Man on the Street
by Diane Hartman
People in New York recognize him ("aren’t you that guy on TV?"), but Denver folks hardly react at all when they see Andrew Cohen. Maybe it’s the network television demographics. But it’s a little surprising. Cohen, 36, has made a meteoric trip from Boston University’s School of Law in 1991, to associate at Gorsuch Kirgis, to legal analyst and commentator for CBS News and its hundreds of TV and radio affiliates around the country. See him on Channel 4 (KCNC) and hear him on KHOW 630 AM.
Originally from Canada, Andrew and his family moved to Denver in the late ’70s and he attended Cherry Creek High School. He went back East to Boston University and was enticed into journalism when he started working at the school’s student newspaper.
"The mid-’80s was a wonderful time to be at a paper," he said. He covered, for example, human-rights activist Elie Wiesel, who won the Nobel Prize.
After graduation, Cohen applied for newspaper jobs, but was offered jobs at "very small papers in very small towns.
"I decided to go to law school, thinking I might have a meaningful career. A lot of friends paid their dues at small papers and are at respected papers—I have four friends at the New York Times. They look at me and say ‘wow.’ And I look at them and say ‘wow.’"
When he talks about what influenced him, Cohen says, "It’s all about being on the inside or the outside. Part of the reason I wanted to be a lawyer was to be in the room when decisions are made. Then I realized that most decisions got made in the rooms I wasn’t in! Or if I was, I couldn’t talk about the decisions anyway."
He enjoyed his time at Gorsuch, but fairly soon his bent for journalism kicked in and he began freelancing some pieces for the Denver Business Journal. When the Oklahoma City bombing case came to town, he got temporary job offers from CBS Radio News and Channel 2.
"As I got into it, I was shocked at how little journalists know about what lawyers do and how little lawyers know about what makes journalists tick." His coverage of the trial led to appearances on CNN and Fox News. Cohen took a leave of absence from his firm to work on these assignments full-time. After the bombing trial, there was the Monica Lewinksi affair and the JonBenet Ramsey grand jury to keep him busy. He was put under contract by CBS in 2000, and soon was doing commentary on the Elian Gonzalez situation. He then spent five weeks on the infamous vote recount in Florida.
"That was the story I liked best. It involved no murders, no victims. There was laugher, political shenanigans, dramas and the stakes were high. But there was no grieving mother or father. You could go to sleep at night and not dread the next day in court."
What Cohen has become is a legal translator. "As a journalist, I’m on the outside but able to ask questions of people on the inside." He tries to be sure the answers can be understood by the general public.
He doesn’t cover stories the way a beat reporter does, purely with facts and figures—he provides commentary ("context and perspective") that he calls "more light than heat."
How did he make it so big, so fast?
"I don’t know how big or how fast. But it’s worked because I have a law degree and because there’s a need for all media outlets to better explain the law to laypeople." Add to that his ability to talk in plain and interesting language about complex subjects. You can catch his style on http://
news4colorado.com/gaveltogavel. So far this year, he’s written about 100 national law columns for CBS News and 60 local columns for KCNC.
While Cohen’s columns aren’t always opinionated, he can certainly be.
You may have seen one of his latest editorial rants in the Rocky Mountain News on Nov. 30, about the Allard/Strickland contest, where Sen. Allard’s ads kept repeating "lawyer-lobbyist" as though they meant "rapist-murderer" (credit for that phrase goes to News columnist Mike Littwin). Cohen took the bar to task for not responding: "The silence from the legal community while people were trashing lawyers is stunning to me. It’s a sad commentary if I have to be the one reminding people that Jefferson, Madison and Lincoln were lawyers—it shouldn’t be a badge of shame to be a lawyer. There should have been more prominent voices in the profession than mine standing up for the legal profession." Cohen is married to lawyer Laura Nagle at Davis, Graham & Stubbs ("she’s by far the smartest attorney in the house"), and they have a four-year-old son.