10 at 10: Briana Bierschbach on covering sexual harassment at the Minnesota Capitol

State Sen. Dan Schoen

To mark MinnPost’s 10th anniversary, our writers and editors have dug into the archives to highlight stories that have stuck with them over the years, a series we’re calling MinnPost 10 at 10.

Today, we hear from state government reporter Briana Bierschbach, who last month broke the story of multiple women accusing state Sen. Dan Schoen of sexual harassment — a story that ultimately led to the resignation of both Schoen and another lawmaker, state Rep. Tony Cornish:

Often journalists write stories we think are important only to see things go static after publication. That certainly wasn’t the case with MinnPost’s coverage of sexual harassment at the Minnesota Capitol.

In early November — amid the growing #MeToo movement, which encouraged women across the country to share their stories of sexual harassment — several women described the harassment they experienced at the hands of a first-term DFL Minnesota state senator, Dan Schoen. They described being subjected to behavior that included groping, persistent invitations for drinks, and sending photos of male genitalia.

By the evening of Nov. 8, the story was ready for publication, and MinnPost decided to post it immediately. Shortly after 9 p.m., the story, “Multiple women accuse Minnesota state Senator Dan Schoen of sexual harassment,” went live.  

Almost immediately, it was clear this wouldn’t be one of those stories that would quietly move in and out of the news cycle.

In the piece, DFL Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk called on Schoen to resign. Within 24 hours, so did the rest of Minnesota’s political establishment. Other stories soon surfaced. Schoen ultimately did give up his seat, after yet another woman said he sent her a photo of male genitalia. So did another state legislator, eight-term Republican Rep. Tony Cornish, who resigned after similar allegations surfaced of repeated harassment and abuse of his power to proposition women at all levels of politics. U.S. Sen. Al Franken also resigned after eight women came forward with allegations that he grabbed them while taking photos together or forcibly kissing them.

The stories also prompted a discussion of the broader culture of harassment in the halls of the Minnesota Capitol, where power imbalances, complicity and a weak system of reporting allowed harassment to run rampant for decades. House and Senate leaders are now requiring new sexual harassment training for legislators ahead of the next session; lawmakers are proposing new ways to report and hold people accountable for harassment in politics; and Gov. Mark Dayton has ordered a review of sexual harassment policies across all state agencies.

In other words, the fallout from the story, and the discussion it sparked, isn’t likely to end anytime soon.

MinnPost 10 at 10

Briana Bierschbach has written for MinnPost since 2013, during which time she’s won numerous awards for her coverage of Minnesota government and politics. In 2015, the Minnesota chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists named her Young Journalist of the Year. Before coming to MinnPost, she worked with the Associated Press, Politics in Minnesota,  St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal.

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