After a period of staying quiet, the Mouth of the South is talking again, and we couldn't be more pleased to hear from him. Yes, we're referring to Ted Turner, who, lately, has had plenty of important things to say about the media- and entertainment-industry powers-that-be. In a dialogue with Charlie Rose at the Brainstorm Conference in Aspen last month, telecast on Rose's show, Turner showed his characteristic candor, touching on everything from Rupert Murdoch and his empire to the debacle of the Time Warner/AOL merger. He even copped to his own disingenuous support of a deal he privately opposed (see page 7).
Similar candor is on display in his scathing critique of media consolidation in the current Washington Monthly. (So provocative is Turner's essay that our only regret in reading it is that he didn't call us first to publish it.) In the scorched-earth screed titled "My Beef With Big Media," Turner lays out his case that a combination of corporate greed and the government's laissez-faire attitude toward the industry is a recipe for disaster. "Big media today wants to own the faucet, pipeline, water and the reservoir," he writes, and "the rain clouds come next."
In Turner's view, creativity, innovation and new voices are in danger of being snuffed out. A "triple blight" is upon us, he argues, where "quality, localism and democratic debate" are in jeopardy because too much is controlled by too few. It's time for the government to step in and "bust up the conglomerates," he warns, before it's too late.
Certainly, one can argue that this is all a bit much from the guy who once had a 10% stake in the world's biggest media powerhouse. Indeed, in a mea culpa, Turner himself admits that, during his tenure as vice chairman of Time Warner, "when the government changed the rules to favor large companies," he attempted to own "every link up and down the media chain." Sounding like an alcoholic who wishes for prohibition so he can stop drinking, Turner says he privately wished back then that Washington would have made rules to cure him of his media megalomania.
Yes, we know Turner's contradictory views exasperate us fans. But we happily endure the contradictions as the price for having him back, throwing punches at the media establishment.
Part of his lament is that there's no room for "a new generation like me or even Rupert Murdoch—independent television upstarts who challenge the big boys and force the whole industry to compete and change."
Ted, we know you've got your restaurant chain, Ted's Montana Grill, and your philanthropic foundations, and we're pro charity and bison burgers. But we need you in this industry. Not only do we want that door flung wide open to the next generation of upstarts, but you're one veteran we would gladly welcome back.