Ted Turner, no newcomer to controversy, has been accused of racism by the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson.
The charges were made in a June 2 letter to Turner from Jackson, president of Operation Push Inc., and followed a stormy May meeting between the two battling egos and a group of associates at Atlanta Stadium, home of Turner's Atlanta Braves.
Jackson, who wrote he had heard "good and interesting things about" Turner, wanted to talk to him about black business opportunities in conjunction with Turner's varied television enterprises. Turner, according to Jackson's letter, refused to address himself to those subjects.
Jackson wrote that instead Turner focused on the high salaries he pays to blacks on the Braves and on the Atlanta Hawks, both teams he owns, and complained he was a "member of a minority community" fighting ABC's cable television efforts. He told Jackson he lost $15 million last year.
Turner, according to Jackson, left in the midst of their session, and went to his box by the field. "I commented to your wife that I thought you were a rich, racist brat," Jackson wrote. "She said it was not racial at all, that you treat others the same way. That is the brat part.
"You are White and I am Black. I was your invited guest and the contempt you showed for me, the Black community, in general, and Black leadership, in particular, was the racist part," Jackson wrote.
Although Turner would not comment on the Jackson charges, Turner's executive vice president, Robert Wussler, said Turner was angry in part because Jackson was an hour late for their meeting. Jackson said he was a half hour late.
Jackson wrote that Operation Push, which is trying to encourage corporations to make commitments to support black and other minority enterprises, and a coalition of other black organizations and attorneys are going to investigate Turner's operations, presumably Cable News Network, WTBS-TV, and the sports teams, focusing on Turner's hiring, promotion and contracting.
Although Jackson was not available for comment late last week, his press secretary, the Rev. Frank E. Watkins, said the investigation would be the first step in determining whether broader economic action should be taken against the Turner organization. Copies of the letter were sent to Jackson associate and former Braves star Henry Aaron, black Braves and Hawks players, Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, and "selected others." A copy was obtained by The Washington Post.
It is not the first time Turner's loose tongue and occasionally abrasive manner have gotten him in trouble. He was once quoted as saying that "Blacks should carry missiles from silo to silo just as the Egyptians carried rocks during the building of the pyramids," a statement for which he later apologized and one that Jackson recalled in his letter.
Wussler, a former executive of the CBS affiliate in Chicago where Operation Push is based, said Friday that he called Jackson and said,"Let's forget about this thing. Two wrongs don't make a right.
"An apology has been offered for Ted's portion of the effort," Wussler said.
"Ted was upset with his being late. One thing led to another and Ted lectured him the way you might lecture a teen-age son," Wussler said. Turner is a "high pressure, high energy guy" who behaved no differently that night "than at 7 o'clock on any given night," Wussler said.
"We have tremendous battles here that we face all the time," Wussler said. "Ted is the kind of guy who has always operated on the edge."