First Meeting with Ted Turner
My first meeting with Ted Turner was in his suite at Time Warner in New York City shortly after I’d been promoted from Senior to Executive Producer of the now six million dollar project. The key people were there with me. Robert Wussler seemed uncharacteristically nervous. He was usually so self-possessed that he was a parody of inscrutable, but waiting for Ted Turner, Wussler was restless and jittery.
Marty Schram paced around the table brimming with self-importance. Suzanne Arden was dressed to the nines and sat with a frustrated, pinched expression that I would later learn was a combination of ambition and envy. Only Tim Rockwood exuded any enthusiasm.
Wussler and Suzanne loved to tell stories about Ted. As we waited we learned that Ted had 24 homes he maintained around the world. His private airplane cost a thousand dollars an hour when it was on the ground and $8,000 an hour to fly. Suzanne said he was a neatness freak. During flights he wandered around the cabin like a steward, picking up stray napkins and empty plates.
Ted arrived characteristically on time and quickly circled the room introducing himself to each of us. He was impressive in person. A tall man, with an inner energy that seemed barely contained in his lanky frame. He had those essential element of charismatic people, clear eyes that appear to see the world as it really is, tinged with humor, connecting with your eyes if only for an instant and seeming to see right through you.
Ted offered two pieces of advice for the documentary: “International, international, international” and “don’t dumb it down.” If Ted had been our leader instead of Robert Wussler, it all would have ended very differently.
Ted had come to see a rough cut of a ten-minute trailer we had prepared for a July PBS program meeting. When we rolled the tape, the pictures looked great on the large Time Warner screen, but you couldn’t hear the words very well and Ted was half deaf anyway. He seemed engaged, made a few suggestions about the sound mix and then left, taking all the energy with him.
Message Points and Focus Groups
Back to work in Washington and following Suzanne’s lead, Wussler began bugging me about my message points. They really wanted us to decide first what it was we wanted to say and then go out and videotape it. Like Graham Green’s Quiet American, who in Vietnam “never saw anything he hadn’t heard in a lecture hall,” for Wussler and Suzanne ideas came ahead of reality. In the end, that turned out to be true for PBS as well.
Suzanne Arden arranged a series of focus groups to find out what people wanted to hear and she hired “The Three Blonds” in Bethesda to develop the message points. I took part in a couple of these bizarre sessions. A group of people sat around a large table, the walls behind them covered with huge paper tablets and stacks of thick, black marker pens. People shouted out random slogans, questions, provocative words, while the three blonds excitedly wrote everything down on the huge tablets. Then by a process of voting or managed consensus building, the words are whittled down to message points. I never took them seriously and tried to focus on the televisions series. It wasn’t easy.
Arden was never satisfied with the message points that the three blonds came up with, and she asked me to craft my own messages for the series.
Takeaway Points – Final Koch
- Be aware. Governments act in your name. Find out what they’re doing.
- Be accountable. And hold others accountable for their actions. Things don’t just happen. We all make decisions. Some good. Some bad.
- Support whistle blowers. They have proven their accountability heroically. We have to protect, honor, and encourage them.
- Be informed. You need to know about weapons of mass destruction before you can act. Knowledge is power.
- Be skeptical. Pursue multiple sources to find out what’s going on. If you aren’t getting the news you want, write or call your news shows and demand the kind of coverage you need.
- Use common sense. The issues are not as difficult to understand as the experts and the politicians want you to believe.
- Follow the money. Find out how much various programs cost and see who ends up with the money. Weapons of mass destruction have proliferated because people make millions on them. Greed often drove decisions that permitted or fueled proliferation.
- Remember the past – as a way of securing the future. We did not use chemical weapons in World War II because we remembered WW I.
- Light up the dark places. Bad things are done when good people aren’t looking. The moral prohibitions against chemical weapons didn’t work in the Iraq/Iran war, because the rest of the world looked the other way.
- Think like a citizen of the world – because today that’s what we all are. Learn how the rest of the world sees us. There can be no national security now without international security.
- Avoid demagoguery cast in the form of religious rhetoric. Talk of good and evil does not help resolve problems, but only leads to more violence. Terrorists are demagogues with weapons.
- Be active. Governments only act under pressure. Get involved. You better believe the well-heeled lobbyists of the big money interests are involved.
- Global Village. Cliché, but still true. Imagine if you lived in a village with a ghetto so desperate that people were blowing themselves up to get attention. You’d know you had to do something about it beyond policing.
- Avoid expediency. Act from good principles. We supported Saddam Hussein in his war with Iran and we helped fund the mujahidin in their fight against the Soviet Union. Big mistakes. How often do we have to learn this lesson?
- Advocate National Service. American youth need a year of community service. It could be military, civilian, domestic or international. We can afford it. It would help young people learn what the world is really all about.
- Be hopeful. Solutions exist. We can implement them. It is not too late. We cannot afford a failure to seek and implement those that work.
- Be empowered. Armed with information, work for change and feel as if you are taking your own destiny in your hands.
Suzanne hated all these message points but she never came up with her own list.