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CNN Marks 25th Anniversary


Twenty-five years ago this Tuesday, media mogul Ted Turner stepped before a bank of microphones to make an announcement.

(Soundbite of announcement)

Mr. TED TURNER: For the American people whose thirst for understanding and a better life has made this venture possible, for the cable industry whose pioneering spirit carved this great step forward in communications, and for those employees of Turner broadcasting whose total commitment to their company has brought us together today, I dedicate the news channel for America, the Cable News Network.

HANSEN: One of our colleagues was there when CNN first began broadcasting. Now he is NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr.


More than present at the creation of CNN, I was one of the creators. I had signed the contract with Ted Turner a year earlier, frankly mystified about what a 24-hour-a-day cable news network would look like. As his headquarters in Atlanta, he had acquired, as he likes to remind me, a building that had been a Jewish country club. Inaugural day featured a pretaped interview with President Carter, who welcomed the nation's first Georgia-based television network.

I remember the early days as days of improvisation. Without preparation, Turner decided that we would cover live the impending political conventions. We lacked a glass-enclosed booth of a sort that the major networks had reserved months in advance, and so my colleague Bernie Shaw and I sat in the gallery, our comments and our interviews frequently drowned out by music and noise from the floor.

Turner liked living dangerously and he liked mavericks, and so when the authorities excluded the independent John Anderson from the Carter-Reagan presidential debate, Turner gave orders that CNN would include him. What that meant was that after the two principals had responded to a question, CNN would switch to Anderson in Constitution Hall, which we had rented for the purpose, and I would pose the same question to Anderson. And that meant that CNN coverage would fall behind and require us to go back and forth from tape to Anderson live. It was a technical mess. But Turner was proud of it.

I forget how much money Turner lost the first year--but a lot. Slowly, though, an audience began to grow. At the White House, I was told, staff people kept CNN on at low volume while they worked. On occasion, like the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II, officials learned of important events from CNN before they received official dispatches.

It was an interesting five years with CNN, and it ended with a dispute over my editorial independence that we don't have to go into on this anniversary. Suffice it to day that the last time I saw Turner at a State Department reception, he threw his arms around me and said, `Glad to see you, Dan. I forget, am I mad at you or are you mad at me?'

This is Daniel Schorr. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Schorr
Daniel Schorr passed away on Friday, July 23, 2010. See an obituary, photo gallery and an archive of Schorr's commentaries for NPR.