CALGARY – The editor of the Calgary Herald says an article at the heart of a defamation lawsuit filed by former journalist Arthur Kent is defensible because its main facts are true.
Lorne Motley testified Wednesday that the paper often runs columns on news pages from senior columnists and it was obvious Don Martin’s article was an opinion piece.
Kent, who became known as the “Scud Stud” for his Gulf War reporting on U.S. television, is suing Martin and the Herald’s parent company, Postmedia, over the 2008 article, which was published when the former journalist was running in the Alberta election.
The column called Kent a “dud” on the campaign trail and portrayed him as an ego-crazed star candidate who refused to be controlled by the Progressive Conservative party.
The column was based on information from unnamed sources and didn’t include comment from Kent.
“We feel this column was defensible — that the main facts it was based on are true,” said Motley.
“It was quite clear it’s a column and not a news story.”
Motley said the Herald editor who reviewed the column was fully aware that Martin was using anonymous sources. He said it’s not uncommon to give senior columnists some latitude.
“He did not question Don Martin on that mainly because that is something, when done by a senior columnist or senior writer like himself, is not unusual,” Motley said.
Martin earlier testified that part of his column was not true. He was questioned about a paragraph that read: “Alberta Conservatives have bestowed problem candidate Arthur Kent with a less flattering designation as he noisily blusters his way through their reeling election campaign — the Dud Scud.”
Martin said that nickname had come from only one source, whose name he couldn’t remember.
During cross-examination, Kent’s lawyer, Kent Jesse, suggested the Calgary Herald had painted Kent in a negative light for several days in a row with its coverage. Court has already heard how Kent provided fodder for news stories during the campaign by questioning his own party’s leadership, including its plans to do a royalty review.
“I take exception to the painting in a negative light,” Motley replied. “We weren’t saying those words. Mr. Kent was saying those words.
“We weren’t inventing the dispute between then-leader Ed Stelmach and the candidate. He was putting it out there. We were doing our job in relaying that information to our readership.”
Motley said the best columnists are ones that tell the reader something new.
“I think it’s a column and it has an opinion. It is just that,” Motley said. “Mr. Kent had landed in hot water with the Progressive Conservatives hierarchy. There were divisions within his own campaign team and the headline reflects that.”
Motley said the Calgary Herald decided against publishing a rebuttal from Kent because it was defamatory in nature.
He hesitated when asked if he harboured any ill will toward Kent over the lawsuit.
“It’s been a very challenging litigation. I can only be honest about that,” Motley said. “But I would also say there is no ill will.”