Ted Turner met with AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson a year ago to promise him AT&T would not mess with CNN's editorial independence and ensure the brands he create would be treated respectfully.
Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

EXCLUSIVE: AT&T top execs personally reassured Ted Turner his legacy will be maintained

Originally posted Tuesday, March 5, 2019 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Two top executives at AT&T and WarnerMedia flew to Atlanta a year ago to reassure Ted Turner to his face that the company would respect what he created and maintain editorial integrity at CNN, according to former CNN president Tom Johnson, who was also at the meeting.

They met for lunch March 6, 2018 at the private Capital City Club in downtown Atlanta, about four blocks from Turner’s residence and a half mile from CNN Center.

At the time, Dallas-based AT&T thought it was close to closing on its merger with Time Warner, which had purchased Turner Broadcasting from Turner 22 years earlier. Due to the Department of Justice fighting the merger, citing anti-trust issues, it wasn’t officially cleared until last week, two and a half years after it was originally announced. 

>>RELATED: A piece of Ted Turner’s legacy is disappearing from Atlanta

For years, Turner was a free-standing entity within Time Warner, one of its most important components including CNN, HLN, TNT, TBS and Cartoon Network. All those networks were created under Ted Turner’s watch. Under a new restructuring announced Monday, Turner’s networks will be splintered into three different newly created entities and the corporate brand name of Turner will effectively disappear in the coming months

Johnson, who ran CNN in the 1990s, said AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson and WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey wanted to meet with Johnson and Turner in person. Johnson said he was pleasantly surprised by the offer and said yes.

This meeting, which also included Turner Enterprises CEO Taylor Glover (who is Turner’s long-time friend and financial advisor), was something AT&T did not have to do because Turner had not been affiliated with Time Warner since he left the board of directors in 2006. But Johnson said they clearly did it out of respect for Turner and the legacy he created. 

“They wanted to reassure us to their commitment to what Ted had built,” Johnson said. “They were very open and very emphatic.”

He said they also told Turner that they would maintain “the editorial independence and journalistic excellence at CNN.” 

>>RELATED: Ted Turner,80, has Lewy Body dementia

Ted Turner spokesman Phillip Evans said he was aware of the meeting but did not know the details. Turner Monday did release a statement which reflected how that one-one-one meeting had instilled in Turner confidence in the new ownership team. 

"Given I have been out of the cable and television industry for many years now, I trust Randall Stephenson, John Stankey and the executive team will do what is best for the company, its businesses, and most importantly, its employees,” Turner said. 

Johnson said only about six people even knew this meeting even happened. 

A spokesperson for the corporate Turner operation declined to comment. 

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.