Wednesday, May 12, 1999

Ted Turner comes home to champion environment




BY JOHN KIESEWETTER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        All those bike trips to the Cincinnati Zoo from his Avondale home made a lasting impression on young Ted Turner.

        “I went quite a bit to the zoo. It was the first time that I can recall seeing any exotic, wild animals from overseas,” says Mr. Turner, the CNN founder born here in 1938.

        “I was fascinated by everything. I'm talking about animals, birds, reptiles, fish and everything,” says Mr. Turner, who comes home Thursday to receive the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden's Wildlife Conservation Award.

IF YOU GO
  • What: Ted Turner speech at Cincinnati Zoo Barrows Conservation Lecture Series
  • When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
  • Where: Rockdale Temple, 8501 Ridge Road, Amberley Village.
  • Cost: $5-$8 at door.
  • Information: 559-7767.
        Most people know about Mr. Turner's love of television and how he bought a tiny Atlanta independent TV station in 1970 and grew it into the Turner Broadcasting empire that included CNN, Headline News, TNT, Turner Classic Movies, the MGM film library, World Championship Wrestling, the Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Hawks.

        Most know his propensity for speaking his mind, calling anti-abortionists “idiots” and “bozos” before TV critics in 1989, and chiding Pope John Paul to “get with it” on abortion and artificial contraception at a National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association meeting in February.

        Most also know he merged his holdings in 1996 with Time Warner, making him vice chairman over the media conglomerate that owns Warner Bros. studio, the WB network, HBO, Cinemax, cable systems, New Line Cinema, Castle Rock Entertainment and Time, Sports Illustrated, Fortune and People magazines.

        That transaction has given him millions to invest in his other passion, protecting the environment, which began at 711 Gholson Ave.,Avondale.

        “Not only did I go to the zoo and look at the animals, but I read a lot of books about the environment and the natural world,” says Mr. Turner, who moved with his parents to Savannah, Ga., at age 9 in 1948.

        “I learned at an early age that there already had been a number of species that had become extinct. That very much concerned me, because I'd never get a chance to see them, except in picture books.” @subhed:Stick with zoo @body:

        Speaking from his Atlanta office, Mr. Turner didn't want to talk much about that possible extinction of another species, the American television networks. He politely declined to discuss specifics about any new Time Warner cable ventures.

        “We're looking at several projects, but there's nothing to talk about. We're always looking at ideas,” he says.

        Published reports say Time Warner may launch a Southern living regional network called Turner South this fall, and a female-oriented cable network to rival Lifetime and the new Oxygen Media channel coming next year from Oprah Winfrey, former Nickelodeon chief Geraldine Laybourne and TV producer Marcy Carsey (Roseanne, The Cosby Show).

        He didn't allow time for me to ask about his plans with NBC to start a new pro football league, after TNT and NBC lost NFL TV rights last year, or his February remarks ridiculing the Roman Catholic Church stand on birth control and abortion.

        “Let's stick with the zoo. That's what you called about,” he says.

        The zoo's Wildlife Conservation Award honors Mr. Turner for putting big money where his big mouth is. In addition to giving $1 billion to the United Nations for humanitarian and environmental programs, he has a private Turner Foundation for population and environmental concerns and the Turner Endangered Species Fund for re-introducing and protecting endangered species.

        “I'm not developing any of the 1.5-million acres that I own,” he says of his holdings in Montana, Nebraska and South Dakota.

        On more than one million acres in New Mexico, you'll find endangered desert big-horn sheep, black-footed ferrets and wolves.

        “We're working with the government with wolves in New Mexico. We're climatizing them to near-wild conditions so they can be re-introduced into the wilderness in Arizona.”

        Asked to name his favorite animal, the usually outspoken media mogul turns silent.

        “I'm interested in all of them,” he says. “As far as I'm concerned, a rattlesnake has just as much value as an eagle.”

A rough month
        In 1985, Mr. Turner conceived the Goodwill Games international athletic competition to thaw relations with the former Soviet Union, and he helped found the Better World Society, a non-profit organization promoting “issues of critical importance to the survival of the planet.”

        On this day, he's troubled about the survival of human beings.

        “It hasn't been much fun in the last month, with the war in Yugoslavia and the Littleton situation. It's been a rough month for about everybody that follows the news.

        “I just think we've gotten to the point where we ought to be able to settle our differences with compromise and arbitration rather than with armed conflict,” he says.

        Don't be surprised if he expounds on that theme during his Rockdale Temple talk Thursday. “Our Common Future” is his announced topic.

        “I just talk about how we need to protect the natural world, while we still have it left.”

        Is he optimistic?

        “Sure! If I wasn't, I wouldn't be coming, would I? I'd just curl up in a corner and not say anything again.”

        Imagine that. The man dubbed the Mouth of the South, and Captain Outrageous, silently fading away? Don't bet on it.

        “Well, I'm cautiously optimistic.”

        John Kiesewetter is Enquirer TV/radio critic. His column appears Monday and Wednesday. Write: 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202; fax: 768-8330.

       



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