ANALYSIS Profile: Cox: Lone Star State’s chief communicator - Forget Chuck Norris - Mike Cox is a real Texas Ranger. When a crisis strikes, the spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety is there to calm the waters. Michele Foster takes a

’Just call me a spokesman for DPS,’ recites Mike Cox, chief of media relations for the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), whenever a journalist asks how he should be referred to in a media report. But while walking through a metal detector and past the yellow plastic crime-scene tape en route to his Texas memorabilia-laden office, one suspects right away that Cox is no ordinary spokesperson.

’Just call me a spokesman for DPS,’ recites Mike Cox, chief of media relations for the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), whenever a journalist asks how he should be referred to in a media report. But while walking through a metal detector and past the yellow plastic crime-scene tape en route to his Texas memorabilia-laden office, one suspects right away that Cox is no ordinary spokesperson.

’Just call me a spokesman for DPS,’ recites Mike Cox, chief of

media relations for the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS),

whenever a journalist asks how he should be referred to in a media

report. But while walking through a metal detector and past the yellow

plastic crime-scene tape en route to his Texas memorabilia-laden office,

one suspects right away that Cox is no ordinary spokesperson.



Since joining the DPS in 1985, Cox’s name and image have been woven into

the fabric of Texas’s recent history. His mug became familiar as the

world watched him field media questions during the 1991 mass murder at

Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen; during the follow-up investigation of the

1993 Branch Davidian siege in Waco; and during the suspenseful 1997

Republic of Texas stand-off in Fort Davis.



As his two young nieces in Ohio said after watching ’Uncle Mike’ day

after day on TV following the Branch Davidian siege, ’Look - there’s

Uncle Mike! He’s famous!’ Then after a minute they asked, ’Is he

rich?’



Having spent 20 years as an award-winning newspaperman before joining

DPS, Cox says he’s ’real prejudiced to people who have worked at a

newspaper (in media relations).’ Although he’s been ’on the other side

of the fence’ for 15 years now, his old business still holds a piece of

his heart. He collects memorabilia as well as newspaper fiction -

stories that star a newspaper editor or reporter such as Superman.



Not surprisingly, Cox grew up in a newspaper family and his parents,

both newspaper reporters at the time, met in Sweetwater, TX, while

covering a murder trial. ’I’m a product of two singular human acts, one

of which is murder,’ he jokes. On a bookshelf close to his desk, Cox

keeps a black-and-white photograph of his maternal grandfather, who was

a newspaper editor.



Despite his strong sentimental attachment to newspapers, Cox laments

that the old-fashioned paper version is likely to go away. ’The Internet

will pull all traditional media into one format - probably in my

lifetime,’ he predicts. ’You won’t be able to tell much of a difference

between newspaper, radio and television.’



Of his transition to PR, Cox says, ’It took me years to go from a

question- asker to a question-answerer.’ But now that he’s ensconced in

his new trade, he offers an interesting take on the eternal rift between

reporters and PR pros: ’It’s common for reporters to complain about PR,

but a lot of them do aspire to it. There’s more money in it, and it’s

more ’white collar.’ You move to another level when you practice

PR.’



As if his day job - which has involved stepping over dead bodies in

Killeen and fielding media questions as charred bodies were being

dragged from a compound in Waco - doesn’t keep him occupied enough, Cox

is the author of eight books. The titles include a biography of Fred

Gipson (author of ’Old Yeller’), a history of the Texas Rangers and a

true crime novel about Henry Lee Lucas, a serial killer who plagued

Texas in the late 1970s and early 80s. He also owns a rare book

business, Saddleback Books, with his wife. ’I sell used books at

antiquarian prices,’ he laughs.



Having survived a usually fatal form of esophageal cancer, and shortly

thereafter having seen his wife survive breast cancer, Cox says he needs

to keep busy because, as the saying goes, ’’A moving target is harder to

hit.’ My drive comes from a certain level of escapism from what I’ve

been through,’ he explains. ’My wife and I still get regular exams and

check-ups - hardly a day goes by that I don’t think about that.’



In fact, Cox likes to point out that David Koresh probably saved his

life. When the DPS took over the crime scene in Waco after the fiery end

of the Branch Davidian siege, Cox recalls that ’my life was chaos. I was

working 14 hours a day, and the pressure from the media was unrelenting.

They wanted answers to questions I didn’t have answers to. I believe the

stress kicked the ’wanna-be’ cancer cells into action, and that’s how I

found it.’



His principal role in Waco, as it was during other crises, was to

prevent secondary crises that could potentially arise from the spread of

rumors and misinformation. He must constantly find that crucial balance

between filling the information vacuum and discouraging the media from

disseminating false or misleading information.



Cox details his role in these and other crises in his book, Stand-off in

Texas. In it, he reminds the reader that notwithstanding the positive

role the media can play in informing the public, ’The media can also

create a whirling cyclone of rumor, misinformation, lies, panic and

confusion, not to mention the exaggeration and distortion of reality.’

That is why Cox believes that it is imperative for spokespeople and PR

pros to ’understand the power of communications.’



Probably one of the most frustrating parts of his job is trying to field

the ’unanswerable’ questions. ’I want to help the media,’ he says. ’But

there are sometimes things you cannot say, for the common good.’



At other times, there are things he simply doesn’t know. As the old

adage goes, a spokesperson is the first to get called and the last to

know.



Cox often has to leap hurdles within the DPS to gather enough

information to be of some use to the media. ’There is a cultural

difference between police officers and non-police officers,’ he

explains. ’A lot of (the DPS officers) tend to still view me as a

reporter - they don’t like to give me information; there are turf

concerns.’



Looking ahead, Cox says that local excitement could be generated from

George W. Bush’s presidential candidacy, given that DPS provides his

security.



His department will also be on emergency alert on New Year’s Eve to

field any Y2K-related media calls.



But, for the most part, Cox is reluctant to offer any predictions. ’I

thought the Killeen massacre would be the worst thing I’d ever see, then

there was Waco. I thought the Branch Davidian situation would be the

weirdest thing I’d ever witness, and then you get a group of people

claiming that Texas is really an independent republic - what could be

weirder than that? I’ve quit trying to guess what will happen next.’





MIKE COX



Chief of media relations



Texas Department of Public Safety



1965



Teenage columnist at the Austin American-Statesman



1967



Reporter at San Angelo Standard-Times



1969



Reporter at Lubbock Avalanche-Journal



1970



Returns to Austin American-Statesman



1985



Joins Texas Department of Public Safety.



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