Monday, December 18, 2006

Time Person of the Year-- another 'feel-good' cheerleader award.

I thought Time magazine had already become hopelessly worried about bad press, when choosing their 'person of the year.' Remember, this is the same outfit who, when news was real news, didn't flinch at picking people like Adolf Hitler (1938), Josef Stalin (1939 and 1942) or Ayatollah Khomeini (1979)as their person of the year. Back then the award meant something, a person who (for better or worse) influenced the news and world events more than anyone else. In 1982, a year when relatively little news was made outside the Falkland Islands and we were entering the digital age, Time chose 'the computer.' And certainly a good case could be made for it at the time.

Sometimes they have picked groups of people, such as American scientists (1960), American women (1975) or philanthropists (last year-- though I would have jointly picked Michael Brown, Ray Nagin and Max Mayfield for 2005, and that's not a good thing). I'm not complaining about some of these choices, but it bothers me that lately their choices have seemed designed to choose the 'person' of the year primarily without ticking anyone off. They have picked George W. Bush twice-- in 2000 and 2004. What exactly did he do then? He won an election. Fine. And it does merit consideration. But it seems to me that a President has to do something besides just win an election (which could have been considered the case in 2004, but not in 2000). Bill Clinton similarly won in 1992 (though his other year, 1998, was a joint appearance with Kenneth Starr.) Then this year they just picked 'you.' OK, I guess we live in a feels-good puff-news culture.

Even when they have picked a person, it seems they have gone out of their way to 1) try to make it a surprise, and 2) make it a non-controversial pick. For example, in 2001, the obvious choice would have been bin Laden, but they could be excused for picking Rudy Giuliani, who certainly did a great job that day in New York. In 2004, Bush won the election but Karl Rove would have been a better choice (hey--I'm trying to stay non-partisan in this post-- and honestly Rove in 2004 should have gotten it.) This year there were several newsmakers who probably deserved it more than 'you.' And yes, a lot of them are Democrats (this just wasn't a good year for Republicans). But if they'd picked Nancy Pelosi or Rahm Emmanuel or Harry Reid or Howard Dean, of course the right wing bashers (who forget quickly the two time selection of Bush) would certainly have jumped all over them for it. And to a lesser extent so would I in the case of Pelosi and Reid-- let's see what they do, not just that they've won (though Dean or Emmanuel, as strategists, deserve consideration.) To be honest, the Republicans who made the most news this year were Jack Abramoff, Bob Ney and Mark Foley; I suppose you could pick them all together, but in fact this election was a Democratic win more than it was a Republican loss.

Internationally, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Nasrallah, Prime Minister al-Maliki of Iraq, Russian President-becoming-dictator Vladimir Putin and N. Korean dictator Kim Jong Il should be considered. Even Fidel Castro has made more news by his possible slow death than he has made in years when he was alive and vibrant. Keep in mind that I don't like any of those folks, but they largely drove the international news cycle.

That said, my own pick for man of the year is someone who I thoroughly despise, and who I would never want to have anything to do with. But in the true spirit of the award, intended to name the biggest news maker and person who has done the most to change the world for better or worse, not just the popular choice or choice without controversy, I would have to say

Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

And my guess is that if the publishers of Time who weren't afraid to pick someone like a Hitler or a Stalin, realizing they were writing with an eye to history instead of just the current sales cycle, were making the selection, that is who I suspect they would have named as well.

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