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Culture

The Person Who Most Influenced the News in 2019 Was . . .

Greta Thunberg speaks at the 2019 United Nations Climate Action Summit, September 23, 2019. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Time magazine selecting juvenile climate-change activist Greta Thunberg as the publication’s “Person of the Year” is not surprising.

But it is surprising to see the Washington Post‘s Jen Rubin grumbling about the selection, contending it is “preposterous to assert that Thunberg had a unique, transformative impact on public opinion in a way no other person has.”

Rubin writes she would have preferred the Hong Kong protesters, the whistleblower who set the impeachment process in motion, or House speaker Nancy Pelosi.

If the criteria is simply which figure had the greatest impact on the news in the past year, every year the President of the United States qualifies, and other world leaders like North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Russian president Vladimir Putin often shape world events, year in, year out.

Past selections like Hitler, Stalin, and the Ayatollah show the magazine’s newsmaker of the year may be a villain. By that criteria, surely Jeffrey Epstein qualifies as a monster who inadvertently revealed to the public a deep and far-reaching corruption among the wealthy and powerful. Perhaps no figure loomed larger in American politics in 2019 — or surprised us more — than special counsel Robert Mueller. The news around him disappointed Democrats, but that does not make it any less consequential.

But if you want to pick the figure who had the wildest and most unexpectedly consequential year, how about Volodymyr Zelensky? At this time last year he was just a comedian and television star, then he was elected president of a country fighting off an invasion by Russia, and now he is a central figure in the impeachment of an American president.

Or, if Time just wanted to sell a lot of copies, they could have just picked Baby Yoda.

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