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Friday, February 19, 2010

The Persecuted Prosecutor

Posted By on Fri, Feb 19, 2010 at 12:17 PM

As Dayvoe of the 2Political Junkies points out, Mary Beth Buchanan made a surprise campaign appearance on Marty Griffin's KDKA radio show this week. Buchanan, who is challenging Democrat Jason Altmire in PA's fourth Congressional District, called in after her nemesis, former Allegheny County Coroner Cyril Wecht, had been dogging her on Griffin's show. Wecht had asserted that her fruitless attempt to prosecute him had cost taxpayers $20 million.

Buchanan's call got attention mainly because, early on, she made an apparent threat to sue Griffin if he continued to float that number. But the entire phone call may be worth a listen, because it suggests she's not quite ready for primetime.

When Buchanan insisted $20 million was too high, there ensued the following exchange: 

Griffin: So you'll provide us all the salaries of every ADA [sic] that worked on that case. You'll provide all the salaries of all the staff that worked on that case. You'll provide the cost of all the documentation for that case.
Buchanan: Listen. We don't --
Griffin: Are you going to answer my question?
Buchanan: I am answering your question if you would shut up and let me talk.
Griffin: So this is how you're going to run: telling people to shut up and threatening them with lawsuits.
Buchanan: Listen: If you want the facts, I'm here to give them to you. If you want to hear yourself talk, then why do you even invite people to come on and be guests?
Griffin [chuckling]: Go ahead, Mary Beth.
Buchanan: Thank you.
Griffin: You sound very defensive to me. It’s a long road, Mary Beth, to run for office. This is just the beginning. This is just your toe in the water. But go ahead.

I'm sure Mary Beth Buchanan isn't the first talk-radio guest to wonder what she has to do to get a word in edgewise. (That part where Griffin says "Go ahead" and then interrupts her again would have put me over the top.) I also can't help but think his continuous reference to her as "Mary Beth" sounds a wee bit patronizing.

That said, Griffin has a point: This is a campaign, not a courtroom. Dealing with talk-radio assholes, and the self-interested misrepresentations made by political opponents, comes with the territory. (Usually, of course, the poiltics of talk radio dictate that it's the Democrats who have to deal with that.) If Buchanan is going to lose her cool every time that happens, it's gonna be a long campaign. 

For what it's worth, Buchanan had a pretty compelling argument: Her office's budget is only $9 million a year. But there's more than a bit of hypocrisy here. A few minutes later, Buchanan groused that Griffin didn't "even bother to try to find out what the facts are. You just want to keep repeating whatever sensationalism that somebody gives you."

But as I pointed out in a blog post yesterday, Buchanan's very first press release repeated a sensationalist charge -- about a vote Altmire took to create a national historic site in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Griffin and Buchanan ended the call with an agreement to have her back on the show. I wouldn't expect the same kind of fireworks next time: From what I can tell, Griffin is just as happy to be a lapdog as a Doberman. (I recently heard a segment on Braddock Hospital where his fawning treatment of a UPMC flack made me wince.)

Buchanan, meanwhile, will have some time to get a grip on herself, and realize that candidates can't afford to be this thin-skinned. She clearly knows how the game is played. It's just that, as a career prosecutor, she doesn't have much experience playing defense.

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