Ted Turner is the founder and owner of several television networks; he was also the owner of major league baseball’s Atlanta Braves from 1976 to 2007. With a personal fortune of some $2 billion, Turner ranks among the wealthiest individuals on earth. In addition, he is the world’s largest private landowner (approximately 2 million acres), and he owns the world’s largest private herd of bison (40,000). Outspoken about his leftwing political views, Turner candidly calls himself “a socialist at heart.”
Turner was born on November 19, 1938 in Cincinnati, Ohio. He attended Brown University but was expelled in 1960 for violating dormitory rules against having a co-ed stay in his room overnight. Twenty-nine years later, in 1989, Brown would award Turner an honorary baccalaureate degree (and four years after that, an honorary doctorate). During that same period — in December 1991 — Turner married his third wife, actress Jane Fonda.
Turner made his initial fortune by transforming a small billboard company into cable television’s first “superstation,” Turner Broadcasting System, in 1979. It would grow into one of the most popular basic cable options in households across America. In 1980 Turner founded CNN (Cable News Network), the first 24-hour television news channel. He also owns Turner Network Television, Turner Classic Movies, the Cartoon Network, New Line Cinema, and Castle Rock Entertainment.
Turner is heavily involved in philanthropic activities, giving money to a wide array of organizations under the auspices of such entities as his own Turner Foundation, the United Nations Foundation (where Turner serves as Chairman of the Board), and the Nuclear Threat Initiative (which Turner co-chairs with former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn). These foundations, respectively, address the causes about which Turner is most passionate: (a) the environment and population growth; (b) international relations; and (c) nuclear disarmament.
Following is an overview of Turner’s involvement in each of these areas:
(a) Environment: To “protect” the environment and limit population growth, Turner advocates a “one child per family” policy. In April 2004 he was the recipient of Planned Parenthood’s Margaret Sanger Award for his “dedication to advancing reproductive rights and health”; i.e., taxpayer-funded abortion-on-demand. Turner has contributed more than $3.5 million to Planned Parenthood for its targeted pro-choice organizing and advocacy. Similarly, his Turner Foundation has directly financed efforts to defeat pro-life legislation and to promote the election of Democratic political candidates.
On April 25, 2004, Turner was a featured speaker at the March for Women’s Lives in Washington, D.C., which focused chiefly on preserving and expanding women’s right to taxpayer-funded abortion-on-demand. Other speakers at the event included Madeline Albright, Medea Benjamin, Barbara Boxer, Carol Moseley Braun, Hillary Clinton, Gloria Feldt, Kim Gandy, Whoopi Goldberg, Dolores Huerta, Patricia Ireland, Carole King, Frances Kissling, Kate Michelman, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Nancy Pelosi, Susan Sarandon, Cybill Shepherd, Eleanor Smeal, Gloria Steinem, Kathleen Turner, and Maxine Waters.
(b) International Relations: In 1996 Turner was a signatory to a statement titled “A Call for Action on the U.N. Financial Crisis,” which declared: “The U.N. faces collapse because many member states have not paid their full dues assessments, owed as a treaty obligation…. This [a collapse] would be a terrible setback in efforts towards peace, human rights and social well-being for all peoples.” The document called for the U.S. to pay the United Nations more than $1 billion, noting that “the world’s richest country, host to U.N. headquarters, is pushing the U.N. to the brink of disaster.” Other signers included David Cortright, Richard Falk, and Cora Weiss.
In September 1997, Turner announced that he was making a pledge of up to $1 billion to the United Nations Foundation.
In 2000, Turner offered to give the U.N. $34 million to cover the dues which the United States was late in paying. His money was rejected, however, because the U.N. charter strictly forbids the organization from accepting donations that are not from member countries. Nevertheless, on another occasion U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan violated that rule when he accepted money which Turner had earmarked for the funding of anti-smoking campaigns.
Turner also gives money to the United Nations Correspondents Association, raising questions as to whether he is paying reporters to give the U.N. positive press coverage. Turner’s affinity for, and generosity to, the U.N. is reflective of his belief that “I’m a global citizen. Slavery: my fault. Inequality: my fault. Global environmental degradation: my fault. Population explosion: my fault. But, I think I can do something about all it, although it’s wearing me out.”
Despite the abject failure of the United Nations Oil-for-Food Program, from which Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had skimmed an estimated $21 billion for himself during the late 1990s and early 2000s, Turner has proposed giving the U.N. $62 billion per year to alleviate poverty around the world. As to the question of whether that money, too, might be misused or wasted, he said:
“Would there be some corruption, would there be some money siphoned off? Of course there would. But there was money siphoned off at Enron and a lot of American corporations during the last few years, but we didn’t close down American business as result of it. We just try and reform and that’s just what you try and do.”
