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, non-profit executive and Emmy Award-winning producer. He is the author of the new book Let the People Rule: Theodore Roosevelt and the Birth of the Presidential Primary (W.W. Norton & Co.), which was released in January 2016 and will be released in paperback in January 2017. Learn more about the book and see tour dates and reviews here.
In 2010, the trustees of The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands appointed Cowan to serve as the first president of the Trust, a role he served in until July 2016. He carried 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. It has so far welcomed President Barack Obama on five separate occasions, including two historic summits with other world leaders: one with China’s President Xi Jinping in June 2013, and the other with King Abdullah II of Jordan in February 2014. In 2016, President Obama hosted the Association of Southeast Asian Nations at the site, where they released the Sunnylands Declaration.
From 1996-2007, he served as dean of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and 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 & 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.
In addition to his tenure at USC, Cowan spent twenty years as a professor of communication law and policy at UCLA, where he became the first director of UCLA’s Communications Law program and founded the Center for Communication Policy.
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), as well as Let the People Rule: Theodore Roosevelt and the Birth of the Presidential Primary (W.W. Norton & Co., 2016).
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, the 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 originally produced in 1991 by L.A. Theatre Works as a radio play in front of a live audience for national broadcast on NPR, and presented Off-Broadway by New York Theatre Workshop in the 2010 season. It was also produced in 25 venues across the country during a national tour in the 2007-2008 season and completed two successful tours in China that included a number of top-tier venues, such as the National Center for the Performing Arts (“The Egg”), the Tianjin Grand Theater and major venues in Hangzhou, Suzhou, Chongqing and Fuling.
Prior to becoming dean at USC Annenberg, President Clinton appointed Cowan to serve the nation as the director of Voice of America, the international broadcasting service of the U.S. Information Agency. He served as its 22nd director and during his leadership VOA increased the number of language services, started the first regularly scheduled international daily call-in talk show, Talk to America, and begun transmitting TV and radio shows through direct-broadcast satellite. 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 1979-1984, he was a member of the Board of Directors of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, where he played a key role in the development of National Public Radio and the launch of its “Morning Edition” program.
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. He set out to define a new era of propriety in state and local government, and for his work chairing the commission he was named “Man of the Year” in 1989 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.
While teaching at UCLA, Cowan was a television producer. In 1992, 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.
He also produced a new edition of The Quiz Kids, a popular radio and TV series from the 1940s and 1950s that was originally created by his father. In 1981, he hosted a public affairs show created by Walter Cronkite called Why in the World?
Cowan serves on the board of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy, the Berggruen Institute, Common Sense Media, Democracy 21, and the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Pacific Council on International Policy, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Walter Lippmann Fellow of the Academy of Political and Social Science.
A graduate of Harvard College and Yale Law School, Cowan is married to Aileen Adams, former deputy mayor of Los Angeles and former California Secretary of State and Consumer Affairs. They have two children, Gabriel Cowan, a filmmaker based in Los Angeles, and Mandy Adams Wolf, a grade school teacher currently working at The Center for Early Education.