Turner’s freaky new move

Mar 26, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Ted Turner is about to launch the next stage of his fabled and colorful career.

The media mogul has been discussing with old pals the idea of establishing an organization that could bankroll the production of documentaries and movies on issues near and dear to his heart and which also could syndicate the programming.

“He wants worldwide distribution,” said one person familiar with the plans of the man once known as “the mouth of the South,” who recently apologized for referring to CNN staffers who observed Ash Wednesday as “Jesus freaks.”

Sources say Mr. Turner also has begun talking with potential producers.

“He has a lot of proposals on the table,” said one person familiar with Mr. Turner’s activities.

Mr. Turner was out of the country and unavailable for comment last week.

But those familiar with the CNN founder-who merged his cable and sports empire with Time Warner and then found himself with the title of vice chairman but without a significant role or voice after the merger of America Online and Time Warner became official this year-are not surprised that he’s looking for a way to use television and the money he’s made from it to spotlight issues he believes are important.

His passion for using the power of television for environmental causes first showed itself in his decision to run repeats of Jacques Cousteau’s eco-conscious specials on TBS in its early days and then via his attempt to foster constructive global dialogue through his short-lived Better World Society.

His Turner Foundation has made millions of dollars in grants to environmental- and population-related causes, and in 1997 he pledged $100 million in stock to the United Nations Foundation.

In January, the media mogul and former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia announced the Nuclear Threat Initiative, described as a private foundation dedicated to wiping out weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Turner pledged an annual budget of $50 million a year over the next five years.

He’s also leading a group of investors interested in buying Russia’s only independent TV network as long as President Vladimir Putin promises not to shut it down.

“There’s a great danger that freedom of the press could be snuffed out in Russia,” he said on March 13, when he received the Goldsmith Career Award for Excellence in Journalism from the Joan Shorenstein Center at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

A report in the Harvard Crimson quoted Mr. Turner’s description of himself as “a global citizen” who carries “all the problems of the planet. Nuclear weapons: my fault. Slavery: my fault.”

The Crimson story did not mention that Mr. Turner also slipped into his comments a reference to his film and documentary involvement with the Russian network and his numerous philanthropies.