Q: So you were a Vice Chairman of the company after that last transition, and the opportunity came to come back to Atlanta. Tell us about that.
TJ: I had always wanted to come home. When I tell people that, they associate me with…Edwina wanted to come home at some point. Jack Tarver at one point had offered me the job at one point to succeed Reg Murphy as the editor--editor, you had to be over editorial pages--but he offered me a tremendous salary that was half of what I was making at the Dallas paper. I always kidded Jack about that. J.B. Fuqua had asked me to come back twice in very important positions, I don’t think he would object to me saying, as president of Fuqua Industries. With the exception of some televisions stations, I honestly didn't know anything about all the properties that J.B. had. In any case, a good friend of mine, Jerry Lindauer of Austin, Texas, he had been head of the National Cable Television Association, was also a very, very good friend of Ted's, he knew that Ted was looking for a new chief executive, a new president of CNN. He also knew that I had to get out of California...get out of that job. The right wing elements of the paper wanted to change direction. They had already elevated me out of, I tell people, one day I am responsible for 12,000 people, I am charge of overseeing properties in Denver, Dallas and Los Angeles, and after this, I am Vice Chairman, and I have a driver, a car and a secretary and a beautiful office and a huge compensation package. I wasn't happy. I never worked for the money! But, Ted offered me the job as president of CNN. I called several people. I called J.B. Fuqua, I called Roberto Goizueta, I called President Carter. I went and talked with Jane Fonda. I'll never forget, Jane and Ted were dating and I said, "Tell me about Ted Turner." She said, "Tom, he is the most remarkable man I have ever known in my life." Others thought I probably wouldn't last. I am a conventional, probably old media type, many would describe as traditional media type, and I am joining this guy who is absolutely the total frontier. He is out in orbit in new technology and global television and it is amazing how well it worked.
Ted is the only genius, I've ever met, and I've only used that word to describe one person in my lifetime and that is Ted Turner. It's just so...Ted has this extra lobe out of which comes these original thoughts. I think of a genius as someone who is an original thinker, like we all study, you know, the great original thinkers, in ancient history. Ted is just has unbelievably original thoughts, you just can't figure out where they originated. Not all of them made sense, but many of them were just way out of creation. Not just CNN and the airport channel and the creation of all these things, but to see the future, and then willing to put his entire stack. At one point, he had, of course, he had gotten his debt up to $2 billion, because he was able to get the Japanese and Mike Millikan with junk bonds to sort of believe in him. The Atlanta bankers didn't believe in him, wouldn't loan him a penny. The, you know, the New York bankers. His vision, he also...I never knew a president who wanted to leave the world a better place as much as he did. Billion dollars to the United Nations, all of his environmental programs, his buying up, he owns more land than any American except the United States government. He's putting those into the most incredibly environmentally friendly...taking off the developments of those properties and things that weren’t indigenous and putting back the indigenous animals like the bison and the wolves and taking down the fences. He is going to leave the world in stretches like it was when the Native Americans occupied it. Vast amounts, hopefully for the enjoyment and the recreation and realized--going to people like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates and saying, "Come on, guys! Let's give them the money now. Why wait until after you are gone...have some foundation like Ford or Rockefeller, let's do it now!" Almost shaming them and they are giving. Many of them are now giving. Of course, Gates is doing fantastically around the world. The guy will literally cry when he see something that is wrong…somebody who is hurt or who needs help. He has a new solar project that he is now doing with Southern Company, so he is staying out there...way out there.
I have a lot of favorite stories, but one of them is, OK...Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait. We have to prepare for potential of war. Although Jim Baker and the Iraqi foreign minister, Tariq Aziz, were negotiating. I went up to Ted and said, "You know, Ted, we have got to plan for a war." "Oh, pal, why?" I said, "There is either going to be a peace or war but we've got to plan for a war." I said, "If we want to own this story...you told me you wanted to be the best network on the planet...” I ask him only one questions when he interviewed me. I said, "Ted, tell what it is you want in the next president at CNN." He said, "I want it to be the best news network on the planet." I said, "What else?" He said, "That's it!" I said, "You told me that. This is the chance," I said, "for us to do that, we either have to spend $5 million over budget more or maybe as much as $30 million over budget to put in the ground stations to lease the transponders to put people into Bagdad and Oman and Tel Aviv and Cairo and out in the Saudi desert." I said, "Tell me what I am authorized to spend at a new ceiling?" He looked back at me and said, "You spend whatever you think it takes, pal!" That was it! I walked down the hall, I had Ed Turner with me then editor of CNN. I said, "I thought, Otis Chandler might have been the best news guy I had ever worked for in my life. I just met the most extraordinary owner or leader." Not only did we spend, I think it was $22 million to get prepared, we owned the story. We built customers in every...I cannot tell you how many thousands of new customers. We had cable operators, we had broadcasters, hotels all over the world, and they stayed with us after the war was over. That investment paid off multiple, multiple times. Again the point is, Ted said, "You spend whatever it takes, pal!"
Q; The day after you arrived, Iraq invaded Kuwait.
TJ: The day after I arrived, Saddam invaded Kuwait. I must tell you, there were two personalities who helped make my career at CNN. Saddam Hussein and the tremendous global coverage, the exclusive coverage with John Holliman from the University of Georgia, Peter Arnett and Bernie Shaw are there in an exclusive and the bombs are falling within a hundred yards of their hotel. Saddam...it proved that I knew what I was doing. I knew news values. I knew how to contact people. I knew how to get Colin Powell on the phone, the CIA director on the phone and others. I had a niche that really worked, but I also had a new television. I told people on the first day, "Guys, I know journalism, but primarily print journalism. You know journalism, primarily television journalism. I am going to rely on what you to do best, and I am going to try to support you with what I do best. Don't even think I know what you know about technology..." I mean, I don't even know what an uplink is. They looked at me like I was from a different planet! Anyway, the other person who made my career is O.J. Simpson. Our audience levels had been going down, I was in trouble. I didn't know what to do. This is before Fox News, anyway, O.J. gets on that freeway, and after that our audience levels just go through the roof! Our coverage of the O.J. Simpson story was so profound, we would try to shift out of the trial over to some other news and we would have a meltdown on our phones. The people were so engrossed, locked to that story. Anyway, I loved working for Ted for eleven years! I loved working for him for eleven years. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed working with him.