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Bob Newman is talking on the phone when his call-waiting tone clicks. He apologizes for the interruption, a hint of irritation in his voice, before checking to see who else is on the line. Upon his return, he explains, "It was Tom Tancredo," referring to the Republican Congressman from Colorado's Sixth District. "He'll call back."
How times have changed. Two months ago, Newman was all but unknown to the general public and certainly didn't spend his free time gabbing with elected officials, let alone making them wait until he's ready to gab. But shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Newman, a retired Marine gunnery sergeant living in Longmont, expressed his views about military issues on KOA, Denver's most powerful AM signal, and the impact of the appearance was such that the station subsequently signed him up and handed over unprecedented amounts of airtime. As a salaried commentator, he's presently a fixture on KOA's high-rated Colorado Morning News; a regular on Sports Zoo, the afternoon staple helmed by Scott Hastings; a frequent guest of conservative yakker Mike Rosen; and a leader of live Web chats at www.850koa.com that are attracting what program director Don Martin says are "really big numbers."
On top of that, Newman has gotten the attention of Tancredo, who's asked him to speak to the Immigration Reform Caucus, a Tancredo-founded organization whose membership includes fifty of his colleagues in the U.S. House, as well as Governor Bill Owens. Last week, Owens was waiting to speak on KOA about the U.S. being put on alert for more terrorism when he heard a package assembled by Newman and reporter Alex Stone pinpointing alleged gaps in security at Denver International Airport; among other things, they found an unguarded spot near a runway where terrorists could set up a "flak trap" capable of bringing down passenger planes. Afterward, Owens characterized the piece as "a very good job of investigative journalism."
Praise for Newman isn't universal, however. One local media executive derisively dubs him "G.I. Joe," an allusion to the tough-guy rhetoric that flows from him like water going over Niagara Falls; for instance, "There are plots out there that could make September 11 seem like an amateur drive-by shooting." Likewise, he peppers his conversations with casual references to things like "viral hemorrhagic fever" and "botulinum toxin," a deadly agent he says could kill millions. And on one recent morning, he maintained that if he encountered an unarmed Osama bin Laden in an Afghanistan cave, he'd like to think that he would put down any weapons he was carrying "and beat him to death." Newman says no one complained about this comment because "they were too busy nodding and saying, 'Yeah, I'd like to do that, too!'"
Meanwhile, certain folks at DIA and the Federal Aviation Administration grumble that Newman's not the aviation authority he sounds like -- an accusation Newman feels is part of a disinformation campaign being staged against him by these agencies. He's never claimed to be an aviation expert, he says; rather, "I am a terrorism expert and tactician. The extensive classified courses and training I underwent in the Corps to become qualified in this realm included a great deal of work in how terrorists conceive of, plan and undertake terrorist attacks, including attacks on airports and aircraft.
"The FAA and DIA are trying desperately to cover the horrendous security lapses uncovered by Alex Stone and me," he adds. "We knew full well that they would attempt this."
In an effort to ward off future assaults on Newman's credibility, KOA has posted a portion of his resumé on its Web site -- an extraordinary measure inspired in part by an unhappy experience with a previous military analyst (news director Jerry Bell swears he can't remember the guy's name) who was sacked by the station during the Gulf War when it was discovered that he'd vastly overstated his qualifications. This time around, program director Martin says he spent a solid week checking Newman's background and discovered, to his profound relief, that "he's everything he says he is."
Luckily for Martin, Newman has left quite a paper trail. Born in Washington, D.C., to a pair of law enforcers -- "My dad is a retired D.C. cop, and my mother was FBI; she was in fingerprints" -- he entered the University of Maine during the mid-'70s but realized after his sophomore year "that I was too immature to be in college. So the next day I joined the Marines, and they made a man out of me." After a couple of years in an infantry unit, Newman says, "I tried out for recon, the Marine equivalent of the Navy Seals." In this capacity, he did a tour in central Europe during the heyday of terrorist outfits like the Red Army Faction, the successor to the Baader-Meinhof Gang, before becoming a SERE (Survival Evasion Resistance Escape) instructor at a Navy facility that focused on fighting terrorism before fighting terrorism was cool. Later, he was deployed in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War and served in special-operations units in places such as Israel ("We were in the Negev Desert -- a nasty little desert") before retiring in 1997.