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‘Scud Stud’ defamation trial wraps up

Former TV journalist Arthur Kent, who is suing PostMedia and columnist Don Martin for defamation, stops for a photo outside of the Calgary Courts Centre prior to the start of a four week defamation trial on Friday, Dec. 11, 2015.
Former TV journalist Arthur Kent, who is suing PostMedia and columnist Don Martin for defamation, stops for a photo outside of the Calgary Courts Centre prior to the start of a four week defamation trial on Friday, Dec. 11, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Bill Graveland

CALGARY – A defamation case pitting a media giant against a former journalist who earned his stripes dodging Scud missile blasts concluded Thursday with the plaintiff claiming he was the victim of a hit piece and the publisher arguing it had the latitude to print what it did.

A lawyer for Arthur Kent argued a column critical of his client’s campaign for public office used trumped-up language and did the bidding of Progressive Conservative party sources with an axe to grind.

“It was intended to mock and ridicule Arthur Kent by calling him a dud, a failure,” said Kent Jesse.

But a lawyer for Postmedia argued its former columnist, Don Martin, was allowed to express his point of view and didn’t act maliciously in doing so.

“I didn’t hear any evidence about an agenda to harm anybody and there’s certainly no evidence Mr. Martin was a participant in any of it,” lawyer Scott Watson told Justice Jo’Anne Strekaf.

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For about a month, Strekaf heard from witnesses in the long-running lawsuit Kent filed against Postmedia, the National Post and Martin, who is now a host with CTV.

At its heart is an article that ran while Kent was seeking a seat for the Progressive Conservatives in the 2008 Alberta election.

Kent, who got the nickname “Scud Stud” while reporting for NBC during the Persian Gulf war, was a star candidate for the Tories, but was on the record as disagreeing with some of the party’s policies, particularly its plans for an energy industry royalty review.

Martin’s column painted Kent as an out-of-control egomaniac who had alienated party staff. The column used unnamed sources and didn’t include comment from Kent.

“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 wrote.

The Tories went on to win a majority, but Kent lost his race.

Jesse argued that freedom of the press is a value Kent built his career on, “but with that freedom comes responsibility” to report in a balanced and accurate manner.

He said Kent was simply exercising his own freedom of speech by voicing concerns about the party’s platform.

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Watson replied that when it comes to defamation law, “not all individuals are treated the same.”

Politicians, Watson said, are subject to more public scrutiny and one that goes against the party line during a campaign — as Kent did — is bound to attract even more attention.

The trial heard from Martin’s sources.

Lawyer Kristine Robidoux acknowledged sending him emails between Tory insiders complaining about Kent, but said she regretted it after seeing the article.

Party insider Alan Hallman testified he had no problem feeding Martin information, because he thought Kent had embarrassed the party.

Journalistic ethics experts testified for both sides. The two central figures also testified.

Kent called the Martin article a bomb that cratered his campaign and has since prevented him from pursuing other political opportunities.

Martin testified that, while the article may have run on news pages, it was clearly an opinion piece based on extensive research.

Under cross-examination, however, Martin acknowledged that the line about Alberta Progressive Conservatives calling Kent the “Dud Scud” had come from only one source, whose name he couldn’t remember.

“I’d write it differently today,” Martin said.

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