Former journalist Arthur Kent has won a lawsuit against Postmedia and one of its columnists over an unflattering article that called the one-time TV reporter a “Dud Scud.”
A judge has ruled that the media company and columnist Don Martin defamed Kent while he was running for a seat in the Alberta legislature in 2008.
“While the article did not accuse Mr. Kent of any illegal or immoral acts, it characterized him as an egotistical, politically naive, arrogant candidate whose campaign was in disarray,” Justice Jo’Anne Strekaf said in a written decision Wednesday.
She awarded Kent a total of $200,000 from the defendants.
“I find that Mr. Kent is entitled to significantly more than nominal damages. He suffered substantial distress and damage as a result of the defamatory factual statements in the article,” she said.
“The damage was also exacerbated by the exaggerations and sarcastic tone in the article, by aspects of Mr. Martin’s conduct and by the unfairness to Mr. Kent from Mr. Martin’s failure to provide him with an opportunity to respond prior to publication of the article.”
Martin declined to comment and referred calls to CTV, where Martin is now a host.
Kent, who got the nickname “Scud Stud” while reporting for NBC during the Persian Gulf war, was a star candidate for the Progressive Conservatives.
But he was on the record as disagreeing with some of the party’s policies.
Martin’s column, which used unnamed sources and ran in Postmedia’s Calgary Herald, painted Kent as an out-of-control egomaniac who had alienated party staff.
The Tories went on to win a majority in the election, but Kent lost his race.
Kent’s lawyer had argued at trial that the column 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,” Kent Jesse told the judge.
A lawyer for Postmedia argued that Martin, as a columnist, 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,” said Scott Watson.
“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.
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, the lawyer said.
He suggested Kent was simply exercising his own freedom of speech by voicing concerns about the party’s platform.
Watson replied that “not all individuals are treated the same” when it comes to defamation law.
Politicians, Watson said, are subject to more public scrutiny and a candidate that goes against the party line during a campaign–as Kent did–is bound to attract even more attention.
The trial also heard from Martin’s sources.
Lawyer Kristine Robidoux acknowledged that she sent Martin emails from Tory insiders complaining about Kent, but said she regretted doing that 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 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, Martin acknowledged that the line about 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.