(c) Nuclear Disarmament: In 2000, Turner was a signatory to a letter titled “Appeal for Responsible Security” that appeared in the New York Times. The letter stated, “… we call upon the United States government to commit itself unequivocally to negotiate the worldwide reduction and elimination of nuclear weapons, in a series of well-defined stages accompanied by increasing verification and control.” Other signers included Jimmy Carter, Marian Wright Edelman, Martin Sheen, George Soros, and John Sweeney.
Turner also has promoted nuclear disarmament through Ted Turner Documentaries, whose eight-hour television series about weapons of mass destruction, Avoiding Armageddon, aired on PBS stations in April 2003 and was hosted by Walter Cronkite.
In April 2005 Turner received the Alan Cranston Peace Award for his disarmament efforts and his environmental work. In his acceptance speech, Turner said: “I’m an abolitionist. I believe we ought to get rid of all [those weapons] as quickly as we can…. [Then] the next step is to preserve the environment.”
Turner’s Views on Other Matters
Ted Turner has a long record of open hostility to Christianity. In 1990 he told an audience at the American Humanist Association that “Christianity is a religion for losers.” At an event in 1999, he suggested that the Ten Commandments should be rewritten to eliminate the prohibition against adultery, and that the pope should “get with it. Welcome to the 20th century.” Turner then mocked the pontiff, who was Polish, by kicking his foot in the air and saying, “Ever seen a Polish mine detector?”
Turner has characterized Christians who oppose abortion as “bozos.” One Ash Wednesday he derided CNN employees whose foreheads were darkened with ashes as “a bunch of Jesus freaks” who “ought to be working for Fox [News].” Turner’s 2001 divorce from Jane Fonda was precipitated, in no small measure, by the fact that she had recently converted to Christianity. In an interview with New Yorker magazine, Turner stated: “She just came home and said, ‘I’ve become a Christian.’ Before that, she was not a religious person. That’s a pretty big change for your wife of many years to tell you. That’s a shock.”
Turner’s contempt for Fox News and its founder Rupert Murdoch is palpable. He compared Murdoch to Adolf Hitler, and later called Murdoch a “warmonger” for his network’s supposedly positive coverage of the Iraq War. When the size of the Fox television audience began to overtake that of CNN, Turner spun this development as “not necessarily a bad thing…. Adolf Hitler was more popular in Germany in the early ’30s than his people who were running against him. So just because you’re bigger, doesn’t mean you’re right.”
A longtime admirer of Fidel Castro, Turner has called the former Cuban president “one hell of a guy.” In 2001 Turner told a class at Harvard Law School, “You’d like him [Castro]. He has been the leader of Cuba for 40 years. He’s the most senior leader in the world, and most of the people that are still in Cuba like him.”
Castro, in turn, holds Turner in high regard, so much so that the dictator was the inspiration behind the creation of CNN International. As CNN News Chief Executive Eason Jordan told his audience during a 1999 lecture at Harvard’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism:
“… Let me also thank Fidel Castro. In the earliest days of CNN, when CNN was meant to be seen only in the United States, the enterprising Fidel Castro was pirating and watching CNN in Cuba. Fidel was intrigued by CNN. He wanted to meet the person responsible. So Ted Turner, who at that point had never traveled to a Communist country or knowingly met a Communist, [went to Havana]. It was big deal for Ted and during the discussions Castro suggested that CNN be made available to the entire world. In fact it was that seed, that idea that grew into CNN International.”
Turner generally has been loath to condemn totalitarian tyrants such as Castro, a stark contrast to his frequent and passionate denunciations of President George W. Bush. When asked in 2000 whether he thought Saddam Hussein could accurately be described as evil, Turner said: “I’m not sure that I know enough to be able to answer that question.”
Turner is similarly reluctant to classify Islamic terrorists as evil. In February 2002, for instance, he visited his Brown University alma mater and said that the 9/11 hijackers had shown themselves to be “brave,” though probably “a little nuts.” “[T]he reason that the World Trade Center got hit,” he added, “is because there are a lot of people living in abject poverty out there who don’t have any hope for a better life.” Turner also took the opportunity to liken President George W. Bush to Julius Caesar.
Before the Iraq War began in March 2003, Turner said, “I don’t know about you, but Iraq doesn’t bother me at all here in the United States. Neither do North Korea and Iran.” He derided President Bush’s infamous characterization of Iraq, North Korea, and Iran as constituents of an “axis of evil,” claiming that the latter two nations had just begun to be friendly toward America when Bush made what Turner viewed as his ill-advised remark.
After the U.S. military had captured Saddam Hussein in December 2003, Turner said:
“We’ve spent $200 billion destroying Iraq. Now we’ve got to spend $200 billion to rebuild it, if they’ll let us, and all to find a nut in a fox hole, one guy. He posed no threat to any of his neighbors, particularly with us there with overwhelming military superiority … it is obscene and stupid.”
