In this age of duct-tape defenses, “shock and awe” campaigns and color-coded terrorist warnings, he is on television practically every day, helping viewers make sense of it all.
The 52-year-old retired Army lieutenant colonel works as a Fox News military analyst and appears regularly on every program the cable network broadcasts. Thursday night he was on “The O’Reilly Factor,” hosted by controversial commentator Bill O’Reilly.
He answers questions about troop movements, infantry advances and explains to show hosts and viewers what coalition forces will encounter as they press on toward Baghdad.
His perspective is based on 24 years of active duty military service.
After an initial appearance in 1993 on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” Maginnis has been on television between 700 and 800 times, according to his own estimates. He has been all over cable television — CNN, Fox and MSNBC.
The 1973 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point has appeared exclusively on the Fox News Channel, which retained him as a military analyst in January.
“I have appeared on all of them,” Maginnis said of the 24-hour news networks. “I did a lot of Fox when they started up.”
After his West Point graduation, Maginnis served as an infantry officer on three different continents. He then went to work at the Pentagon as an inspector general, where, under the authority of the secretary of the Army, and the Army’s chief of staff, he investigated generals accused of improprieties.
He conducted probes similar to the one recently opened to determine whether U.S. Central Command boss Gen. Tommy Franks abused the powers of his office, allegedly allowing his wife in on classified briefings and making military aircraft available to her for personal use.
Franks is currently commanding U.S. forces in Iraq from Central Command headquarters in Qatar.
Maginnis worked as vice president with the Family Research Council until last fall, and now works with defense contractor BCPI International outside Washington, D.C., in addition to televised appearances.
Studio lights are both hot and bright. Being under them for hours can make a show’s guest very thirsty and put that person under pressure. But, Maginnis says it does not bother him.
“I’ve been on quite a few hundreds of programs,” Maginnis said. “When you stand there for three hours, you get accustomed to it.”
Maginnis initially earned national attention for his role in formulating — and then speaking out against the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy instituted by the Clinton administration in 1993.
He is credited as one of the authors of the policy, which states that gays can serve in the military — as long as they don’t talk about it and the brass doesn’t ask any questions. Maginnis said he is no more the author than anyone else who worked on the wording.
He was “discovered” by TV producers, as a result of what he called “a great deal of writing, publishing,” and “a lot of radio.”
“I favor the law, and I don’t want the regulation. I think it’s inconsistent with the law,” Maginnis said of the legislation that bans openly gay individuals from serving. “I’ve been consistent calling it a double pretense. It forces the military to pretend that it doesn’t care that gays are serving — albeit in the closet — and it forces a gay to pretend that he’s not a homosexual.”
Maginnis believes Pentagon brass should care because there is both a discipline and morale issue involved that is a detriment to the readiness of the armed services, he said in a telephone interview on Thursday.
Maginnis said he was the first member of the group that studied don’t ask, don’t tell, to openly publish an article on “the implications of openly serving soldiers.”
He will be involved in the taping of a Showtime special next week that explores that very issue, but will be recognized as a representative of Fox.
Maginnis said he would not condemn the war plan unfolding in Iraq, because he has not seen it. Several former military officers have been criticized in recent weeks for speaking out against it, including retired four-star generals Wesley Clark, who was the NATO supreme allied commander in the 1999 operation in Serbia, and Barry McCaffery, former Clinton drug czar and Central Command chief.
“Personally, I’m not going to be openly critical of a war plan that I haven’t seen and a war plan that appears to have enjoyed a great deal of success,” Maginnis said. “They are both credible individuals, and they’re entitled to their views.”
He called Clark and McCaffery’s opinions “educated.”
“Our job on the television is analysis and providing alternatives as to how and why things happen as opposed to second guessing Gen. Franks and [Defense Secretary Donald H.] Rumsfeld,” he said.
Maginnis and his wife Jan are the parents of a 21-year-old daughter, who is attending Liberty University in Lynchburg, and a 17-year-old son who attends a Dale City Christian school. He has lived in Prince William County since September 1990. Before settling here, he lived in a number of other places, including Florida, where he was born.