Legacy and Media
On this date 100 years ago, Ohio Gov. and newspaper publisher James M. Cox gave his formal acceptance of the Democratic Party nomination for President.
Though he would lose that year to Ohio Senator and fellow newspaper publisher Warren Harding, Cox’s running mate, Franklin D. Roosevelt, went on to win four Presidential elections beginning in 1932.
To many Roosevelt and New Deal Liberalism came to symbolize the Democratic party until its turn towards a more free-market Neo-liberalism in the late 20th Century.
After his defeat in 1920, Cox remained a prominent figure in Democratic politics and expanded his media holdings beyond Ohio.
While never as large as the Hearst chain, Cox came to dominate news coverage in Atlanta by purchasing the afternoon Journal in 1939 and morning Constitution in 1950.
With the Journal came WSB radio and later TV.
James M. Cox died in 1957 and the politics of his heirs diversified.
In 1972 James M. Cox, Jr. ordered all papers to endorse Republican incumbent Richard Nixon over Democrat George McGovern.
In 1975 the FCC imposed a cross-ownership rule meant to prevent media concentration in any major city, but Cox, as a legacy owner, enjoyed decades of exemptions.
Anne Cox Chambers, who died at 100 just this year, served as Ambassador to Belgium in the Jimmy Carter administration and remained won of the largest contributors to Georgia Democrats even after the state turned increasingly red.
Georgia’s shift in politics was helped by Cox’s own WSB radio which joined the lucrative right-wing talk format that followed the ending of the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine in 1987.
Even before the establishment of Fox News Network in 1996, AM talk radio helped fuel the rise of Georgia’s Newt Gingrich as Speaker of the House.
On WSB, both local and national hosts would rail against every aspect of New Deal Liberalism.
After Anne Cox Chambers retired, the now-merged Atlanta Journal-Constitution dropped all political endorsements entirely and even left downtown Atlanta for the more affluent, and more Republican, northern suburbs.
Current Cox Chairman James Cox Kennedy is a conservative donor.
But now in the Trump era, the paper finds the suburbs it moved to trending blue and openly critical of both the President and the media, both conservative and mainstream, that helped fuel his own rise.
Such criticism, which moved from comments sections to social media, grew during the close 2017 special election between Karen Handel and Jon Ossoff and intensified during the 2018 Gubernatorial race between Brian Kemp, a WSB radio favorite, and Stacey Abrams .
Those races also drew national interest and extensive coverage from MSNBC’s liberal hosts and online progressive media outlets and podcasts.
Younger Georgia residents are trending even further left and are openly critical of capitalism itself, something completely at odds with the pro-business boosterism that’s reigned over most of Atlanta media since Henry Grady propagandized for the New South soon after the Civil War.
In 2019 Cox sold its broadcasting entities to the private equity firm Apollo Global Management but retained a minority stake. The Cox family, through Cox Enterprises, owns both the AJC and its Dayton paper outright.
However, “joint investigations” and cross-promotions between the AJC and WSB-TV newsrooms continue and both companies bear the Cox name.
Meanwhile, local news is in a crisis both nationally and in Georgia. There are myriad efforts underway to find solutions, from philanthropy to media partnerships to public funding to breaking up Big Tech. (But not local monopolies, apparently.)
To what extent those efforts genuinely serve the public interest and do not just protect entrenched interests and legacy oligarchies will be worth questioning.
For all the changes that have occurred in media in the last century, both James M. Cox’s Dayton Daily News and Warren G. Harding’s Marion Star are still in publication, even if in diminished form.
That says something about the power of legacy admission.