Jesus Freaks: A Ted Turner Ash Wednesday

Just over ten years ago today – on March 7, 2001 – I stood in CNN’s Washington, DC newsroom as Ted Turner, the network’s founder, addressed the staff.

The occasion was CNN anchor Bernard Shaw’s retirement party (has it really been a decade?), and it happened to fall on Ash Wednesday. Many of the CNN staffers had visited church that morning, and some still had an ash cross on their foreheads.

Before Mr. Turner began his remarks, he noticed the ash and quipped, “What are you, a bunch of Jesus freaks? You ought to be working for Fox.”

It didn’t take long for the comment to be picked up by conservative and religious websites, and from there it quickly made its way into newspapers and onto national television.



Ted Turner with Then-Wife Jane Fonda (Photo Courtesy of Alan Light, Wikimedia Commons)


Despite the negative press he received for his remark, Ted Turner was lucky. He made this comment in 2001 – when Mark Zuckerberg was still in high school, cell phones were used primarily to make phone calls, and “social media” described after-parties at the White House Correspondents Dinner.

Today, his comment would be captured on video, uploaded to YouTube within minutes, and linked to from tens of thousands of tweets before his speech was over.

Privacy at group meetings is a quaint reminder of yesteryear. Today, any attendee can capture your every word with a hidden smart phone – and that remark you thought was “safe” can be the one that humiliates you and leads to the end of your career.

This is an old lesson that bears repeating: If you don’t want it in the headlines tomorrow, don’t say it at all.