'Highly critical' Arthur Kent rebuttal rejected, hears court in defamation trial

A one-time senior editor at Calgary's largest newspaper says he had concerns with a rebuttal to a column that was critical of a former TV reporter running for office and rejected publishing it.

Arthur Kent's testimony began Tuesday afternoon

Former TV journalist Arthur Kent outside court during a break in his lawsuit against Postmedia and other individuals related to a 2008 column in Calgary. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

A one-time senior editor at Calgary's largest newspaper says he had concerns with a rebuttal to a column that was critical of a former TV reporter running for office and rejected publishing it.

Two separate interviews with Gord Smiley, former assistant managing editor with the Calgary Herald, were read into the record Tuesday at the defamation trial that pits former NBC war correspondent Arthur Kent against Postmedia, which includes the Calgary Herald and columnist Don Martin.

Kent is alleging he was defamed during his unsuccessful campaign to win a seat in Calgary for the Progressive Conservatives in the 2008 provincial election. He lost the race after a column by Martin ran under the headline "Alberta's 'Scud Stud' a 'Dud' on Campaign Trail" — a reference to the nickname Kent got covering the Gulf War.

A friend and campaign worker of the former TV journalist testified the a column was a hatchet job.

Len Grant says something is either a news item or an opinion piece, and can't be both, and called the Martin column one-sided and vindictive.

The article used unnamed sources that described Kent as a lone ranger who failed to toe the party line and was difficult to deal with. They said Kent was not co-operating with the party and a number of key campaign members were threatening to quit, including the finance chairman.

Postmedia denies Kent's accusations and argues it was practising responsible journalism. The company has emphasized the media's role in informing voters about a candidate's policies and actions.

Rebuttal rejected

Kent wrote a rebuttal under the headline "A Tool for Love" that suggested Martin was simply doing the bidding of the Tory party and senior members, such as Rod Love.

Smiley said in a 2009 interview with Kent's legal team that he informed Kent over the phone that the rebuttal wouldn't run.

"It was my opinion that we weren't going to publish this column. First of all because it was highly critical of Don Martin and we didn't want to publish the column because of that reason," said Smiley.

"And also it made several references, that I was uncomfortable with — against Alan Hallman, Rod Love, (former premier) Ralph Klein, Lee Richardson — and I didn't want to publish the column."

Hallman and Love were later identified by Martin as two of the three anonymous sources he used in his column.

Kent's campaign lawyer, Kristine Robidoux, has already testified that she shared private emails with Martin that included complaints between the Tory campaign chairman and party brass about Kent. She said she regretted her decision almost immediately and the resulting article made her "physically ill."

Smiley said he did tell Kent he could write a column on another subject, but there was no guarantee that it would be published either.

He said there was no thought given to any kind of a followup on the Martin story.

Columnist testifies he was shocked

Court also heard Tuesday from Martin Pelletier, an energy portfolio manager who writes a weekly column for the Financial Post.

He said he met with Kent in 2008 when the candidate wanted to know more about how a change to Alberta's royalty structure would impact the industry.

Pelletier said Kent was the only person on Premier Ed Stelmach's team willing to hear about the negative impact of the changes.

He told court that he was shocked by some of the "personal attacks" in the Martin column.

"I would never have written an article like this myself," Pelletier said.

"If I was on the other end of this article, I certainly wouldn't be very happy about it. I'm often interviewed by many in the press and I certainly wouldn't be too keen on doing an interview with Mr. Martin based on what I've read here."

Kent started his testimony late on Tuesday afternoon, but he is expected to appear before the court again on Wednesday.