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Supreme Court of Assholedom: Rahm Emanuel et al

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Clockwise from top: Daniel Snyder, Elton John and Rahm Emanuel
Clockwise from top: Daniel Snyder, Elton John and Rahm Emanuel
Doug Pensinger/Getty(Snyder), George Pimentel/WireImage(John), Scott Olson/Getty(Emanuel)

Over the course of the last weeks the Supreme Court of Assholedom has considered several pressing cases, and the deliberations have been fierce. Responding among other things to popular demand that the Court consider routine behaviors as well as the characters of major public figures, we delved into a few routine matters intended to provide guidance to the difficult question of how all of us can avoid being assholes in our daily lives. But as Chief Justice of the Court I was surprised – one might almost say outraged – by the decision of my fellow Justices to unanimously shoot down the plaintiff’s argument in one such routine case, one I myself had proposed. More on that in a moment.

As an aside, I’ve decided that Supreme Court decisions will henceforth be published on Fridays. There may be weeks when there are no cases, but when there are cases, the results will be published here on Fridays. We won’t always have multiple cases to publish, either; our schedule will remain irregular and the bureaucratic logic of our organization must remain mysterious, among other things to keep terrorists and assassins from too keenly knowing our habits.

Without further ado, the results of this weeks cases:

THE PEOPLE VS. DANIEL SNYDER
Before any of our more intellectual readers here run away screaming for fear that this case brought against the Play-Doh-brained owner of the Washington Redskins is about sports, please hear us out, for this is not a sports case. Daniel Snyder drew the Supreme Court’s attention thanks to his decision to file a $2 million defamation lawsuit against the Washington alt-weekly City Paper and its reporter Dave McKenna, after McKenna wrote a hilarious and viciously accurate piece called “The Cranky Redskins Fan’s Guide to Daniel Snyder.”

The issue here, as presented by Justice Drew Magary, is simple. What Daniel Snyder seemed to show in this case is that if you piss off a rich asshole, he can fight back by bankrupting you with a frivolous lawsuit, where he’ll win even if he loses, no matter how wrong he is. Thus the court was asked to consider the following question: Is any rich person who seeks revenge through frivolous-litigation-by-attrition automatically an asshole?

Here’s some background on this lawsuit. In it, Snyder alleged that McKenna published four material “misrepresentations” in his article. But all of these alleged “misrepresentations” seemed merely to be funny rhetorical takes on absolutely true facts.

An example: Snyder at one point apparently used his influence to get a National Park official to cut down 130 trees on a hillside between Snyder’s sweeping Potomac estate and the C&O canal. McKenna’s wry take on this was that Snyder “made a great view of the Potomac River for himself by going all Agent Orange on federally protected lands.” To which Snyder, in his lawsuit, responded by contending that McKenna had written “that Mr. Snyder caused Agent Orange to be used to destroy trees.”

The example I liked even better was this: Synder’s lawsuit complained that one of the misrepresentations in McKenna’s piece was that “Mr. Snyder bragged that his wealth came from diabetes and cancer victims.” But this appeared to be exactly what Snyder did. In a PBS program called CEO Exchange Snyder was shown with fellow sports owner Mark Cuban in a Q&A with Jeff Greenfield at Northwestern University in 2000. In that Q&A he talked about how at Snyder Communications, his marketing company, they huddled up to decide which demographics to target for marketing campaigns.

"We'd make jokes, each niche would be a $5 million niche, and we'd go after each one," Snyder says in the program. Then, when asked for examples, he says this:

"We were looking at trend lines…We saw that the aging baby boomer demographics were coming on strong. That meant there's going to be a lot more diabetic patients, a lot more cancer patients, etc. How do we capture those market segments?"

If anything, it seems to me that McKenna understated his rhetoric about Snyder here: While he only wrote that Snyder bragged about scoring big on cancer patients and diabetics, he could have written that Snyder joked about it, which is probably even worse.

That particular example highlights why Snyder is such a good choice of defendant for this Court. The Redskins owner is one of the prototypical assholes of modern American capitalism – a completely bloodless, money-grubbing narcissist who will sink to any depths in search of a buck (he took expired peanuts bought off a defunct airline and sold them to fans at Redskins games; he also sold beer in the men’s bathrooms at the Redskins’ stadium), and constantly pushes regulatory and ethical boundaries to gouge customers (the company he owned before the Redskins was fined millions for switching phone customers’ service plans without authorization, a practice called “Slamming”). He also grossly insulted all real victims of anti-Semitism when he accused McKenna and the City Paper of targeting him for his Jewishness, claiming that its cover depiction of Snyder with horns growing out of his head was an anti-Semitic caricature. As numerous writers have pointed out, the notion of a guy who owns a team called the Redskins crying foul about ethnic slurs is beyond preposterous; from this Justice’s point of view the reflexive accusation of racism or anti-Semitism whenever one suffers criticism is also often an indication of assholeness, although the Court was no asked to consider that issue in this case.

