'Last Stand' author Todd Wilkinson discusses Ted Turner's efforts to help the environment
Wilkinson's book 'Last Stand' details Ted Turner's second act as an ardent environmentalist.
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For example, one goal he has is to eradicate all nuclear weapons from the planet except for maybe a few. He's brought people in on this like Sam Nunn, Henry Kissinger and George Shultz.Skip to next paragraph
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The skill that stands out is his ability to pick great people to help implement his vision, whether it was at TBS and CNN, or hiring Bobby Cox to manage the Atlanta Braves, or picking Senator Wirth to lead the United Nations Foundation. He tells them that "we need to do things that have never been done before."
Q: He's known as a successful but egotistical blowhard. These kinds of people can be easy to love but hard to like. Has his style changed over time?
A: Anybody who has seen him realizes that he has a big ego, and huge expectations come with that.
On the other hand, you have this guy who will be 75 years old this year and, primarily at the prodding of Jane Fonda, sees a therapist. He talks about these issues he has. He fits the classic sort of archetype of the overachiever, the kid who comes with a lack of self-esteem based on dysfunctional relationships early in his life, and he sets out to prove to the world he's worthy.
Over the 20 years that I've had this ongoing conversation with him, he's mellowed as he's gotten older. He's become more thoughtful, less bellicose. The edge has been taken off on the ego.
Q: What have you learned about him on an emotional level?
A: He is not a saint, and he is not petitioning for sainthood. He knows his deep flaws.
Q: Do you like the guy?
A: When I first met him, I wasn't that fond of him. I was skeptical because he wasn't the most pleasant guy.
But over time, as he's opened himself up to me and really exposed his vulnerabilities, we came to this level of trust. I never set out to become a pal of Ted Turner, but we've reached the point where we can have a pretty intense and insightful discussion.
Q: What do you think his legacy is in terms of media?
A: It will be in television, but it doesn't lie just with CNN. It's what it represented: 24-hour news, accessible whenever you want it, and the technology revolution that came with it. That was the nascent spark for this information age we live in today.
Rather than it being tied into CNN as a brand, it was the concept of foreseeing that there was an appetite for society – for good or bad – to be plugged in.
Q: What's his main message to the world about nature and the land?
A: He rejects this widespread notion that flows out of Wall Street which says that if you're going to be economically prosperous, it has to come at the expense of the environment. He dismisses "ecology vs. economy" as a false dichotomy.
He says we're looking at it the wrong way: You have to do things that are environmentally sustainable, although they won't pay for themselves.
Randy Dotinga is a Monitor contributor.