Brian Kemp’s biggest ally in surviving Trump’s wrath was Cox media. Was that to preserve democracy or their own oligarchy?
David Perdue’s Trump-backed campaign for governor went slouching through Georgia to the relief of many news outlets and the delight of those associated with Cox Enterprises, the media/automotive services company that’s dominated Georgia local news for generations.
Erick Erickson, the Never-Trump turned pro-Trump-turned post-Trump WSB radio host, has been a stalwart Brian Kemp supporter. Erickson even spoke at Kemp’s inauguration, a blurring of lines between opinion host and candidate propagandist that media reporters regularly interrogate when it involves cable news personalities or national newspaper columnists.
No one in Georgia even raised an eyebrow.
He was with Kemp again Monday night standing next to former Vice President Mike Pence. And on a post-election panel with WSB radio news host Scott Slade and Kemp himself.
WSB television is another favorite outlet for “exclusives” with Kemp dating back to his time as Secretary of State.
One regular Kemp questioner became Vice Chancellor for Communications at the University System of Georgia upon Kemp’s elevation to governor.
The Cox-owned Atlanta Journal-Constitution is the legacy regional newspaper of record, and national media outlets often defer to its coverage of Georgia and echo it in their own stories, down to the same sources and framing.
Yet Georgia Republicans lump the AJC in with national media in attacks that it’s too liberal and doesn’t give conservatives voice.
This is despite repeated efforts to court conservative readers.
The AJC dropped political endorsements altogether and left the city of Atlanta for the affluent northern suburbs over a decade ago.
It greeted Trump’s election in 2016 not with trepidation, but a series of “Making of a Trump Voter” articles.
But in appeasing its conservative critic’s, nothing is ever enough.
Even Brian Kemp echoed Trumpian rhetoric when pushed, as in his attack on the AJC’s coverage of his early Covid response.
But that was before he’d fallen out of favor with Trump.
Cox is owned by the state’s richest family and holds considerable influence over journalism institutions and Atlanta philanthropies.
This mutes criticism from elected Democrats.
Nationally, the influence of Billionaire ownership of media is under scrutiny, but there’s little such discussion in Georgia.
Since Nov. of 2021, when Trump began attacking Kemp, the AJC enjoyed a slew of access exclusives with the Kemp administration boosting the incumbent governor’s profile at a crucial time.
Such access should have raised conflict of interest and other ethics concerns for media critics and watchdogs.
News that the electric vehicle maker Rivian was considering Georgia for a new plant was first leaked to Atlanta Journal-Constitution and its star political reporter.
Disclosures that Cox Enterprises is an investor in Rivian and holds a seat on its board did appear, but not any in-depth interview with Cox executives.
Did they lobby state officials? Discuss it directly with Kemp?
Ideally a non-Cox outlet would ask, but none have bothered.
In national stories about opposition to the Rivian plant, including the New York Times and Bloomberg, there’s no mention of Cox’s involvment.
An NBC story even countered criticism from some Republicans of George Soros’ investment by highlighting others, but still left Cox out.
“Soros, the liberal Jewish billionaire who is often cast as a boogeyman in conservative circles, owns a small minority stake in Rivian, while larger investors include Amazon, BlackRock and T. Rowe Price, among others.”
Cox is also an investor in the newsletter media company Axios along with NBC.
The AJC’s star political reporter is an MSNBC contributor.
An Axios local story leaves the Cox investment out too, be it for reasons of smart brevity or corporate synergy.
Rivian may be the next Tesla or whatever your model of an innovative company is, or the next Theranos, which Cox also invested in, but an accurate discussion of Georgia’s incentive package and reshaping its public policy around electric vehicle manufacturing isn’t possible if no media outlet is willing to cover Cox in even a slightly adversarial way.
A successful effort by Kemp allies to place Perdue’s cousin Sonny as Chancellor of the University System of Georgia was bookended by AJC exclusives, (guess which reporter) with the year-long saga presented as political soap opera. A savvy Kemp neutralizing a Trump cabinet secretary and ex-Governor with an extensive political network ahead of a primary challenge.
It’s the framing the New York Times picked up on to the extent it covered the appointment, as an aside in its coverage of Trump’s rally for Perdue.
The politicization of Georgia’s university system was excused so long as it helped Kemp withstand Trump’s vengeance, no matter how lackluster Sonny Perdue’s “statement of interest” in the job actually was.
The AJC’s most ambitious effort last year was “Inside the Campaign to Undermine Georgia’s Elections,” a lengthy review of “Stop the Steal” efforts in the state.
It won a Toner Prize and praise from the likes of Jay Rosen, an advocate for the press to show a bias towards democracy.
I noted after reading it when first published that it certainly did show the AJC’s impressive journalistic resources but also its ability to frame, and reframe, the Georgia narrative.
The story was now a Civil War within Georgia’s Republican Party.
If it could just curb the MAGA wing, the state would quickly revert to a pre-Trump, red state normal.
The Cox heavy Atlanta Press Club seemed to help in its series of debates which skewed towards Republican primaries.
Marjorie Taylor Greene and Vernon Jones, who both regularly attack the press, got statewide platforms. Progressive challengers to absentee Democrat David Scott got none.
In the last week positive Kemp and negative Perdue stories intensified, with headlines and a Sunday front page story boasting of a resurgent GOP.
“Turnout booms in Georgia primary, led by resurgent Republicans.”
“In Georgia’s first post-Trump primary election, unprecedented waves of voters have already swept into polling places — most of them Republicans.”
A Cox-approved return to red state normalcy was imminent.
On election day a school shooting in Texas pushed Georgia’s primary from the top spotlight
Grief and anger and questions about why our politics are broken took precedence.
Kemp trouncing Perdue was the good news, even if the triumphalism had to wait a day or two and be more muted.
It’s there now, amid the national press.
Kemp, who ran a Trump-inspired campaign in his first election, wielding shotguns and vowing to round up illegal immigrants, who governed to the hard right on culture issues, loosening gun restrictions but limiting abortion rights, was now the moderate, MAGA Vampire-slayer.
Supporting Trump up to the point of his election denials is now forgivable and all that’s necessary to claim the role of reasonable Republican.
A return to normal indeed.