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Ted's the man

Ted's the man

Turner typifies all that modern journalism has become

Who will TIME magazine choose as its Man of the Year for 1997? Obvious candidates include Bill Clinton, because he has survived revelations that would have brought down his Republican predecessors, and Chinese dictator Jiang Zemin, because he looks cute in a tri-cornered hat. TIME editors, of course, may choose a person of the year such as Hillary At 50 or, flush from the Kyoto hot-air summit, they may go for Ozone of the Year. But here's my candidate: Ted Turner, fresh from the public-relations bonanza that his $1 billion gift to the United Nations bought (and who cares that big chunks of the money will go to pay off expense-account extravagances of the UN bureaucracy).

Ted Turner deserves kudos. Journalism has probably not seen as talented a self-promoter since the days of William Randolph Hearst, the legendary father of yellow journalism. Once, around 1900, Mr. Hearst paid to send pale children from the New York slums to Coney Island for a day at the beach. A reporter who was sent to blow the trumpets for one expedition was given a carton of ice cream to deal out-but that one container was not enough for several dozen hungry kids.

Here's how she later told the story: "When at last I placed a dab in each saucer, a little fellow in ragged knickerbockers got up and declared that Hearst was a fake. I thought there was going to be a riot. I took away the ice cream from a deaf and dumb kid who couldn't holler and gave it to the malcontent. Then I had to write my story beginning, 'Thousands of children, pale-faced but happy, danced merrily down Coney Island's beaches yesterday and were soon sporting in the sun-lit waves shouting, God bless Mr. Hearst.'"

Mr. Turner is far more generous than Mr. Hearst was, but he also makes sure trumpets are blowing whenever he does what he believes is a good deed. What recent reports about his philanthropy have left out, however, is the worldview that underlies his grantmaking. I still have a clipping from the Daily Texan of April 10, 1989, just after Mr. Turner received an award from the University of Texas, where I teach, for outstanding achievement in communication. Mr. Turner was communicating well that day: He said Americans foolishly have been "acting in the Judeo-Christian society under a set of rules called the Ten Commandments," but America's problem is that "there is no amendment procedure to the Ten Commandments."

The man formerly known as The Mouth of the South went on to recommend a new ten commandments, with the first one beginning, "Love and respect the planet," and the third one stating, "Promise to have no more than two children or no more than one's nation suggests." The eighth and tenth both gave glory to the UN: "[B]ack the United Nations' arbitration of international disputes," and "Support the United Nations in its efforts to collectively improve the condition of the planet and all of its inhabitants."

I hope that TIME, if it honors Ted Turner, notes that he has said openly what conventional media liberals, publicly committed to press "objectivity," say only after a couple of beers: "You bet your bippy we take a position," the CNN founder once told the Radio and Television News Directors Association. "News is what you News Directors interpret it as. News is what we at CNN interpret it as. The people of this country see the news we think they oughta see."

Statements like that are useful, because the chief journalistic enemy of Christians today is not biased journalists, but ourselves. The prime enemy is our complacency, our willingness to accept a myth of journalistic neutrality. That myth leads to both an unwarranted acceptance of non-Christian journalism and a self-defeating distortion of Christian journalism.

When Ted Turner says that Christianity has been unsuccessful after trying for "two thousand years to solve the world's problems, so why don't we start over," he is proclaiming what Time's editors most likely believe but may not say in so straightforward a fashion. Will Mr. Turner's worshipful act toward the United Nations nevertheless win him TIME's praise?