Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Insiders' Tales of How It All Began

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Insiders' Tales of How It All Began

Article excerpt

CNN: THE INSIDE STORY by Hank Whittemore, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 319 pp. $19.95

TO a large extent, the story of Cable Network News is the story of flamboyant entrepreneur Ted Turner. The creation of CNN was an act of will by "Captain Outrageous, The Mouth of the South," as he's been called, the project of a man with a need to succeed so strong that it wouldn't let him fail.

But the rise of CNN is also the story of a whole band of scrappy TV pioneers risking their all on the crazy idea that, somehow, they could not only compete with the big boys at ABC, CBS, and NBC, but actually change the face of television news.

So says author Hank Whittemore in "CNN: The Inside Story." Whittemore, a magazine and television writer, has packed this volume with lively quotes and plenty of drama, humor, and pathos. But he's also succumbed to the temptation to write in the popular quasi-novelistic style, as though his tape recorder was able to somehow plug straight into the inner thoughts of his subjects. Even the lengthy spoken quotes, pasted together by narrative transitions, read more like a script for a TV documentary than a book.

In the early years, we learn, Turner and his band of mavericks are only a step ahead of chaos and bankruptcy. In a single night, the ringleaders sketch plans for the CNN newsroom building on a grocery bag. When an addition is needed later, a bulldozer is ordered to begin digging the next day - before construction plans or permits are obtained. In the world of CNN, haste is not waste: It's the only way to survive.

"(Founding president) Reese (Schonfeld) was very much like Ted Turner," recalls CNN employee Diane Durham, "in that the ideas flowed. Whether they were good, bad or indifferent, they flowed off the top, so people sifted through them and took only the good ones. You just went from one new idea to the next, like a free flow: `Let's try this, let's try that.' And it had never been done, so why not? You never said to Reese, `We can't do that,' until you proved you couldn't do it. …

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