NEW YORK (AP)--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. "Moneyline," once the dominant show in its genre, has been in a tailspin since former anchorman Lou Dobbs quit in June 1999. It has an average of 312,000 viewers a night this year, compared to 350,000 for CNBC's "Business Center." 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.) Soon after, Turner made unsuccessful overtures to Dobbs to return. CNN issued a statement that it accepted Varney's resignation, "effective immediately." "All of us appreciate Stuart's many years with CNN, and we wish him the best," the network said. Varney had been based in New York. Bay has co-anchored the show from Los Angeles because her husband, Walt Disney Co. President Robert Iger, is based there. She'll work out of New York temporarily with a rotating group of "Moneyline" correspondents. It's been a tumultuous period in general for CNN, which has endured sagging ratings and layoffs of on- and off-air personnel.
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