But whatever its legal ramifications, the case has had a lasting impact on newsrooms. No newspaper today would so cavalierly dismiss a promise of anonymity granted to a source. "We won't do that again," says Grow. "We did not act with honor as an institution. There's not a reporter here who agreed with that decision."
Having won an ugly race against the media, Dan Cohen has traded in the political horse race...for horse racing.
Cohen initially began work on Anonymous Source more than five years ago, but temporarily abandoned the project because he couldn't capture the appropriate tenor. "I thought it was too angry and I was too kind to myself," he says over lunch at Sapor Café and Bar, a restaurant in the Warehouse District of Minneapolis that he regularly patronizes. "I had to realize that I was not doing battle for the Lord here, that this was a mess of my own making in large part. Sometimes I get caught up in my own rhetoric."
Still, Cohen remains a caustic political observer and dedicated Republican. He believes that George W. Bush will ultimately deserve a place on Mt. Rushmore for spreading democracy in the Middle East, and proudly brandishes a photo of himself with Richard Nixon, taken when Cohen worked for the Peace Corps at the end of the '60s. He's also contemptuous of Minneapolis's DFL establishment. "I know the difference between McLaughlin and Rybak," he says of the current mayoral contenders. "One wears socks that match, one doesn't."
The political chicanery that brought Cohen such strident denunciation in the early '80s would probably not be necessary nowadays. There's little doubt that the media would need little assistance today to ferret out a lieutenant governor candidate's shoplifting conviction.
But Cohen is convincingly repentant about his efforts to smear Johnson. He closes the book by offering her an apology. "In a way it's kind of a Catholic book," Cohen says. "It's sin, guilt, and redemption."
Twin Cities Reader Summer Books Issue:
The Barnstormer A few years ago, Doug Ohman was a theme-park executive with 600 employees. Today, he photographs barns. What happened?