After NBC News suspended Rome-based correspondent Arthur Kent without pay last week for refusing to take an assignment in Zagreb, Croatia, Kent went on a remarkable warlike rampage of his own. He gave a barrage of angry interviews and even flew to New York to stand outside the network’s Rockefeller Center headquarters handing out letters explaining his position to colleagues and passersby. ”They’re still trying to maintain the myth that I did something wrong,” Kent says angrily, ”and I’m going to shove it down their throats.”
Kent, who made his mark dodging missiles in the Persian Gulf for NBC, was considered the network’s rising TV news star last year; now NBC says Kent ”has consistently been unable to work within a supervisory and collaborative environment.” On Aug. 12, NBC suspended him indefinitely for refusing the Zagreb assignment, but Kent, who considers himself fired, maintains that his dismissal was really over a dispute about his job description.
Back when fledgling newsmagazine Dateline NBC hired him in March ’91 as a special correspondent, Kent says, Dateline executive producer Jeff Diamond promised him he’d be able to do his signature war stories. But NBC ”did not think that it could promote hard-edged news stories,” he says. When a story he did on Afghanistan was spiked, Kent says NBC Nightly News executive producer Steve Friedman told him that NBC’s ad people wanted ”movie-of-the-week stuff, something with a happy ending.” Friedman, meanwhile, denies he ever said this: ”I did tell him that what we have to understand is that magazine shows are up against movies of the week, and that we have to have a mix of stories on the program,” Friedman says. In a recent statement, NBC News called Kent’s recent actions ”bizarre and unfortunate.”
Kent says the Zagreb assignment was designed to force him to break his contract—two days before NBC News asked him to travel there, he had sent executives a letter stating that he would not accept dangerous assignments until the larger dispute was settled. Now, Kent says, this really is war. ”I am pissed. And these guys are going to pay. They’re going to pay with a public apology, or they’re going to pay in the good old-fashioned American way. They can make the choice. But I’m not going to stop until my name is cleared. You can’t have s — -heads like that running NBC News. They really deserve what they’re going to get.”