I ruled Snyder an asshole and gave him 4,999 points, which I calculated as the highest score a non-violent asshole who is not George Will can receive. If in the future counsel can demonstrate to me that Snyder’s callous business practices somehow resulted in deaths and/or injury, Court will be moved to reconsider its judgment.

As to the question of whether or not a rich person who takes revenge by filing frivolous litigation with the intent to bankrupt his or her critics, I vote absolutely yes. This is an increasingly common practice and anyone who indulges in this activity is, to me, forever an asshole. This ruling would cover for instance Chabourne Park attorney John Squires, who a few years ago filed a cease and desist letter on behalf of Goldman Sachs against a blogger named Mike Morgan. Morgan had been blogging on a little-known site called GoldmanSachs666. Another characteristic of such lawsuits is that they almost always involve very small publications or websites without the legal means to right back effectively; since the actual damage that alt-weeklies and obscure websites can do to one’s reputation is negligible, one has to assume that the major motive behind such suits is prophylactic, i.e. scaring future critics at such outlets into thinking twice about risking their meager personal fortunes to say a word or two about the Dan Snyders and Lloyd Blankfeins of the world.

Justice Drew Magary first brought Synder to the Court’s attention and, voting to convict, summed up the situation thusly: “The reason the McKenna case is important is because it demonstrates that, if you piss off a rich asshole, he can use a friviolous lawsuit to bankrupt you.  You don't have a choice.  You have to hire lawyers to defend yourself again and again until your resources have been exhausted.  You can be dragged into the legal system against your will by some fuckhead like Snyder and even if he loses, you’re still ruined for life.”  

THE RULING
Court ruled unanimously that Daniel Snyder is indeed an asshole. Vote is 8-0 (Schmid, Sirota, Kourkounis, Taibbi, Magary, Whitmer, Rees, Kreider). Justice Jenny Boylan recused herself on the grounds that she did not know who Daniel Snyder is.

Many Justices took pains to point out that Snyder’s assholedom has little or nothing to do with the fact of his having been one of the most incompetent owners in the history of modern professional sports, and I think many Justices showed great benevolence in not bringing up names like Albert Haynesworth, Donovan McNabb, and Vinny Cerrato. In fact, many Justices were anxious to point out that they did not even consider his sports history in their decision.

Some opinions:

Justice Timothy Kreider said Snyder is an asshole, but “primarily because of this lawsuit. His assholery in the field of sports is a more frivolous matter.”

Justice Jessica Kourkounis gave Synder 5000 points and said that “doing business with Tom Cruise is grounds for automatic assholedom in my book.”

Justice Adam Whitmer gave Synder 6800 points and chimed in on behalf of Redskins fans. “Someone who repeatedly shits on a fan base this loyal to their team and city is an asshole,” he wrote. “But the amount of ‘Scratch my Back, I’ll scratch yours’ that Dan Snyder has displayed just shows that he just doesn’t care about the game, only the money that comes with the game. People like that don’t deserve to own teams.”

Justice Mara Schmid was careful to point out other examples of this behavior, including the Pillsbury company suing a Salt Lake City bakery for use of a “My Dough Girl” campaign and the Monster Cable company for going after basically everyone who’s ever used the word “Monster,” including the TV show “Monster Garage” and the Boston Red Sox for their “Monster Seats” section above the Green Monster at Fenway.

Justice David Sirota was succinct in his summation: “As an NFL owner, he's almost automatically an asshole. And on top of that, he's an asshole among assholes.”

Justice Kreider summed things up for us. “Somewhere in an incredible string of invective unleashed against a foppish servant in King Lear, The Earl of Kent uses the epithet, ‘action-taking,’ meaning ‘litigious,’” he wrote. “Suing someone was then considered despicably craven and effete -- what you were supposed to do, of course, if you were any kind of man, was kill them with your fucking sword…It's still a pretty contemptible activity to involve oneself in litigation voluntarily unless it's to redress some serious injustice or injury. This kind of behavior is just an abuse of litigation -- the goal is not proving that you're in the right but a victory through attrition due to an overwhelming advantage in resources. It's also a defining asshole tactic, like a big drunk picking a fight with the littlest guy in the bar. 

THE SCORE
Interestingly, Synder’s aggregate asshole score was right around where I had it – the average of the seven justices who sent in scores was 4,697. This means, roughly, that it would take two Daniel Snyders to equal one Hosni Mubarak.

The court considered a number of other cases in the last week, and there were extended deliberations with some and little to no deliberations at all in others. The first:

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ABOUT THIS BLOG

Matt Taibbi

Matt Taibbi is a contributing editor for Rolling Stone. He’s the author of five books and a winner of the National Magazine Award for commentary. Please direct all media requests to taibbimedia@yahoo.com.

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