Thursday, November 20, 2008

Turner Tells Old War Stories; Reveal Little About Ted


This article and others by me can be found at the blog of the Commonwealth Club of California. Click here to read more.

When Dr. Gloria Duffy, the Commonwealth Club's president and CEO, began a question to Ted Turner with "Mr. Turner," the cable news revolutionary deadpanned, "Call me Ted."

That, of course, is the title of Turner's autobiography slated to debut at number eight on the New York Times bestseller's list.

The humorous retort was emblematic of an evening featuring Turner's thoughts on the economy, foreign affairs, his children, ex-wife Jane Fonda and pet projects such as nuclear disarmament and global warming.

When asked why he had little involvement in the dot-com boom of the late 90's, Turner said facetiously, “Has there ever been anybody who ever led more than one revolution in one lifetime? Martin Luther King had civil rights, but that’s all he did. Alexander the Great conquered the world, but that’s all he did.”

Turner, who turned 70 Wednesday, sounded at times like an elder who claimed to have forecast every important event with the aid of hindsight.

On the demise of newspapers: "It's obsolete technologically. I saw that 40 years ago."

On the automobile industry: Turner said he "studied the situation" during the 1974 energy crisis and begrudgingly purchased a compact Japanese car.

On the rise of digital photography: Turner said he realized film was in trouble when he tested digital cameras 15 years ago.

It is undeniable, though, that Turner's wild-eyed vision of a 24-hour cable news network changed the media landscape forever. In some of the most interesting moments of the hour-long conversation, Turner described with wonderment how the Big Three networks failed to see the potential of cable news.

He described the network's vast infrastructure as being "1,000 times bigger than mine" and furiously worked to build the network from scratch without arousing the attention of the networks.

“I figured they were like a pack of hounds and I was going to be like a rabbit. I had to stay out in front of them because if they ever caught me they would tear me apart like a pack of hounds do a rabbit,” Turner said.

Calling himself a "global worrier," Turner mixed humor with real concern for the economic well-being of the country. At one point, he said people should welcome children back to the nest if the economy continues to spin downward.

“I’m really worried that we’re going to have a meltdown," Turner said, "But, I’m already thinking in terms of offering my children to move back into my house with me. If you remember "Sanford & Son," you know Lamont and Fred seemed happy.”

When asked if he believed the automobile industry should be bailed out, he said, "I don't think so" and instead offered his own idea for a bailout of the restaurant industry. "You can’t go more than three days without eating.” said Turner who owns Ted's Montana Grill with 50 restaurants in 18 states.

Turner believes the economy will distract president-elect Barack Obama's attention from other pressing issues like global warming, poverty and nuclear weapons.

He also agreed with Obama's desire to talk with our enemies, in particular, Iran. “I would meet with them and see if I could make them laugh," Turner said, "How can you sit there with a straight face? We’ve got 12,000 nuclear weapons and we tell Iran they can’t have any, but it’s okay for Israel to have them. They look at Israel as a danger. I think we all got to get rid of them or we’re all going to have them.”

Similar to numerous reviews of his book, Turner focused very little on his early years. The suicide of his father and abuse and the death of his sister to Lupus were touched upon but Turner offered little or no real insight, despite Turner's belief that you cannot know someone without understanding where they came from.

Turner did speak about his famous ex-wife Jane Fonda who wrote a section of the autobiography, revealing warts and all. “I’m good with that," said Turner. "I mean, after all, what’s she suppose to say? We got divorced. There must have been some problems.”

Despite the breakup, Turner indicated the two still share a good relationship. Fonda attended his birthday bash last Saturday featuring Burt Bacharach.

“She came to my birthday party. I talk to her just about every week to get my dose of humility," Turner said, "My father use to say that a few fleas were good for a dog, they reminded him that’s what he was.”

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