Geoffrey Cowan



Throughout his career, Geoffrey Cowan has been an important force across a spectrum of communication and public policy arenas - as a lawyer, academic administrator, government official, best-selling author, distinguished professor, playwright, and Emmy Award-winning producer.

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In 2010, the trustees of The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands appointed Cowan to serve as the first president of the Trust. He will carry on the Annenberg legacy by developing Sunnylands into a world-class venue for important retreats for top government officials and leaders in the fields of law, education, philanthropy, the arts, culture, science and medicine.

From 1996-2007, he served as dean of the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. In 2007, he was named a University Professor (one of 21 at the university), the inaugural holder of the Annenberg Family Chair in Communication Leadership and director of USC Annenberg's Center on Communication Leadership and Policy. He holds a joint appointment in the USC Gould School of Law and teaches courses in communication and journalism.

At USC Annenberg, he launched new academic programs in public diplomacy, specialized journalism, strategic public relations, global communication and online communities. He is a successful fundraiser and established the first endowed faculty chairs at the school. He launched and remains involved with major USC Annenberg centers and projects, including the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, The Norman Lear Center, Charles Annenberg Weingarten Program on Online Communities, Knight Digital Media Center and the USC Annenberg School Center for the Digital Future.

Prior to becoming dean, President Clinton appointed Cowan to serve the nation as the director of the Voice of America. He served as the 22nd director of the VOA, the international broadcasting service of the U.S. Information Agency. He also served as associate director of the USIA and as director of the International Broadcasting Bureau, with responsibility for WORLDNET TV and Radio & TV Marti as well as VOA.

From 1979-84, he was a member of the Board of Directors of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and played a key role in the development of National Public Radio.

An award-winning author, Cowan's books include: See No Evil: The Backstage Battle Over Sex and Violence on Television (Simon & Schuster, 1980), and the best-selling The People v. Clarence Darrow: The Bribery Trial of America's Greatest Lawyer (Random House, 1993).

In addition to his tenure at USC, Cowan spent twenty years as a professor of communication law and policy at UCLA, where he received numerous teaching awards and founded the Center for Communication Policy.

Concurrently with his teaching at UCLA, Cowan was a television producer. He won an Emmy as executive producer of the television movie Mark Twain & Me, which was voted Outstanding Prime Time Program for Children by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

With the late Leroy Aarons, Cowan co-wrote the award-winning play, Top Secret: The Battle for the Pentagon Papers, which explores the delicate balance between the press, public's right to know and the government's need to protect some vital national secrets. Called an "engaging," "splendidly nuanced" and "crackling drama" by reviewers, Top Secret was presented Off-Broadway by New York Theatre Workshop in the 2010 season and was produced in 25 venues across the country during a national tour in the 2007-2008 season.

When the City of Los Angeles sought to create an ethics code in 1989, Mayor Tom Bradley tapped Cowan to chair the Los Angeles commission that drafted a law that become a model for the nation - and for which he was awarded "Man of the Year" by the Council of Government Ethics Leaders. He chaired the California Bipartisan Commission on Internet Political Practices and served on the White House Fellows regional selection committee during the Clinton and Bush administrations.

Cowan serves on the board of the California HealthCare Foundation, the Pacific Council on International Policy, Common Sense Media, and the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Walter Lippmann Fellow of the Academy of Political and Social Science.

He spent four years as principal owner of the Stockton Ports, a Class A farm team for the Milwaukee Brewers. During that time the Ports won two championships and held the best overall record of any team in professional baseball.

A graduate of Harvard College and Yale Law School, Cowan is married to Aileen Adams, deputy mayor of Los Angeles and former Secretary of State and Consumer Affairs for the State of California. They have two children, Gabriel Cowan, a filmmaker based in Los Angeles, and Mandy Adams Wolf, a grade school teacher who lives with her husband in Los Angeles.

Blog Posts by Geoffrey Cowan

Cowan & Westphal: Reality check. Shrinking government support contributes to news media economic decline

By Geoffrey Cowan | November 30, 2009 1
A mythology about the relationship between American government and the news business is again making the rounds, and it needs a corrective jolt. The myth is that the commercial press in this country stands wholly independent of governmental sustenance. Here's the jolt: There's never been a time in U.S. history...

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Public policy and the crisis in the news business

By Geoffrey Cowan | February 2, 2009 1
Newspapers are for sale across the country. National Public Radio and television news shows are laying off staff. The Tribune Company is in bankruptcy. It's clear that journalism is in crisis, and in the current recession, things are likely to get much worse. That's alarming. A robust press is vital...

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Geoffrey Cowan and former News Corp. President Peter Chernin
Janet Napolitano, Antonio Villaraigosa, Arnold Schwarzenneger, Michael Bloomberg and Geoffrey Cowan at the first Ceasefire! event
Geoffrey Cowan, Wallis Annenberg and USC President Steven B. Sample
At the spring 2010 production of the Top Secret play at New York Theatre Workshop
California first lady Maria Shriver and Geoffrey Cowan
CCLP and the Tavis Smiley Foundation partnered for the Young Scholars Forum and State of the Black Union Symposium.
CNN founder Ted Turner and Geoffrey Cowan at the Communication Leadership CEO Series

Geoffrey Cowan In the News

CCLP Director Geoffrey Cowan was cited in an article in the Chicago Tribune for his work The People v. Clarence Darrow. Darrow was honored in Chicago in early March on the anniversary of his death.

Milwaukee News Buzz posted an op-ed piece on the disappearance of legal notices from local print publications. The article cites CCLP Director Geoffrey Cowan and his report Public Policy and Funding the News, co-written with Senior Fellow David Westphal.

NPR profiled CCLP Director Geoffrey Cowan's journalism class at USC Annenberg for their piece "What's the point of Journalism School, Anyway?" Students from Cowan's class explained why they are journalism students and the commented on the changing landscape of the field.

Sidney Harman's recent purchase of Newsweek prompted comments by both CCLP Director Geoffrey Cowan and Distinguished Fellow Warren Bennis. Read Cowan's quote in the Wall Street Journal and Bennis' quote in Reuters.

Senior Fellow David Westphal and CCLP Director Geoffrey Cowan from their report "Public Policy and Funding the News," point out the impact postal subsidies--and their decline--have had on American journalism. The proposal to raise prices from the USPS could result in more devastating blow to already struggling newspaper industry. The full article can be read on In These Times.

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