The "Scud Stud" fired his own missile at NBC News Monday.
Dashing Rome-based correspondent Arthur Kent, suspended indefinitely without pay Aug. 12 for refusing an assignment in Croatia, stood outside NBC's New York headquarters Monday morning, leafletting colleagues with a diatribe against the network.
In the handout, Mr. Kent accused NBC News boss Michael Gartner of churning out "naked lies" about him on management's "publicity machine." NBC's statements, Kent wrote, are evidence of management's "incivility, brute stupidity and unworthiness to command."
Mr. Kent, 38, dubbed the "Scud Stud" for his live reports during the Persian Gulf war, turned down the Zagreb assignment because he was concerned for his safety. NBC officials said they had been assured that Zagreb was a stable zone within the war-torn region of the former Yugoslavia.
Contacted Monday, Mr. Kent said he had "rushed back to North America to ensure that propaganda spun out by NBC has not created too damaging a reflection on my character and reputation. I'm angry. NBC lied. They dragged my name through the mud. They must pay.
"This disgusting affair is a real confirmation of the kind of management that has plunged morale at NBC News to an all-time low. It's the result solely of the nefarious, underhanded, mean-spirited management style" of such NBC brass as Gartner and 'NBC Nightly News' exec producer Steve Friedman.
"They're a sorry bunch of hacks."
NBC and Mr. Kent agree on one point -- Mr. Kent's suspension (along with that of Joe Alicastro, his producer and Rome bureau chief), was the result of a battle with management that had been simmering for more than 18 months.
Mr. Kent, a correspondent for "NBC Nightly News" and "Dateline NBC," says he "tried faithfully for months to resolve the profound editorial and contract disputes like a gentleman."
On Aug. 4, he says, he sent Mr. Gartner a seven-page letter outlining his "total lack of trust and confidence" in NBC management and demanded action within seven days.
During that period, Mr. Kent said, he would refuse any hazardous assignments. The next day, "They dreamed up this bogus Yugoslavian assignment," Mr. Kent said. "In a belligerent, underhanded manner, they tried to trap me into a situation that could be construed as a breach of contract."
To back up his assertion about the danger of the Zagreb story -- which he called an "ill-conceived fishing expedition" -- Mr. Kent pointed to the death Thursday of ABC News producer David Kaplan in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. (Sarajevo is about 200 miles from Zagreb.)
In a strongly worded counterattack, NBC News issued a statement labeling Mr. Kent's recent public comments and behavior as "bizarre and unfortunate," adding that his assertions "are a severe misrepresentation of the facts."
Mr. Kent's suspension was the last straw in an 18-month battle with management, NBC said. Despite the network's efforts, Mr. Kent "has continued to be unhappy and has been unable to deal with any level of management." He has often refused "to communicate with NBC personnel on the matter at hand," the network added.