Turner bids farewell to Time Warner

May 20, 2006|By SCOTT LEITH AND MARIA SAPORTA | SCOTT LEITH AND MARIA SAPORTA,THE ATLANTA JOURNAL- CONSTITUTION

ATLANTA -- Ted Turner's slow slide from power at Time Warner came to a formal close yesterday as his final term as a board member ended and he was sent off with a standing ovation at the company's annual meeting.

Turner, plain-spoken as always, took the stage to bid farewell. Though he chose not to stand for re-election, he has long lamented his loss of influence at Time Warner.

And so the severing of his official ties came with a hint of bitterness.

"I've been with the company and its successors for 55 years," Turner told shareholders. "I just wish that in the past five years I could have made a bigger contribution. ... I didn't have the opportunity."

Turner, 67, will go down in history as the media mogul who created the first "superstation" and founded the landmark cable network CNN. He also became famous - and infamous - for his frank pronouncements and eccentric style, all the while carrying out grand philanthropic ambitions.

Turner sold Atlanta-based Turner Broadcasting System to Time Warner in 1996 and steadily lost sway at the media giant. Even so, he remains the company's largest individual shareholder.

Turner's legacy was a recurring theme at yesterday's two-hour annual meeting. The event was held in Atlanta for the first time since 1998; Time Warner is headquartered in New York. "It is fitting it's in Atlanta, where it all started," Turner said in an interview.

"It started here, and it ends here," Turner said.

Richard D. Parsons, Time Warner's chairman and CEO, called it "an historic day, albeit a sad one."

"Ted Turner was one of the pioneers," Parsons said. "He literally shaped the way we see the world."

Turner sat in a front-row aisle seat as Time Warner played a video tribute to his career, including the days in the early 1980s when CNN seemed, to many, like a bizarre experiment.

The video featured glowing comments from the famous, such as former President Carter and longtime CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite.

When the video ended, the crowd of about 300 broke into applause. Parsons summoned Turner to the stage, read a citation from the board and let Turner have his final words.

When Turner returned to his seat, he stayed a bit longer, fidgeting at times as Parsons reeled through the normal fare of a corporate annual meeting - financial results, operational highlights and such.

When the lights dimmed for the showing of a promo for the coming Superman Returns movie, Turner and his small entourage rose and exited through a door in the front of the room.

If Turner had stayed, he would have heard more praise.

Tom Johnson, former chairman of CNN News Group, was the second person to reach a microphone during time set aside for comments. "There never has been a man like Ted before," Johnson said. "And there never will be another one like him."

Caught on his way back to his downtown Atlanta penthouse, Turner said little more than "there was no need to stay."

Turner's future legacy will be tied to his many pet issues, from promoting environmentalism to preventing the spread of nuclear weapons to tending to his restaurant chain, Ted's Montana Grill. Turner himself said he is "staying really busy."

His final words to Time Warner shareholders included a quotation of famed newsman Edward R. Murrow.

"Good night, and good luck," Turner said.

Scott Leith and Maria Saporta write for The Atlanta Journal- Constitution.

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