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.
Along the way, Newman has written a slew of columns and books about the two topics nearest and dearest to his heart. The first, predictably, is the military: He's penned several tomes for Paladin Press, including Marine Special Warfare and Elite Unit Tactics and Guerrillas in the Mist: A Battlefield Guide to Clandestine Warfare, with a foreword by Bob Brown, publisher of Boulder-based Soldier of Fortune magazine. But more surprisingly, Newman is also addicted to fly-fishing -- so much so that he's authored manuscripts such as Gray Ghosts & Lefty's Deceiver, a collection of interviews with fly-fishing all-stars, and articles printed in Field & Stream and similar publications.
The way Newman tells it, he was happily pursuing his writing career, which he supplemented with occasional security-consultant gigs, when the Trade Center collapsed. While absorbing the subsequent electronic and print coverage of the aftermath, he found himself fuming. "I got sick and tired of watching bogus information passed on -- information that was completely false, experts stating assumptions as fact. And since I know everybody listens to KOA, I decided to write them an e-mail and ask if they wanted someone who could give them straight information, with no spin."
That sounded good to Martin, and after determining that Newman wasn't just some bozo who'd watched all the Rambo movies, he put him in front of a microphone. The response was immediate, Martin says: "I put him on Colorado Morning News, and the phone lines just lit up. We never take phone calls on CMN, but we do for him. Then I scheduled him for an hour on Rosen, and Rosen kept him for three, and an hour on the Zoo, and Scott kept him for four.
"Bob gets radio," Martin continues. "He's precise and concise, and he speaks very well. Plus, he's actually worked against terrorists and been dropped behind enemy lines. He's been shot at and shot back. That's the difference between him and some of the other experts you see."
Newman makes similar distinctions among analysts. He praises ex-military men like General Barry McCaffrey, a consultant for NBC, even though their style is considerably more taciturn than his. But he has little patience for the observations put forth by professors who've been featured prominently on newscasts and talk shows since September 11. "Academicians have a wealth of knowledge, but no hands-on experience," he says.
That hasn't stopped schools from marketing their brain trust to the media. The University of Denver has been especially aggressive in this respect, even assembling a Web page -- du.edu/news/response/experts.html -- that allows news directors to shop among its staffers to find the right pundit for any occasion. Channel 9 takes full advantage of this resource, regularly quizzing three DU staffers on the roster -- Jonathan Adelman, Shaul Gabbay and Ved Nanda. According to the site, both Adelman and Gabbay are working on books that touch on terrorism, and odds are good that Nanda is thinking about doing likewise.
Patti Dennis, Channel 9's news director, says she likes to use these speakers because "they have credentials, knowledge and the ability to communicate through the medium of television, and they can express information in a way that's accurate and important, not inflamed" -- a remark that could be seen as a knock against Newman, whose only appearance on the station took place on Dennis's day off. She's not opposed to using former military personnel -- since September 11, Channel 9 has twice interviewed General Norman Schwarzkopf, who resides in Telluride -- but she believes they're not always the best communicators. "A lot of military people are pretty close to the vest when talking about anything that might compromise strategies, which I think is appropriate," she says.
In contrast, Newman believes in maximum disclosure, holding back only on data that might endanger lives here and abroad. He boasts about being "ten days ahead of the rest of the media" in terms of identifying weapons systems being operated in Afghanistan and ridicules DIA officials for refusing to cooperate with the security report compiled by him and reporter Stone. The airport's public-relations office was approached several times for comments before the story was broadcast but eventually declined. After the piece ran, the office put out a press release stating that "revealing details of our security program or plans is not in the best interest of the traveling public. Therefore, we will not discuss any details of our security program at DIA." This reply strikes Newman as not just counterproductive, but stupid: "They could have turned this into positive PR. That's the kind of thing you learn in college-freshman journalism class. But they completely botched it."
DIA will likely receive a return visit from Newman, and he probably won't divulge his new findings in a politically correct way: He recently said the typical security screener at the airport is "from a Third World country, with a seventh-grade education and an I.Q. of 75." Meanwhile, Martin has agreed to give Newman a weekend fly-fishing show, in the hopes of finding out if he can go beyond discussing missiles and the Mujahideen. "What it builds into will be up to Bob," Martin says. "Some guys, all they can do is talk war, and when the war's over, guess what: You go home and write fly-fishing books again. But he's a pretty vivacious guy. Who knows what he'll be able to do?"
