CALGARY – The lawyer for a former television war correspondent known as the “Scud Stud” says he intends to prove his client’s reputation was damaged by a “false article” that failed to meet even “ordinary journalistic standards.”
Arthur Kent, 61, is suing Postmedia, the National Post and former columnist Don Martin over a column that ran when Kent was campaigning to win the constituency of Calgary Currie as a star candidate for the Progressive Conservatives in the 2008 provincial election.
The trial, which has been in the offing for seven years, got underway Monday in front of a judge, jury and a gallery packed with onlookers.
The Alberta-born Kent rose to international prominence and acquired his nickname when he reported for NBC during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. He often went live on the air from a hotel rooftop as Iraqi Scud missiles were launched into Saudi Arabia.
Kent was narrowly defeated in the election after a hard-fought campaign in which a piece by Martin appeared under the headline “Alberta’s ‘Scud Stud’ a ‘Dud’ On Campaign Trail.”
The column, which was published in several newspapers that were part of what was then the CanWest chain, described Kent as “a hunky bear-witness reporter” who “got female hearts pumping.”
It suggested that the Kent campaign was in complete disarray, that the candidate was not co-operating with the PC party and that key campaign members were threatening to quit.
It included quotes from unidentified party members. Martin wrote that senior campaign strategists had never seen a candidate “so self-absorbed he has mocked the party for failing to treat him with the desired level of reverence.”
“It is defamatory if it is likely to lower a person’s reputation in the estimation of a reasonable person and in particular where that statements causes that person to be regarded in terms of ridicule, contempt or dislike,” Kent’s lawyer, Kent Jesse, said in his opening remarks.
“Consider what the word ‘dud’ means. People understand it means failure or loser. That is completely negative. That Arthur Kent is a dud was presented as fact — not as opinion.”
Postmedia lawyer Scott Watson said his clients deny the accusations and were practising responsible journalism.
He said he intends to call a number of journalists and the former president of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta, Bill Smith, as witnesses in the four-week trial.
“The media plays an important role in Canadian democracy by informing voters about candidates, their practices, their policies and their actions,” Watson said.
“Throughout this litigation, our clients have steadfastly believed the Don Martin column is defensible. We’ll ask you, the jury, to issue a verdict dismissing Mr. Kent’s claim once we’ve demonstrated the defence of fair comment of responsible journalism applies to this case.”
The first witness, Vicki Gardiner, said she met Kent through a mutual friend and volunteered to work on his campaign. The 70-year-old said she was stunned when she read the Martin article because she never saw any sign of dissension.
“I had a very good experience working on the campaign,” Gardiner said. “I didn’t know where it was coming from.”
Jesse noted that the article remained available online for nearly five years despite repeated attempts by Kent to have it removed.
“When people read an article on the newspage in the defendants’ publications in one of the largest and most widely circulated newspapers in the country, they assume what is written is truthful, well researched and written with integrity and high or at least ordinary journalistic standards,” he said.
“Not only did they publish a false article designed to harm Arthur Kent during his election campaign. They continued to make the news report available online.”
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