In the Biggest Pariah of the Past Decade contest, Michael Brown would be among the favorites.
The former FEMA director wound up being slathered with much of the blame for the Bush administration's ultra-inadequate response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 -- a fate that led inevitably to his resignation that September. But rather than eschewing any connection with catastrophe, the man his boss memorably dubbed "Brownie" opened a disaster-consulting business in Boulder even as he began making appearances on local radio stations -- a lark that's now turned into a regular gig.
Yes, Brown has just been named a fulltimer at KOA, Denver's most popular talk-radio station, where he'll host his own show weeknights from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. His goal is to provide "an objective point of view to talk about current issues, showing, 'Here's how things really work in Washington, behind the scenes."
The slot opened up last August, when "Gunny" Bob Newman resigned for what he said was a security-and-terrorism-related assignment in a country he declined to name. Since then, says Kris Olinger, who oversees AM programming for Clear Channel Denver, "we've been trying out a number of people -- and we just felt Michael had a great rapport with the audience. He's really very knowledgeable about what is going on and has solid opinions. Out of a list of really great candidates, he came to the top."
Regarding the notoriety Brown earned from his Katrina actions, Olinger says, "I think it's a definite positive. He has great insight into what happened in New Orleans and how government works. He takes responsibility where he needs to, but he's also pretty candid about other things that went wrong. I think people get the inside story from him."
Today, Brown feels he's able to share such information without being defensive.
"Immediately after Katrina, my first instinct was to fight," he admits. "But I had three very good advisers: my wife, my lawyer and my minister. And all three of them advised me very well. They said, 'Don't fight now. Let certain things run their course -- the congressional hearings, the media cycle. And after that, there will be a time when you can come out, be very objective and just say, "Here's what happened."'
"The hearings gave me that chance," he continues, "and so did interviews and speaking engagements around the world. And little by little, I was able to climb out of everything."
Running away and hiding was never an option, he stresses.
"People get beaten up and thrown under the bus all the time," he notes. "You've got the choice of letting the bus run over you three times, and wallowing in that, or getting up and moving. And my choice was to get up and keep moving."
Politically, Brown describes himself as "very clearly center-right, conservative, with a strong libertarian bent. But because I've worked as a lawyer most of my life, I understand there are two sides to every issue, so you have to be able to understand the other side."
He prides himself on not jumping to conclusions or dog-piling on whoever is being pilloried by the press on any given day.
"I've been loved and hated by the media," he maintains. "So when something comes up and everyone is saying, 'This is outrageous!,' what better person to be able to say, 'Let's wait a second and look at what else might be going on.'"
As an example, Brown notes the blizzard of ribbing directed at President Barack Obama over the presence of a teleprompter at a recent appearance in a sixth-grade classroom.
"My friends on the right say he used the teleprompter to talk to these sixth graders," Brown allows. "But that's not what he did. It was set up in the room, and then he came in, talked to the kids, talked to the teachers, did a photo op. And then they were ushered out of the room and this group or task force came in and he spoke to them -- and it was at that point he used the teleprompter. Now, you can criticize him for using the teleprompter too much; that's a fair debate to have. But you can't criticize him for using it to talk to these students, because it didn't happen."
By attempting to cut through such hype, Brown hopes "to give listeners some insight. Too many consumers of news and current events don't really have the discernment to filter through the biases and opinions and make up their own minds. I hope to challenge people to look at the issues and learn from things, but to do it in an entertaining way."
Of course, some folks will never be able to see Brown as anything other than the man who botched Katrina -- and they'll be reminded anew this summer, when he's slated to publish a book entitled Deadly Indifference: An Insider's Look at the Politics of Disaster. But he's philosophical about this reputation.
"It's no different than it is when I walk into a restaurant or DIA or anywhere else," he says. "There are always a percentage of people with preconceived notions, good or bad, and I feel like the radio audience is the same way. The subject comes up occasionally, and people will ask me questions. But people can ask me anything and I'll tell them about it. When it comes to that experience, I have nothing to hide."