NEW YORK — You couldn’t have stumbled on a more conspicuous sign of the disappearance of Ted Turner from the media spotlight than the Oct. 5 Wall Street Journal’s burial on page B6 of the authoritative report that Turner and AOL/Time Warner will come to a parting of the ways when his contract expires at the end of the year.
Many observers say even if AOL/TW offered Turner a new contract, he wouldn’t sign it because he wants the freedom to be more vocal in his criticism of the company than he already is.
From AOL/TW’s standpoint, the old Lyndon Johnson aphorism may apply: “I’d rather have him inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in.”
Turner, who owns close to 4% of AOL/TW stock, would remain on the board even if he resigns as vice chairman. As a board member, he could theoretically start working behind the scenes to try to oust Steve Case as chairman of AOL/TW and Gerald Levin as CEO of the company at the annual board meeting next April.
In a New Yorker magazine profile six months ago, Turner made disparaging remarks about Levin’s stewardship of TW. Turner is still bitter at losing all of his operating power when the restructured ownership of the company — after AOL merged with Time Warner — removed him from control of the Turner cable networks, including CNN, TBS and TNT, and of HBO.
But other sources say Turner, 62, wants to phase out his activity at AOL/TW so he can devote more time to the global humanitarian efforts of the Turner Foundation, which made headlines a few years ago when it contributed $1 billion to the United Nations.