2001 for having its workers forge people's signatures to switch their long-distance service without permission to GTE, a Verizon brand. Under a settlement announced by the Florida attorney general, Snyder and Verizon together paid $2.5 million, and Verizon paid another $600,000.

Snyder's attorneys said in a conference call with reporters that the article libeled Snyder by stating that he personally committed forgery.

"There is a difference between calling somebody a criminal personally and saying that he owned a company," said Lanny Davis, a former special counsel to President Bill Clinton who said he has been friends with Snyder for 15 years.

Lead attorney Patty Glaser said City Paper Publisher Amy Austin acknowledged the falsehood in a Feb. 23 open letter to readers. Regarding the forgery, Austin wrote, "In fact, we have no reason to believe he personally did any such thing -- and our story never says he did."

Schaffer, the City Paper editor, said Tuesday that the story didn't say Snyder personally committed forgery.

"I don't think that any reasonable person can imagine that the CEO of a multimillion-dollar or billion-dollar or enormous public corporation is engaging in the frontline work of telemarketers," Schaffer said. "If you read the entire story, it makes it very clear."

The article, accompanied by a photo of Snyder, with a devil's horns and mustache drawn onto it, provided an A-to-Z guide of what the publication described as Snyder's "many failings."

Since Snyder bought the Redskins more than a decade ago, he has turned it into one of the NFL's most valuable franchises but has also been a target of fans and sports columnists for the team's on-field struggles and free-agent busts as well as his leadership style.

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In a letter published by *The Washington Post* Tuesday, Snyder explained that he was refiling the suit because the paper "refused to issue an apology and retract false and damaging attacks on my integrity."

"If it had done so, there would have been no lawsuit," said Snyder, who says he would donate any award to the homeless.

Snyder also noted in the letter that his late father worked as a journalist, that he is "not thin-skinned about personal criticism," and considers himself fortunate to be the team's owner.

"I understand the anger people feel toward me when the Redskins have a losing season or when we sign a veteran player who does not meet expectations," Snyder wrote. "I have been a Redskins fan all my life, and I get angry, too, including at myself. I am the first to admit that I've made mistakes as an owner. I hope I've learned from them. All I want is for the Redskins to win!"

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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