Never underestimate the power of a bored intern.
Jalopnik writer Michael Ballaban revealed Monday that when he was a bored intern at “The Situation Room” with Wolf Blitzer back in 2009, he unearthed a piece of journalistic lore: Ted Turner’s “Doomsday Video.” That is, the video that CNN founder Turner commissioned shortly after launching the original Cable News Network, to be played in the event of the world’s end.
Decades after Turner had reportedly first declared, “We’ll be on, and we will cover the end of the world, live, and that will be our last event,” journalists continued to speculate about the network’s final video. In 1988, The New Yorker went straight to the source, asking Turner what exactly he thought the American people would want to see in their final moments.
“We need to totally disarm,” Turner told the magazine. “Because, just as with guns, if you've got nuclear weapons, you're eventually going to use them. … Normally, when a TV station begins and ends the broadcast day, it signs on and off by playing the national anthem. But with CNN — a 24-hour-a-day channel — we would only sign off once, and I knew what that would mean. So we got the combined Armed Forces marching bands together — the Army, Navy, Marine and Air Force bands — and took them out to the old CNN headquarters, and we had them practice the national anthem for a videotaping. Then, as things cranked up, I asked if they'd play 'Nearer, My God, to Thee' to put on videotape just in case the world ever came to an end. That would be the last thing CNN played before we — before we signed off.”
The New Yorker reporters behind that article described watching the video with Turner, but the image of the Armed Forces marching bands playing “Nearer My God, to Thee,” the hymn that, as legend has it, was played as the Titanic sank, remained concealed from the public. The doomsday video continued to pop up in conversation, including in a 2001 New York Daily News article. But until Monday, it was confined to the CNN archives, only to be broadcast in the event of the ultimate global catastrophe. It can now be viewed in all its 1980s glory at Jalopnik.
“Restriction: HFR till the end of the world confirmed” reads the disclaimer, in bright red font, on the video slugged “TURNER DOOMSDAY VIDEO” in the CNN video database.
“Hold for release,” Ballaban writes. “CNN, once ever so thorough in its factchecking, knew that the last employee alive couldn’t be trusted to make a call as consequential as one from the Book of Revelation. The end of the world must be confirmed.”