The Making of a Pundit

Here's how Andrew Cohen became one of the legal biz's foremost talking heads.

For better or worse, Denver may be home to more media-savvy legal experts per capita than any other American city: Scott Robinson, Dan Caplis, Craig Silverman and Larry Posner, among others, appear frequently in local TV, radio and print reports and receive national exposure when an area story grabs the attention of voyeurs beyond Colorado's borders. Can you say "JonBenét Ramsey"? I knew you could.

But somewhere along the line, these veteran opinion-providers were passed by 35-year-old Andrew Cohen, a relatively new kid on the block who's currently contributing to news organizations across the information spectrum. He regularly writes columns for the Denver Post and has published articles in numerous major newspapers, including the Washington Post, the New York Times and USA Today. He serves as a commentator for CBS Radio. He pens essays for CBS.com. Several weeks ago he signed a new two-year contract to serve as an on-air correspondent for the CBS television network, for which he's covered sprawling stories such as the impeachment of Bill Clinton and the election fiasco in Florida. Moreover, he's just inked a new pact to fill the same role locally at Channel 4, a CBS affiliate, as well as to assemble his thoughts on issues of the day in Gavel to Gavel, a feature that will be accessible on Channel 4's Web site, kcncnews4.com. "I'll be doing a lot of different things," Cohen says, understating the situation considerably.

How on earth has Cohen managed to score on so many journalistic fields in such a short amount of time? One reason is that he's uncommonly good at his chosen task. In contrast to analysts who are transparently partisan, or who loudly voice controversial positions merely to get a rise out of an increasingly cynical audience (the Bill O'Reilly/Chris Matthews approach), Cohen attempts to explain complex legal issues as clearly and objectively as possible. "You're better off shedding light than heat," he notes, "and that's what I try to do."

Talking the talk: Denver's Andrew Cohen is a high-profile expert.
Brett Amole
Talking the talk: Denver's Andrew Cohen is a high-profile expert.

He's also the beneficiary of good timing: Thanks to the Ramsey case, the Oklahoma City bombing trials and Columbine, the Denver area has been the setting for an awful lot of big news stories over the past six years or so, and Cohen took advantage of the career opportunities these incidents presented. But more to the point, he has exhibited a persistence and single-mindedness that seem straight out of a Hollywood biopic. "I really wanted to find a way to make this work," he says. "And so far, I have."

A native of Montreal, Canada, Cohen moved with his family to the Denver area in the late '70s: "I'm a graduate of Cherry Creek High; I was a classmate of Aimee Sporer," he allows, cleverly working in a reference to a new colleague. He subsequently attended Boston University, where he became editor of the school's independent student newspaper, the Daily Free Press. His tenure there, during which he had the opportunity to interview such newsmakers as human-rights activist Elie Wiesel and former Philippines leader Corazon Aquino, had a big impact on him: "I fell head over heels for journalism." But he wanted to settle in Colorado, and when he failed to receive job offers that would bring him back to the state in style, he decided to attend law school at the university "in the hope that at some point in the future I could figure out a way to hop back into journalism at something higher than ground level." In 1991, he passed his bar exam and landed an associate position at a local firm, Gorsuch Kirgis, where he worked as a civil litigator helping senior partners with commercial, probate or regulatory concerns. However, he couldn't kick his journalism jones, and in the mid-'90s, after doing a few freelance stories for tiny publications, he joined the Denver Press Club with the idea of getting to know the gatekeepers at the town's daily newspapers.

This tack proved to be an effective one. Soon Cohen was on shmoozing terms with the likes of Vince Carroll, who oversaw the editorial page for the Rocky Mountain News, Press Club habitué Chuck Green, then doing likewise at the Denver Post, and Denver Business Journal editor Henry Dubroff, who began publishing Cohen pieces on a bimonthly basis. Even though the Journal assignments paid a whopping $50 a crack, Cohen says, "I began to get the hint about what I should be doing. I realized, if I'm getting a bigger thrill about some article I wrote than I was for working with a client, maybe I'm doing the wrong thing."

When the bombing trials of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols rolled into town, Cohen convinced Dubroff to let him cover it for the Journal -- and through connections and cajoling, he received commitments from CBS Radio and Channel 2 to let him do the same, even though his broadcasting experience at that point consisted mainly of a handful of impromptu appearances on local TV and radio newscasts. With these agreements in hand, he took a leave of absence from his law firm to cover the courtroom occurrences full-time and wound up with even more opportunities than he'd anticipated. With the explosion of the cable-news industry in the wake of the O.J. Simpson case, networks needed to fill an unprecedented amount of time -- and Cohen, a handy lawyer who knew the case inside and out, was the perfect fellow to help them. As a result, he popped up often on CNN and was eventually hired by Fox News to yak about the Nichols phase of the proceedings.

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