By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Media-friendly military specialists became a sought-after commodity months before American armed forces set foot on Iraqi soil, and once hostilities broke out, the stock of folks such as KNRC-AM analyst Andy Lightbody rose as rapidly as bombs fell. But while Lightbody frequently shared his interpretations of current events and predictions of future developments in the Middle East over the Denver airwaves, he never mentioned to his employers that he had been cut loose by a Southern California radio station during an earlier conflict between the U.S. and Iraq after a 1991 Los Angeles Times report charged him with making false assertions about his credentials.
Why not? "Because that article wasn't true," Lightbody said last week from Washington, D.C., where he was attending a Pentagon briefing for KNRC. "It was ludicrous to begin with."
KNRC program director Alan Eisenson and KNRC morning host Greg Dobbs, on whose show Lightbody has been featured regularly, expressed surprise when informed by Westword about this part of their co-worker's past. Yet neither say their confidence in him has been shaken by his failure to share the tale, despite the potential for embarrassment the Times article carries.
"I have a great deal of faith in him," Dobbs declares. "I've covered a number of wars, so I know more than the average guy in the street -- and he's never gotten it wrong so far as I know."
For his part, Eisenson says, "Unless what's said in the article is found to be true, it's not something that would bother me at all."
Robin Bertolucci, former director of AM programming for Clear Channel Denver, who now oversees Los Angeles's KFI-AM, and Jerry Bell, news director for Denver's KOA, a Clear Channel property (and KNRC rival), feel differently. Lightbody briefly contributed to KOA until, say Bertolucci and Bell, they learned about the Times critique, which he hadn't disclosed to them, either. Both recall a meeting at which Lightbody was confronted with the allegations raised by the Times, which they say he denied. Even so, they chose to end KOA's association with him.
"Regardless of if the article was true or untrue, we felt he had been disingenuous with us," Bell notes. "Relationships have to be on the basis of trust, and when he violated that trust, we were done with him."
Lightbody doesn't remember things that way. "I was never hired by KOA. I gave them some reports after TWA flight 800 went down [in 1996, near Long Island] -- maybe half a dozen over two weeks. And that was it. To the best of my knowledge, the article never came up, and if it did, they never told me."
Whatever version of this incident is correct, there's no refuting the impact the article had on Lightbody several years before. In 1991, he was based in Los Angeles, where he served as an armed-forces authority for KNX, a CBS affiliate, and KKTV, a Fox television station. Then, on April 1 of that year, the Times published an article headlined "'Military Expert' Has Gap in His Credentials: Andy Lightbody has claimed a background he doesn't have, but several media employers have expressed satisfaction with his work." The piece, written by Mark I. Pinsky, stated that "although Lightbody has claimed at various times to be a graduate of Loyola University and a former Air Force officer, he is neither, records show. He attended Loyola, but his only college degrees are from the University of Beverly Hills, a defunct, never-accredited institution." Furthermore, "his military record consists of three years as an ROTC cadet...and his highest aviation certification is a student pilot's license."
Author Pinsky went on to write that "Lightbody acknowledged that he may have 'erred' on these points in resumés, books and an earlier taped interview. He said that listing the Loyola degree in one of his books was an error, but he did not explain why he claimed to be a Loyola graduate in the earlier Times interview. The status of the University of Beverly Hills, he said, 'comes as a major shock to me.' He said that he left the ROTC program because 'the Air Force violated its contract' with him, but he did not say why a resumé submitted to one broadcast employer identifies him as 'a former Air Force officer.'"
Elsewhere in his account, Pinsky quizzed individuals with assorted opinions about Lightbody's work. For instance, Benjamin F. Schemmer, editor of Armed Forces Journal International, for which Lightbody served as broadcast editor, said he'd received a few complaints about the accuracy of the analyst's reporting; nonetheless, Lightbody's contract was allowed to lapse because of budgetary constraints, not imprecise prose. In contrast, KNX news director Robert Sims and KKTV news director Dick Tuininga spoke about Lightbody in largely positive terms -- but after Pinsky's report was published, their actions contradicted these earlier observations. An April 10, 1991, Times followup by Pinsky revealed that Sims and KNX "severed relations" with Lightbody on April 2, immediately after the first piece saw print. As for Tuininga, he declined to say whether KKTV would renew its contract with Lightbody -- which ended the day before the first Times item ran -- but said, "We do not have anything on the burner for him."