The Headaches of the Wealthy
James C. Kennedy does all right for himself. His mother, Barbara Cox Anthony, is sitting on $11.7 billion, making her the 27th richest person in the world, according to Forbes magazine. He's chairman and CEO of Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises, the company his grandfather founded in 1898.
Since taking over in 1988, Kennedy has turned Cox into a leviathan. Today, Cox Enterprises owns or operates just about everything: almost four dozen newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution; 78 radio stations in 18 markets; cable service to 6.6 million customers; hell, Cox Enterprises even owned a 25 percent chunk of Creative Loafing for a while, until we came to our senses and bought the share back last year.
Through the James M. Cox Jr. Foundation, the privately held Cox Enterprises also is a generous corporate giver. Universities happen to be some of the most popular recipients of that largesse.
But this spring, after the University of Montana tried to hook up to the Cox gravy train by asking the foundation for cash to build an auditorium for its journalism school, Kennedy decided he had other ideas.
In a letter to the university, the foundation wrote, "As you may know, many Montana residents are making it known they are not happy with nonresident landowners in their state. In addition, stream and river access issues are also being raised. Until these issues are resolved and our presence in the state is more appreciated, we have decided not to make any further contributions in Montana."
As it turns out, "our presence" seems to refer not to any presence by the foundation, but to the 3,200-acre property Kennedy owns there, through which a trout stream flows.
For years, a debate has swirled in Montana about the rights of residents to fish in streams that go through private property. It's a classic battle of longtime residents vs. wealthy newcomers. Ted Turner, another wealthy Georgian who owns property in Montana, also has drawn criticism for his land use policies. (Some ranchers worried that Turner's large herds of bison would spread disease to their cattle.)
Kennedy's letter seems a rather snooty way of mixing his private agenda with the foundation's public mission. Jerry Brown, dean of the University of Montana's journalism school, thought so, too.
So Brown forwarded the letter to a local Associated Press reporter, who wrote a story about it in May. After the story ran, Brown's boss, college President George Dennison, demanded that Brown apologize to Kennedy for making the letter public. Brown did, reluctantly.
Still, he says he doesn't regret his actions.
"When I saw Kennedy's letter, I knew immediately it was an important news item," Brown told CL by phone this week. "It was written by one of the most powerful media executives in the country to a public university about a public issue. ... The worst thing I could have done was sit on that letter."
Although Cox Enterprises media relations department didn't have an immediate comment for CL, Kennedy told the Associated Press that the foundation wouldn't give money to the university, anyway, because the company doesn't have any business interests in Montana.
For Kennedy to state in his letter that attitudes in Montana were holding up a possible grant when in fact he never intended to give the money strikes Brown "as somewhere between sadistic and perverse," he said.
Ironically, Dennison found himself eating crow a few weeks later, when it was disclosed that he had mailed a copy of the letter to the Montana governor - thus making it public - before Brown had ever released it to the press.??