Friday, January 05, 2007


Sometimes, I can almost tolerate Mark Belling. On very rare, once-a-month occasions, his patronizing, bar-stool-level blabbering is almost charming, even if he doesn’t really think what he says he does half the time. His stoop-to-conquer routine has worked for years, if only because the alternative for the angry-white-male demographic he panders to is – ugh – Jonathan Green.

Whether he’s reading GOP talking points or making up his own nonsense, Belling is always poison, always wrong, but seldom over his head. After all, how can anyone be overcome while carping about light rail, ethanol, loony (lefty or black) aldermen or a phony War on Christmas? But Belling really got out of his shallow depth this week when he compared two retiring district attorneys -- Milwaukee’s E. Michael McCann and Waukesha’s Paul Bucher – and, blinded by shameless party loyalty, was as wrong as he could be.

I hate to swing around my own credentials here, but, here goes. I have worked as a criminal defense attorney for the better part of the last 20 years, mostly in Milwaukee County. McCann actually hired me out of law school, and I worked for him for six months in the short-lived paternity unit (!) before fleeing to the safer (for me) haven of the Public Defenders Office. He actually ended up firing me for not showing up for work after I started at the PD. He let me have it in his office for an hour and I left in tears.

As a defense attorney, I had enormous respect for McCann and his staff, especially after spending three years practicing in Racine, where everything was charged with very little thought or compassion. McCann hired talented, interesting people who were more interested in doing justice than padding their conviction or sent-to-prison stats. Sure, as in all large offices, some of them are more wrong than others. And the office (and judges) sometime responded to political campaigns – driven by people like Belling – on lock-'em-up issues like guns, drugs and drunk driving that caused absurd amounts of jail and prison time to be thrown around like candy to an electorate with a sweet tooth.

McCann was far from perfect, starting with the kid gloves with which he treated bad cops. There was no cop shooting or beating that was unjustified in his eyes, and that was wrong. He also drove some in his office crazy, refusing to update office equipment – desks, chairs, carpeting – in the decrepit Safety Building and the DAs were way behind the times in terms of computerization of basic case management. McCann was known for his sackcloth-and-ashes humility – for instance, he refused to let himself be passed-through the security screening in the Safety Building when it first started.

But McCann, everyone knew, was beyond reproach. If you came to McCann arguing anything but the straight facts and the needs of justice, he wouldn’t hear you. An old-school ‘60s (as in Kennedy) Democrat, he was totally non-political. To the last day, he treated his job as a sacred trust. He was like a damn priest about it.

Never one to let the facts get in the way of an argument he wants to make, Belling wildly defames McCann in a column this week. McCann, proclaims the know-nothing Belling, “is a longtime burnout concerned more about conviction rates than justice, who never saw a plea bargain he didn’t like and was burdened with a sense of guilt that made him better suited to representing criminals, not trying to jail them.” Man, what a load. No one who has worked in the criminal justice system in Milwaukee for the last 40 years would even think such things about Mike McCann. Burnout? The man was passionate and energetic to the end. There are ten of thousands of people doing many years in prison because McCann and his staff stuck to their charging decisions and many of them could hold their own with the best of the Milwaukee defense bar. Belling’s reckless charges are an insult not only to McCann, but to the assistants who followed his lead.

If his childish slander against McCann is bad, his lauding of Republican Bucher is worse. Bucher was a lousy, publicity-seeking hound, whose first run for Attorney General was short-circuited by his very-public botching of the Mark Chmura prosecution. He ended his term with a disgusting piece of political skulduggery, putting out the word the week before the November election that he was “investigating” the State Election Board decision about Mark Green’s dirty money, on the basis that they had a meeting in Waukesha around that time. It was an absurd bit of showboating, but the anti-Doyle Journal Sentinel was happy to run a story about it. Perhaps Belling's unjustified accolades for Bucher are caused by his oneness in spirit with Bucher's wife, the pathetic Jessica McBride, who helps poison the electorate on another radio station when the Bucks aren't playing.

Mark Belling should stick to trying to talk his listeners into supporting a war against Iran, giving more tax breaks to the rich and further restricting civil liberties. When it comes to the facts on the ground in the Milwaukee County Courthouse about E. Michael McCann, he has no idea what he is talking about.

I went to file something in McCann’s former office on the 4th floor of the Safety Building this week. Just like in the movies, there was a guy putting the name of the new DA, John Chisholm, on the frosted glass outside the door. Chisholm is an excellent example of the people McCann hired – tough, fair and always interested in the elusive goal of “justice”. Because of Mike McCann we have people like that – and not hacks like Paul Bucher – carrying on a fine tradition. Only, I hope, with better desks and chairs.


Brien Lee said...

Your comments about McCann are well presented and well taken by this reader.

I have two questions:

1) Does Mark Belling really not believe everything he says? If so, I think he deserves even more credit for revitalizing radio in this town. Milwaukee radio WAS Jonathan Green before Belling hit town. Belling singlehandedly converted the programming of two stations via the success of his programs and the spin-offs thereof.

2) Are you using Belling-style marginalization back at Belling because he's Belling, or because that's your style? You've painted him in pretty black and white terms. I'm liberal, listen to Belling, and he's not always correct, but he can be right on-- especially when breaking newstories others won't cover.

I love radio. I listen to Sirius Left, Air America, and Belling-- all religiously (so to speak.)

Good radio is good radio, even if it isn't always in alignment with one's own politics.

Thanks for a very thoughtful piece.

Brien Lee

Mike Plaisted said...

Thanks, Brien, for your comment. And you managed to pick out one phrase that I put in on purpose and I was hoping someone would notice.

When I said Belling "doesn't think what he says he thinks", I'm saying that he is like a lot of GOP politicians who pander to their right-wing base, mostly on social issues, by claiming, say, they are anti-gay when they really aren't. They know gays are fine -- they may be gay themselves -- but they jump up-and-down about gay marriage, draft laws, but have no interest in really doing anything about it.

Balling is like that, I think, because I am giving him credit for being more intellegent than the reactionary he plays on the radio. Like I said at the top of my post, I do think he is entertaining on some topics and, sure, breaking news. But, overall, he is a shill for the GOP, fed the same talking points as Limbaugh, etc., and shows no independence of thought on any of it. He might really think we should do stupid things like invade Iran, but, if he does, he's not as bright as I think he is.

As for reviving Milwaukee radio, well, if it takes poison rhetoric to do so, I'll take Green, thank you. The radio wing-nut revolution, enabled by Reagan's elimination of the Fairness Doctrine and driven to extremes by Limbaugh and other Rove surrogates, has warped and destroyed our political discussion. Lies are repeated until they become facts and the wing-nuts carry on the politics of personal destruction so the straight GOP doesn't have to. And this happens, literally, 24 hours a day, all across the country.

As progressives, we play different; we play fair. We use our airwaves, to the extent we have them, to broaden minds and encourage new ideas. We want honest debate. That's one thing Belling, Sykes, Limbaugh and the rest avoid at all costs. They will never get in a room and have an honest debate with anyone, because their "ideas" will fail when their straw-men are exposed for what they are.

And, besides, Belling has done nothing for the FM music side of Milwaukee radio, which is really sad. Now, if he could just spin some decent records...