The Ted Commandments

1991 was a good year for Ted Turner, millionaire playboy and cable television czar. He married movie star Jane Fonda. The Atlanta Braves, the team he owns, made it to the World Series. And Time magazine named him its "Man of the Year." It was an odd choice, in a way. Think of it: 1991 was the year of the Gulf War and the fall of Communism in the Soviet Union. Its heroes were people like Norman Schwarzkopf and Boris Yeltsin. Yet Time magazine chose Ted Turner as its hero of the year. The honor was awarded because of CNN, the first 24-hour news network, which Turner founded. Over the past few years, the nation has been held spell-bound by CNN's coverage of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Tienanmen Square, the Gulf War, the Soviet coup attempt, the Clarence Thomas hearings, and the William Kennedy Smith rape trial. There's no doubt CNN provides an important service. Still, I wonder: Does it really qualify Ted Turner as Man of the Year? What the award seems to be saying is that what's important is not so much the message as the messenger. And yet who had greater impact, Norman Schwarzkopf--who created US strategy in the Gulf War--or the CNN reporter who broadcast it? Boris Yeltsin--who helped bring democracy to Russia--or the cameraman who put Yeltsin's face on the TV screen? The traditional ideal in news reporting was objectivity. But today news has become a species of show business. And so instead of honoring the world leaders who make history, Time honors the television channel that records history. But that's not the only reason I'm a little uneasy at seeing Ted Turner become such an honored celebrity. It's also because Turner has made a point of publicly bashing the Christian faith. In his youth, Turner was a practicing Christian. He even planned to be a missionary. But when he was 20, his younger sister died of a long and debilitating illness, and he abandoned his faith in God. Turner now harbors a fierce hostility against Christians. A few years ago, he was quoted in a newspaper saying "Christianity is a religion for losers." But like so many one-time believers, Turner didn't lose his religious passion. He just redirected it--in his case, toward himself. One of his associates told Time magazine, "Ted is the great 'I am'." Playing up to the image, Turner belittles the Ten Commandments as "obsolete," and offers in their place his own list of what he calls "voluntary initiatives"--or what others have dubbed the Ted Commandments. And in place of his former faith, Turner now holds a New-Age, save-the-earth environmentalism. He told Time magazine, [quote] "It's almost like a religious fervor." So Turner has become a missionary after all. He's even got his own version of electronic Sunday School, passing his New Age faith on to the next generation. It's a new cartoon series called "Captain Planet," a hero who fights pollution and overpopulation, and serves the earth spirit Gaia. Even the founding of CNN was inspired by Turner's planetary vision. From the start, he saw it as a means to unite the world. So whether in subtle ways or more obvious ways--in season and out--Turner is always preaching his faith. Ted Turner is an embodiment of contemporary American culture: its preoccupation with the self, its trendy environmentalism, its New Age religious impulse. Come to think of it, maybe it is fitting that Time had made him Man of the Year.


Chuck Colson


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