Since November, there has been an interesting legal battle going on with the Washington football team, with minority owners Dwight Schar, Fred Smith and Robert Rothman filing a federal lawsuit to try to sell their combined shares (which make up 40 percent of the team) as a group for potential buyers Behdad Eghbali, José Feliciano and Kwanza Jones for $ 900 million. The above report (by Will Hobson, Mark Maske and Liz Clarke in The Washington Post on November 20) says that “according to people familiar with the situation,” majority owner Dan Snyder (seen above before a 2018 game) is blocking the sale by trying to exercise his preemptive right for the shares held by Smith and Rothman, but not the 15% owned by Schar. And this process has now ended entirely in the media realm, with Snyder claiming in a filing on Wednesday that “I firmly believe that the Claimants’ supplementary motion and filing and the news articles they have generated are the last in my effort to extort. “
What articles are these? Well, the referenced motion came on Friday, with minority shareholders asking U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte to punish Snyder for “violating a November 19 court order by preventing all parties from leaking information about the negotiations, disparaging each other or otherwise interfering with the process. ” The recent article, perhaps even more remarkable, was Tuesday’s article in the Post detailing a confidential $ 1.6 million deal paid to a former staff member in 2009 after she accused Snyder of sexual misconduct. And Snyder is now blaming Schar for the latest headlines, as Mike Florio wrote on ProFootballTalk:
In the document, Snyder initially focuses on the potential connection between Schar and Monday’s report that Snyder settled a sexual misconduct in 2009 for $ 1.6 million. Although Snyder does not expressly state that Schar leaked the information to the Washington Post, Snyder suggests that a recent lawsuit by Schar and other minority owners contained “irrelevant and spurious material” that, when cited by the Post’s story about the deal, “unduly give the misleading impression. . . that there was merit in the allegations of misconduct “and that the purpose of the lawsuit by Schar and the other minority owners” is now clear: to try to continue to defame me in an effort to gain an advantage in this trade dispute “.
Snyder then claims in the statement that Schar is “aware that no evidence of wrongdoing was found after an investigation by a respected law firm”, and that Schar “nevertheless threatened to reveal [the settlement] to discredit me and embarrass my family, but that the insurer decided to resolve. ”While not expressly linked to the $ 1.6 million settlement report, the context clearly indicates that this statement represents Snyder’s answer to the question of whether he was involved in misconduct in relation to the events leading up to the settlement.
Snyder’s statement revolves around the broader claim that Schar tried for months, through articles published in the Washington Post “that characterized the team and me personally in a negative way”, to pressure Snyder to sell. Snyder says Schar “channeled information about me and the team to Mary Ellen Blair, a former executive assistant on the team, to be distributed to The Washington Post.” Snyder also states in the statement that Blair confirmed that Schar “said [her] to share information with The Washington Post, “and that Schar’s daughter bought a” burned-out phone “for Blair to try to escape detection by Mr. Schar’s conspiratorial communications.”
Snyder’s statement later claims that, “[f]or in the past five months, there have been repeated threats from Mr. Schar and others associated with him. ”Snyder’s statement alleges that on July 25, Schar threatened Snyder’s personal lawyer,“ telling him that the threat he was trying to exert on me would come if I didn’t ‘just sell the team’; that I ‘will have no choice’; that the story ‘will kill Dan’; and that I ‘will suffer a terrible existence.’ “
There are a few things to keep in mind with these round trip filings. One is that media coverage can absolutely have an impact on the outcome of such a sale, and minority owners could benefit from Snyder’s negative coverage. If the pressure builds up to the point where Snyder sells his stake in the team, the 40% minority that Schar, Smith and Rothman collectively own may be more valuable; a buyer of Snyder’s shares may also acquire minority shares. And that can be a difference of hundreds of millions of dollars.
While the Postnoted on November 20, the team was estimated to be worth $ 3.5 billion per Forbes this year. That would make 40% worth $ 1.4 billion. But these valuations generally apply to controlling interests rather than minority shares, which explains why the offer is accepted (which Snyder is blocking with his attempts to exercise a preemptive right for Smith and Rothman’s shares, but not Schar’s , which led to this initial process) as the group’s 40% stake was only US $ 900 million. So, yes, there seems to be an incentive for Schar to “defame [Snyder] in an effort to gain an advantage in this business dispute. “But that doesn’t necessarily prove that he is doing this.
It is good to remember that just because media coverage has an impact on a result, it does not mean that the coverage was built to create that result. O Postthe discussion of the $ 1.6 million agreement in 2009 is an example of this; yes, this coverage is negative for Snyder’s image and possibly useful for Schar. But this agreement itself is absolutely noteworthy, especially with the Postthis summer’s comprehensive coverage of stories from 15 former Washington employees who said they had experienced sexual harassment at work, as well as stories from journalists who covered the team (which led to a request for change from Professional Football Writers of America), in addition to stories of 25 other employees later.
This prompted the NFL to conduct an investigation into these reports, with former Attorney General Loretta Lynch recently added to the investigation. Therefore, the coverage of this agreement (and some of the other actions linked here) has value for the public beyond what it means for Snyder or Schar. And it is by no means proven at this point where the coverage of that settlement came from and what role Schar played. And even if it proves that Schar or other minority owners were involved in some way, it can have a negative impact on their lawsuit given that November order, but that does not mean that this deal is not worth covering.
The claims here about Schar buying a burner phone for Blair to communicate with him also need to be considered carefully for what they are. They are not claims that the Post the information is provided exclusively by Blair or that the Post he misused her information, but only claims that Schar and Blair were in secret contact. This does not necessarily mean anything negative when it comes to Post roof; if the information was obtained from Blair, and if it passed an appropriate partiality filter, it could still be valuable, even if Schlar told Blair to speak to them. This may be bad for Schlar, given the order not to leak, but it is not necessarily an accusation for the newspaper’s coverage.
It is also important to note that Snyder is not the only one who claims that the other side is using the media against him. As mentioned, the minority owners’ document on Friday claimed that Snyder’s side was leaking to The New York Times about a possible sale of its shares to Snyder. And this story, by Ken Belson and Katherine Rosman, had its own claims about the 2009 deal, including that “The team fired the woman because she said she lied to the team’s lawyers.”
Minority owners contested the story in a lawsuit on Monday, and said it showed that Snyder’s side was leaking to the media. Their lawsuit says “This selfish, one-sided framework of a serious accusation of sexual misconduct against Mr. Snyder, which portrays the victim as someone who ‘lied’ and portrays the deal only as a payment ‘to avoid negative publicity if the woman sued, ‘further confirms that Mr. Snyder or his agents are the source of the leaks of confidential information. ”For what it’s worth, Snyder contested this in another filing on Tuesday, saying he didn’t leak the information and doesn’t believe that his advisors have done so.
Anyway, this is not the end of the battle over the media discussion here. There will be a virtual hearing before Judge Messite on January 7, with Snyder, Schar, Rothman and Smith, all scheduled to appear to discuss their complaints about the leak from the other side. Let’s see what that takes. But it is clear that both sides in this property dispute have strong thoughts about what media coverage might mean, and that both are claiming that the other side is leaking information to the media in defiance of a court order on the matter.
[The Washington Post; photo from Brad Mills/USA Today Sports]