PR PLAY OF THE WEEK: 'Mouth of the South' removes his muzzle

NEW YORK: Ted Turner is opposed to the recently floated idea of merging CNN with ABC News. He's also too poor now to buy back his beloved CNN, despite recent rumors that he's interested in regaining control of the all-news channel he founded.

NEW YORK: Ted Turner is opposed to the recently floated idea of merging CNN with ABC News. He's also too poor now to buy back his beloved CNN, despite recent rumors that he's interested in regaining control of the all-news channel he founded.

And, by the way, his endorsement of the AOL-Time Warner merger was a mistake. (Turner had been a vocal booster of the ill-fated deal. At the news conference announcing the merger, he compared his happiness with the new partnership to the joy he felt upon losing his virginity.) A week after stepping down as vice chairman of AOL Time Warner, Turner, whom the media likes to call "the mouth of the South," did not waste any time ripping off his muzzle in an interview with CBS' 60 Minutes II. After playing the part of a loyal foot soldier for management through a nearly nonstop stock tumble that has shaved over $7 billion off the tycoon's net worth, AOL Time Warner's largest individual shareholder can now freely say his piece about its future. Some suggest that Turner is now in a better position to influence the company as an external critic than he was as a marginalized insider. In short, he has his soapbox back. "In the role as vice chairman, he had less freedom to publicly speak his mind," Lowell Singer, a media analyst at SG Cowen Securities in San Francisco told The New York Times last week. "(CEO Dick) Parsons had bear-hugged him and said, 'I need you on my team.' Now he's much more free to say what he wants." Still, most of his comments of the last week have been rather innocuous by Turner's standards. There is little doubt that current AOL Time Warner management has its fingers crossed that things stay that way. But a week isn't a lot for a man who says his epitaph should read, "I have nothing more to say."

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