For Time’s Newsmaker of the Year, You Can’t Pick This ‘Un’
Time informs us:
Kim Jong Un is having a good year. After taking over the leadership of North Korea from his late father Kim Jong Il, at the end of 2011, he’s solidified his control over the country, appeared on TIME’s cover and he was even named ‘Sexiest Man Alive.’ (OK, that honor was actually bestowed as a spoof in the satirical newspaper, The Onion, but a Chinese news service mistook the Onion piece for real news and the story went global.)
Now, he’s gotten the most votes in TIME’s completely unscientific reader Person of the Year Poll with 5.6 million votes. Not bad for a man who didn’t make an official public appearance until 2010.
This doesn’t mean Kim is TIME’s Person of the Year. That choice is made by the editors of TIME and will be revealed Dec. 19 on the Today show.
The Time “Person of the Year” is something of an obsession of mine; it’s supposedly one of our most interesting and useful markers of which figure most shaped the news.
It’s been a who’s who of the 20th Century, for good and for ill — Mahatma Gandhi, Franklin Roosevelt, Chiang Kai-shek, Hitler, Stalin, Eisenhower, Truman, Queen Elizabeth, Churchill, Martin Luther King, Ronald Reagan, Lech Walesa . . .
But in a serious dilution of the Time magazine brand and the prestige and prominence of the title, recent years have seen a trend of odd picks. As I wrote a few years back, this is perhaps driven by a desire for newsstand sales, perhaps driven by political correctness, perhaps by a reluctance to acknowledge picks that are perceived as conservative.
I went through recent picks and suggested more plausible options by the magazine’s original criteria (most influence on the news, for good or for ill):
2001: Rudy Giuliani
2002: The Whistleblowers (WorldCom, FBI, Enron)
2003: The American Soldier
2004: George W. Bush
2005: The Good Samaritans (Bono, Bill & Melinda Gates)
2007: Vladimir Putin
2008: Barack Obama
2009: Ben Bernanke
2010: Mark Zuckerberg
For contrast, here are my suggestions for which figure or figures had the most influence each year:
2001: Osama bin Laden
2002: Dick Cheney (it was in the post-9/11 era his influence was clearest)
2003: Saddam Hussein (from rule to war to capture, his story was the story of the year)
2004: George W. Bush
2005: Danish Cartoonists
2006: Nancy Pelosi (she was the face of the broad backlash against Bush)
2007: Gen. David Petraeus (for masterminding the Iraq surge)
2008: Barack Obama/Ben Bernanke
2009: Barack Obama/Neda, the Slain Iranian Protester
2010: The Tea Partier
I’m sure some will quibble here and there. But looking back, the Whistleblowers look minor in lasting influence; the American Soldier could be nominated any year; Bono and the Gateses are commendable but could be picked any year; Putin is powerful but could be picked any year; Bernanke was a year late; and “You” just looks silly.
This year it has to be Obama, right? Would anyone argue that there was a figure on the national or world stage who had as much influence over events as the president?