- The Washington Times - Friday, March 16, 2001

When CNN founder Ted Turner arrived in town Wednesday to accept an award honoring his support for the United Nations, he made more of the comments that have won him notoriety, saying the United States can only "pick on little guys."

Mr. Turner has frequently made news with his outrageous remarks, as he did on Feb. 28 when he called certain CNN employees "Jesus freaks," which led to the resignation of one of his top anchors.

The bulk of Mr. Turner's remarks at a Capitol Hill ceremony where he received the Norman Cousins Global Governance Award from the World Federalist Association were about politics and foreign policy.

The 62-year-old media mogul's decision in 1997 to give $1 billion to the United Nations over 10 years and his announcement in December that he would give $32 million to compensate for the United States' being short on its dues payments to the organization, earned him the admiration from the WFA crowd, many of whom cheered and laughed along as he spoke.

Calling himself a "modern-day Robin Hood" who takes "from the rich and gives to the poor," the billionaire philanthropist said most of the money he has donated to the United Nations will alleviate poverty, improve health care, and help women and children in Third World countries.

He pronounced himself "sick of the United States bombing developing countries," singling out Iraq and the 1983 invasion of Grenada. "Why haven't we bombed the Palestinians? Because all they have is rocks to throw at us."

Mr. Turner said the U.S. military would not bomb "big countries like Russia and China" because they "could bomb back."

As for the election of George W. Bush, "probably the wrong man is president anyway," he said.

Praising the United Nations for its efforts to promote population control, world peace and a cleaner environment, Mr. Turner said: "Without the U.N., we wouldn't have made it through the Cold War."

"We owe our very existence to the U.N.," he added.

Tony Fleming, director of communications for the WFA, emphasized the group is "concerned about reports of some of his opinions on religion."

However, "it's a moot point," he said. "Religion is not something we have a policy on."

Sen. Max Cleland, Georgia Democrat, was an unexpected guest speaker at the awards ceremony. He called the media mogul "a dear friend," saying that he was the "last lion" of the 20th century a reference to the title of William Manchester's biography of former British Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill and the "first lion" of the 21st century.

The senator said that Mr. Turner has been "a revolutionary his entire life," praising him as man who has embraced conservationist, business and athletic causes "with typical single-minded zeal."

He did not mention Mr. Turner's statements made two weeks ago on Ash Wednesday at a CNN staff meeting. There he called several staffers, who had ashes on their foreheads to mark the religious holiday, "Jesus freaks."

Media sources reported that Mr. Turner, staring at one of the staffers, said, "I was looking at this woman and I was trying to figure out what was on her forehead. At first, I thought you were in the earthquake" in Seattle that day.

As the employees listened in silence, he then said, "I realized you're just Jesus freaks. Shouldn't you guys be working for Fox?" referring to CNN's rival 24-hour cable news network.

Employees leaked his comments to other media, prompting outrage from several religious groups and a March 9 apology from Mr. Turner.

"I apologize to all Christians for my comment about Catholics wearing ashes on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday," he said. "I do not believe in any form of prejudice or discrimination, especially religious intolerance."

The cable-TV billionaire has made previous disparaging remarks about Christianity, which he dismissed as for "losers," despite his estranged wife Jane Fonda's purported conversion to Christianity in 1999. Last August, he accused the 2 billion-member religion of being "very intolerant." In 1999, at a family-planning event, Mr. Turner ridiculed Pope John Paul II, claiming that if he ever met the pontiff, he would say, "Ever seen a Polish mine detector?" and then lift up his foot. The pope is from Poland.

"There is no question about it," said Patrick Scully of the Catholic League. "He's a repeat offender. He's an anti-Christian bigot."

Mr. Scully added his organization was "very skeptical" about Mr. Turner's apology.

Gary Bauer, president of American Values, a conservative public policy group, agreed.

"There is a clearly defined pattern going back several years," he said. "It can only be described as religious bigotry. It can be seen in the comments on the pope and toward his own employees."

But some people who work close to the founder of CNN and vice chairman of AOL/Time Warner deny he is motivated by religious animosity. "He is against all forms of intolerance," says Maura Donlan, a Turner spokeswoman.

The billionaire's Ash Wednesday comments were taken out of context, she said, adding, "He sees the value of religion, and that it is a powerful force for peace in society."

Mr. Turner's critics insist the CNN founder's opposition to Christianity and support for population control and family planning are part of a larger world outlook hostile to religious values.

"Ted Turner has a secular, radically liberal world view," Mr. Bauer said. "It affects everything from his pocketbook to his news-media coverage."

Last week, Stuart Varney, co-anchor of CNN's "Moneyline News Hour," resigned over Mr. Turner's "Jesus freaks" comment, the New York Daily News reported.

A CNN source said that Mr. Varney "was very angry" about the comment.

Although a prominent philanthropist and entrepreneur who started off with a small Atlanta-based advertising business and forged a multibillion-dollar media empire around CNN, Mr. Turner known as the "Mouth of the South" has a history of making outrageous statements:

• On himself: "If only I had a little humility, I'd be perfect."

• After winning a 1979 English yacht race in which a turbulent storm took the lives of 15 sailors, he made a joking reference to the ill-fated Spanish Armada, saying: "You ought to be grateful for storms like that or you'd all be speaking Spanish."

• On Americans: "The United States has got some of the dumbest people in the world… . It's a disgrace… . When you've got 80 channels like you do here, people watch whatever they want and that's the sad thing about it, because the more cerebral, the more complex, the more forward-looking the story is here in the United States, to a large extent the smaller the ratings are."

• On Italians, which he insists was taken out of context: "[They would] rather be involved in crime and just making wine and having a good time."

• Complaining in 1996 that he'd been unable to purchase a major TV network: "I feel like those Jewish people in Germany in 1942. I know exactly what it is to be rounded up, herded out and sent to the east somewhere, resettled."

• On rival media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who owns the Fox News Channel: "Murdoch is like the late Fuhrer."

• On the 1997 mass suicide resulting in the deaths of 39 members of the Heaven's Gate sect: "[It is] a good way to get rid of a few nuts."

• On House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Texas Republican: "Nobody that dumb could make it through law school."

• On the Cold War: "We did not win the Cold War. It ended pretty much in a stalemate."

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