Every day we hear more news about the sad state of the U.S. economy. I know things are really bad, having read about the millions of people looking for work and personally knowing some who have been laid off over the past year. Last week I learned just how terrible it truly is in human terms, though, when Ted Turner revealed he is down to his last billion, or two, dropping to number 196 on the most recent Forbes 400 list.
There are thousands of stories across the country about Americans suffering the effects of layoffs, extended unemployment, and foreclosure. Recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show double-digit unemployment for many groups including teenagers and men over the age of twenty. The situation is bleak. It has to be if even billionaires are whining about their circumstances.
In an interview last week with Bloomberg News, Ted Turner, one of the richest men in America, echoed the mood of the country by saying he is really bummed that he has a mere “couple billion” dollars left. He discussed the pain of losing his job at Time Warner and control of the cable channel he founded, as well as losing his wife Jane Fonda and about $7 billion of his fortune. Turner said, “It was like having my heart ripped out.”
Turner can’t blame the loss of his fortune on the economy though. According to the Bloomberg piece, the loss of $7 billion was due to a 60 percent drop in Time Warner stock following the 2001 AOL merger.
He also gave much of his money away — a $1 billion pledge to establish the United Nations Foundation alone. He said:
If you were around at the time, I gave everybody a hundred thousand dollars if they came up with anything. I just couldn’t hold onto it. I wanted to keep it moving. I get a dollar, I give it to you, you spend it, somebody else gets it. You know, pass it around. You know, it’s kind of like a joint — you just pass it around, light it up, you know, share with your friends.
I guess his version of sharing the wealth didn’t turn out so well.
Turner still has some significant assets remaining though, including about two million acres in twelve U.S. states and Argentina, 50,000 bison and a restaurant chain. At least he won’t go hungry.
Turner wants to get back into the cable news business, but evidently that takes more than a couple billion. He said that if he had the money he would think about “getting control of Time Warner and getting CNN to focus on serious journalism” and he would get the Cartoon Network to show Captain Planet again. He believes kids these days need their environmental role models, not Superman.
Turner lamented that “while contemporaries such as News Corp. Chief Executive Officer and Chairman Rupert Murdoch, Liberty Media Corp.’s John Malone and Viacom Inc.’s Sumner Redstone keep competing in the media industry … he doesn’t have enough money to get back in the business.”
Turner is going to tough it out though. “To drop out of that league, that was hard to do,” Turner said. “I’ve had the experience of being on top and riding the roller coaster down again, nearly to the bottom. You know, if you economize and don’t buy new airplanes or long-range jets, or that sort of thing, you can get by on a billion or two.”
It sounds like with his determination and bravery in the face of such dire circumstances, and with some serious economizing, he might just bounce back from the significant job and stock loss. If he is still struggling though, he might want to look into tapping into some “stimulus” money. I wonder if there are any funds available for reviving the fortunes of former media giants?
I know the stimulus was supposed to include lots of money for “green” projects. Maybe with the help of Obama stimulus bucks, Turner could revive Captain Planet to inspire a new generation of kids after all.