Ted Turner’s “Jesus freaks” insult was the last straw for Stuart Varney, a 20-year plus CNN veteran who had been co-anchor of the Moneyline News Hour. AP and Reuters dispatches late Wednesday confirmed New York Daily News and New York Post stories that he resigned after hearing last week of Turner’s latest outburst.
The March 14 New York Daily News reported: “Last Thursday, after hearing that Turner called CNN employees who observed Ash Wednesday ‘Jesus freaks,’ Varney resigned in a huff, sources said, although his resignation was kept quiet.” The New York Post added: “Insiders say Varney believes the cable network has strayed from its middle-of-the road political coverage and has slanted heavily towards Democratic party positions.”
Turner’s remark, at the February 28 retirement party for Bernard Shaw at CNN’s Washington bureau, first came to light via FNC’s Brit Hume on March 6. The March 8 New York Post plastered it on the front page under the headline: “Ted Makes an Ash of Himself.” Post reporter Andy Geller recounted the comments from the Vice Chairman of AOL Time Warner:
“About 300 people were present and three or four staffers had ashes on their foreheads to mark Ash Wednesday.
“Sources said Turner stared at one of the staffers and said, ‘I was looking at this woman and I was trying to figure out what was on her forehead. At first I thought you were in the earthquake’ in Seattle that day. As puzzled staffers furrowed their brows, the cable tycoon unleashed this zinger: ‘I realized you're just Jesus freaks. Shouldn't you guys be working for Fox?’
“Turner laughed, and there were a few titters in the audience, but most of the 300 people greeted the remarks with stony silence.”
AP television reporter David Bauder confirmed Varney’s departure. An excerpt of Bauder’s Wednesday afternoon piece:
After a four-day absence, partly out of anger about a comment by Ted Turner, Stuart Varney quit Wednesday as co-host of the network's struggling Moneyline.
No immediate replacement was named for CNN's nightly business show, which Willow Bay co-anchors.
Varney, who did not return a telephone call seeking comment, was furious when Turner, CNN's founder, referred to network employees who observed Ash Wednesday as ‘Jesus freaks,’ according to a CNN executive who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Turner later apologized for his comment.
Varney also was reportedly upset that Moneyline was becoming more focused on new correspondents like Allan Chernoff, Terry Keenan and Myron Kandel instead of the anchors, the executive said.
He last appeared on the air March 7. Turner's comment was made public the next day….
Turner was supposedly angered more than a year ago when he was interviewed by Varney on Moneyline and the questions dealt with religion and John Rocker, the Atlanta Braves pitcher who was widely condemned for disparaging homosexuals, minorities and foreigners. (Turner owns the Braves.)…
Phyllis Furman of the New York Daily News provided greater detail about the earlier confrontation:
“Varney's and Turner's relationship soured more than a year ago after the anchor questioned Turner during a Moneyline appearance.
“The conversation turned to pitcher John Rocker of the Atlanta Braves, also owned by CNN parent AOL Time Warner. Turner began saying that Rocker's inflammatory comments should be forgiven based on Turner's reading of the Bible. Varney then asked Turner about his views on Christianity soon after the media mogul's ex-wife, Jane Fonda, declared herself a born-again Christian.
“Turner declined to answer and sources said he was infuriated by the question.
“Several weeks later, Turner embarrassed Varney by indiscreetly asking [Lou] Dobbs to return to the struggling show. Dobbs declined because of a commitment to NBC.”
(This report courtesy of the Media Research Center.)