Either way, Newman is confident he'll have a job. "The war won't last forever," he says. "But I'll tell you what: It's going to last for a very long time."
Taking a powder: No anthrax has been found in Colorado media offices, but last month there was an anthrax scare at a Rocky Mountain News plant -- one that the paper never reported.
Jim Nolan, spokesman for the Denver Newspaper Agency, which handles business operations for the News and the Denver Post, says that shortly after anthrax was found on the East Coast, a worker at the News's Fox Street press facility (where Westword is also printed) spotted a powdery substance in a room there. The employee reported this to a manager, who called the Denver Fire Department. A haz-mat crew sent to the scene soon discovered that the mysterious material was harmless paper dust.
In Nolan's view, this story wasn't newsworthy because "the authorities very quickly determined that there was not anything to worry about. No one was evacuated, and the presses kept running." But the News may have had other motives for keeping things quiet -- like not wanting its customers to worry that picking up the paper would prove fatal.
This wasn't an idle concern. On October 8, after anthrax was identified at Boca Raton, Florida's, American Media Inc., where the offices of the National Enquirer and several other supermarket tabloids are located, a caller to Larry King's CNN talk show asked if readers could be infected with anthrax by touching an issue. AMI tried to squelch such fears with an October 10 press release noting that none of the plants where the Enquirer and its sister publications are printed are located in Florida. "We were also assured by public-health experts that you cannot get anthrax off of the newspaper," adds AMI spokesman Gerald McKelvey. Over the next few days, calls from concerned readers and retailers rapidly diminished, which suggests to McKelvey that it was better to address the issue than dodge it. "Is there any other way?" he asks.
The New York Times took a similar tack after staff writer Judith Miller received a letter filled with powder (it was later shown not to be anthrax); the paper published an item notifying readers that editions aren't printed anywhere near the office where the tainted missive was received. Later, the paper was contacted by numerous readers worried about a powdery substance some found in the pages of the Times's Sunday magazine. As noted by Kathy Park, manager of public relations for the New York Times Company, this substance was "a cornstarch product, an anti-slip agent used in the printing process. It's perfectly safe, but because of the calls we received, we switched to another product that's not powdery in nature." Although the cornstarch derivative is still being used on some inserts and circulars that appear in newspapers across the country, many facilities are following the Times's lead and discontinuing its use.
The New York Post has also been up front about anthrax matters, beginning with a cover photo of an assistant to the paper's editor who developed the cutaneous, or skin, form of anthrax on her middle finger: The shot shows her holding up the bandaged digit in bird-flipping position under the headline "Anthrax This." Spokeswoman Suzi Halpin says the paper made it clear that its printing facility is in the Bronx, not Manhattan, and has kept the public abreast of every development via press releases. On November 1, for instance, one such document stated that "this afternoon, a Post employee who works in the paper's accounting department opened an envelope that appeared to contain a white, powder-like substance." The contents of the letter were still being tested at the time of the release, but the Post didn't use this fact as an excuse to hide the incident.
Still, the DNA's Nolan isn't second-guessing the decision to keep the News's powder scare from the public. As he puts it, "There was absolutely no cause for alarm."
It would have been nice to know that earlier.
Plea, plea, plea: The legal odyssey of Scott McDonald is nearing its end.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
On November 5, the former managing editor of Channel 31, who cajoled media figures such as self-proclaimed troubleshooter Tom Martino into making questionable or bogus investments ("OutFoxed," May 10), made a deal with prosecutors, pleading guilty to securities fraud. McDonald could be sentenced to between four and twelve years in the pokey, but because he has no prior record and has agreed to pay back over $150,000 to victims, he's much likelier to receive probation at his December 21 sentencing. According to McDonald, who admits that he's had a hard time keeping a job because of adverse publicity from the case, "I've acknowledged responsibility for everything I've done up to this point, and now I'm committed to making full restitution to everyone involved."
Leave it to beaver: Make sure you examine the Travel section of the November 4 Denver Post very closely. You could get an eyeful.
The section's cover story, "Jack the Ripper's Walk," features a shot from the movie From Hell showing the Ripper walking away from a female victim lying on a road -- but only after printing up thousands of copies did anyone notice that in the shot, the dead woman's skirt is pushed up, revealing what appears to be the same body part Sharon Stone displayed in Basic Instinct. Technicians later tinkered with the photo to extend the skirt over the corpse's crotch, but there's still a chance some of the more revealing images made it onto the streets.
Talk about a news flash.