Ted Turner's Cold War Comfort

On Sunday, Sept. 27, Ted Turner's CNN launched the first episode of its massive 24-hour documentary series, entitled Cold War.

Bravo. An objective exposè on the decades of tension between the Eastern and Western blocs, evidencing the underlying interests, diplomacy, errors, and coups, should make for an entertaining and highly educational program. Historia, magistra vitae, as Cicero sagely noted.

For those who follow Mr. Turner's activities closely, however, there is something very wrong with this picture. The chances of an “objective exposè” seem rather slim. All the facts appear to indicate that, behind Turner's seemingly disconnected enterprises, stands a man with an agenda.

Let's do a little memory exercise. Last fall, Ted Turner announced his momentous one billion dollar billion grant to the United Nations.

Far and wide, observers applauded the munificence of this media mogul turned philanthropist, while U.N. officials licked their chops and strategized as to how to secure large portions of the Turner pie for their own plates.

Such enthusiasm was short-lived. Little by little Turner's “disinterested, no-strings-attached” gift proved to be bound not by mere strings, but by heavy cables. The stoutest cable of all was Turner's stipulation that the U.N.'s use of the funds would be supervised by a foundation headed by Timothy Wirth, erstwhile undersecretary of state for global affairs in the Clinton administration. A longtime crusader for population control and global warming restrictions, Mr. Wirth led the U.S. delegation to the 1994 Cairo Conference on Population and Development, where he fought to make abortion part of the United Nations' “reproductive rights” package. Thankfully, he was thwarted, chiefly due to efforts by the delegation from the Holy See.

Summing things up with her characteristic acumen, Harvard law professor Mary Ann Glendon observed that, as details unfolded, Mr. Turner's massive donation began to look “less like a gift and more like an offer to acquire the services of U.N. agencies with privileged access to target populations.”

Mr. Turner himself declared that the purpose of his gift was to help the “poorest of the poor.” Yet somehow unborn babies didn't make the cut. The first U.N. grant of Turner's money went to provide funding for abortion programs opposed by the U.S. Congress. One of Turner's major interests is population control, and he supplies heavy funding to such groups as Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Catholics for a Free Choice, and the Pro-Choice Resource Center. Perhaps Turner would argue, with Clintonesque precision, that unborn children aren't technically “poor,” since the poor are those who have very little, whereas the unborn have nothing at all.

Be that as it may, animals do make the cut. From sea turtles to owls to elephants, no winged, scaled, or hoofed beast has escaped Turner's paternal gaze. The long list of Turner Foundation grant recipients reads like a cross between Ralph Nader's Christmas card list and the pet shop section of the Yellow Pages. Beneficiaries range from “The Snow Leopard Lovers' Club” to “Ducks Unlimited” to the “Coral Reef Alliance.” Turner also gives lavishly to environmental protection groups, to assure that the earth is spic-and-span for the few human inhabitants left after his proposed one-child policy has been in effect for a few generations.

Among those lucky inhabitants will no doubt figure some of Turner's own progeny who, as heirs to their patriarch's wisdom, can be counted upon to continue pursuing his vision of the Brave New World. As recounted by Time magazine, Mr. Turner was recently asked how he could justify his zealous campaigning for one-child laws, when he himself has fathered five children. Turner responded, “If I was doing it over again I wouldn't have done it, but I can't shoot them now that they're here.” This surely drew a collective sigh of relief from the Turner children, though they may now lock their bedroom doors at night and frisk their dad for firearms at family gatherings.

Patriarch though he might be, Mr. Turner openly curries the favor of feminists, going so far as to espouse male inferiority. In a recent statement he boldly challenged men to retire from politics for a hundred years, leaving the women to govern. “Let the women run the world for a while,” Turner advised. “They don't have all that testosterone in them.” One wonders whether Turner intends that this withdrawal of men from government extend to other powerful institutions where testosterone could also cloud men's judgment, such as multimillion-dollar foundations and television networks. Maybe Mr. Turner himself will lead the way by stepping down as president of the Turner Foundation and turning the helm over to a talented woman, say Sister Nirmala of Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity.

Until that blessed day arrives, however, we should remain wary consumers of Turner's productions. As for Cold War, what can viewers reasonably expect? The cast of scriptwriters —including Germaine Greer, a pioneering feminist writer; Hugh O'Shaughnessy, founding member of Amnesty International; and William Shawcross, author of the book Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia — certainly doesn't bode well for an unbiased report. Nor does Turner's unabashed belief in television's power to influence world events. And just last July, Turner had to publicly apologize for another CNN war documentary that falsely accused the U.S. Special Forces of using sarin nerve gas to kill American deserters during a 1970 raid into Laos. Perhaps Lisa de Moraes, writing in the International Herald Tribune, said it just about right in her appraisal of Cold War as merely another “cleverly disguised step in Mr. Turner's master plan to turn our planet into his.”

Father Thomas Williams is rector of the general directorate of the Legionaries of Christ in Rome.