In June 2002 Turner accused Israel of engaging in “terrorism” against Palestinians. “Aren’t the Israelis and the Palestinians both terrorizing each other?” asked Turner. “The Palestinians are fighting with human suicide bombers, that’s all they have. The Israelis … they’ve got one of the most powerful military machines in the world. The Palestinians have nothing. So who are the terrorists? I would make a case that both sides are involved in terrorism.”
In 2005, Turner, who had recently traveled to North Korea, appeared on CNN’s The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, where he was asked whether he believed that North Korean President Kim Jong Il was “one of the worst men on Earth.” Turner replied: “Well, I didn’t get, I didn’t get to meet him, but he didn’t look, in the pictures that I’ve seen of him on CNN, he didn’t look too much different than most other people.” When pressed by Blitzer about the mass starvation in North Korea, and about Kim Jong Il’s documented maltreatment of his countrymen, Turner reflected:
“Well, hey, listen. I saw a lot of people over there. They were thin and they were riding bicycles instead of driving in cars, but ah … I didn’t see any brutality in the capital or out in the, on the DMZ.”
Assessing the implications of a nuclear-armed North Korea, Turner said: “It’s a small place, and we [Americans] do not have to worry about them attacking us.”
In a September 2005 appearance on NBC’s David Letterman Show, Turner mused about the war on terrorism, declaring: “You don’t stop terrorism with tanks, you stop it with giving people hope so they won’t want to blow themselves up.”
At a September 19, 2006 news conference, Turner stated that the U.S. invasion of Iraq “will go down in history … as one of the dumbest moves that was ever made by anybody…. You don’t start wars just because you don’t like somebody.”
Turner further characterized President Bush’s demand that Iran abandon its nuclear weapons program as “a joke.” “They’re a sovereign state,” Turner said of Iran. “We have 28,000 [nuclear weapons]. Why can’t they have 10? We don’t say anything about Israel—they’ve got 100 of them approximately—or India or Pakistan or Russia. And really, nobody should have them. They aren’t usable by any sane person.”
Also in 2006, Turner signed a statement that accompanied the documentary film The Great Warming, which maintained that not only did global warming pose a threat to the future of life on earth, but also that it was largely a result of human industrial activity. The statement read, in part:
“The world’s scientists are in agreement: climate change is real, and we [humans] are largely responsible. America’s religious institutions, corporations, environmental and political leaders are in agreement — we must recognize our moral responsibility to be good stewards of the Earth today and for all future generations.”
In April 2008, Turner made the unsubstantiated claim that within a few decades, most of humanity would be extinct as a result of global warming. Appearing on PBS’ Charlie Rose Show, Turner said, “We’ll be eight degrees hotter in ten — not ten, but thirty or forty years, and basically none of the crops will grow. Most of the people will have died and the rest of us will be cannibals.”
Turner also used his appearance on the program to describe the insurgents who were then fighting U.S. troops in Iraq as “patriots” who simply “don’t like us [Americans] because we’ve invaded their country.”
From 1979 to 2008, Turner made $375,424 in political contributions, of which $231,050 went to Democrats. The rest was split between special interest groups ($112,624) and Republicans ($30,750). Beneficiaries of Turner’s funding have included Joe Biden, Barbara Boxer, Jimmy Carter, Max Cleland, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Tom Harkin, John Kerry, Patrick Leahy, John Lewis, Cynthia McKinney, Barack Obama, and Tom Udall. Turner also has given money to the Democratic National Committee Services Corporation, the League of Conservation Voters Action Fund, and Voters for Choice.
In 2010, Turner — a father of five who has publicly lamented having brought so many children into the world — called for a global policy that would penalize families for giving birth to more than one child. “If we’re going to be here [as a species] 5,000 years from now, we’re not going to do it with seven billion people,” said Turner. During a May 7, 2010 interview with National Public Radio, the media mogul praised the Chinese government for “wisely institut[ing] … the one-child family policy, … put[ting] in penalties, tax penalties and so forth, for people that have more than one child.”
In October 2012, Turner reacted positively to a report indicating that the suicide rate among U.S. soldiers had increased in recent months. (A total of 247 U.S. army personnel had taken their own lives between January and September of that year.) In an appearance on CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight, Turner said: “I think it’s good [the suicide rate], because it’s so clear that we’re programmed and we’re born to love and help each other, not to kill each other, to destroy each other. That’s an aberration. That’s left over from hundreds of years ago. It’s time for to us start acting enlightened.”
In 1995, Turner received the Peabody Award for personal achievement. Minimizing the significance of Turner’s well-reported sympathies for Cuba’s Castro dictatorship, the Peabody committee hailed the media mogul as a righteous businessman with “a passionate commitment to make the world a better place than he found it.”
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