As a former Marine gunnery sergeant, KOA radio host Bob Newman comes by his combativeness naturally. When politically liberal Colorado Media Matters, staffed by some of his most persistent critics, collapsed in March, Gunny Bob gleefully kicked the organization when it was down (and out) via a couple of for-publication e-mails that also fired shots at MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, who'd named Newman the "Worst Person in the World" back in August 2007.
Now, however, left wingers will have to find someone else to excoriate. Last night, Newman announced to listeners of his 7 p.m.-10 p.m. show that he'd be leaving the station within days to take a security and counter-terrorism position for an unnamed employer in a location he's also keeping to himself. The only hint he offers about the gig is that the country where he'll be working is a "nineteen-hour flight from Denver" in "a rather grim war zone." He adds, "Why couldn't it have been in Tahiti? It seems like every time the Marine Corps gets into a fight, it's in a real shithole."
Such stealth is typical for Newman. He's long portrayed himself as the ultimate insider -- a man with deep-cover sources who only trust their most dangerous secrets with him. The persona has served Newman well ever since he transitioned from an occasional post-9/11 commentator and contributor on KOA to a regular host who went after Obama Nation on a nightly basis.
Nevertheless, Newman has been running a counter-terrorism consulting business on the side -- and as a result, he says, "I've received a lot of offers over the last eight years. But somebody finally made me an offer I couldn't refuse. When a position comes along that's this high level, with this much responsibility, in a place where, if it falls to terrorists, we'll have serious problems here at home, I couldn't turn it down.
"Only a handful of us still alive in the counter-terrorism field could fill a billet like that, and I was a little surprised I got it. I know a couple of the guys I was up against. I've operated with them in the past -- neither of them are Americans -- and I assumed they'd get it. But some things tipped it in my favor, including my training experience as a certified master-training specialist, which is a Department of Defense qualification. But they also looked at some of the things I've done in the media in terms of my prediction and assessment ability." As one of several examples, he notes that he foresaw a June attack on the Pearl Continental Hotel in Peshawar, Pakistan by a Taliban branch, in which at least eleven people were killed.
Newman doesn't claim to be clairvoyant. "This is all because of my training," he insists. "I'm just a product of taxpayer dollars -- and people are still getting their money's worth."
Cash is scarce in the radio business these days, with advertising revenue sliding across the country. Indeed, Clear Channel Denver, the local branch of the massive radio conglomerate, which owns KOA, has gone through two rounds of layoffs already this year. Yet Newman says the downturn wasn't a contributing factor in his decision. "Maybe the timing seems a little weird," he acknowledges. "Certainly, all media is having trouble in this economy. But as far as KOA goes, our ratings are still fantastic, and my boss, Kris Olinger, and Lee Larsen, her boss, didn't want me to leave. Lee's word was, 'Wow,' and Kris said she was shocked I resigned. But they understood that I had to do it."
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Splitting won't be easy. Newman says he loves his job, noting that it's given him the chance to interview luminaries ranging from Newt Gingrich to the Jefferson Airplane's Grace Slick in addition to manning the microphone as the invasions of Baghdad and Afghanistan got underway. He's proud of his ratings success, too. As he puts it, "I feel fortunate that from my first Arbitron book, I was the number-one show in my time slot [in the 25-54 demographic], and I've maintained that position the whole time."
At this point, Newman is entertaining the possibility of writing a blog about world events that don't directly relate to his day job; he says it might possibly appear on the KOA website. He's also not ruling out the possibility of returning to the airwaves someday. "My family is staying here," he says, "and I'm doing the long-distance-commute thing -- the very long-distance commute. So who knows?"
Until then, he offers thanks to the KOA team, including former colleagues such as ABC's Alex Stone, with whom he won a 2002 Edward R. Murrow broadcasting award, as well as to his audience -- progressives included.
"I've had regular liberals tell me, 'I'm sorry to see you go. We listen to you to hear the other side,'" he allows. "I have a lot of respect for people like that. And some of the left-wing hate groups that came after me, they were so caught up in their hatred and intolerance that they didn't realize they were actually helping my show. Every time someone published something nasty about me, my show benefited immensely. So, in a weird way, I owe them. Not that I'm going to pay them back, but I appreciate their assistance."