Time Magazine's "Person Of The Year" Is Not As Realistic As It Used To Be
It used to be that Time named as its "Man of the Year," the person who had, for good or evil, been the most important human being of the year. So, for 1938, Time named Adolf Hitler its "Man of the Year," and its cover showed an unkempt Hitler pounding away at an organ, and the caption was the most pointed, and appropriate, in the long history of the award, "An Unholy Organist Plays A Hymn Of Hate." That was the year Hitler seized Austria, outwitted Chamberlain at Munich and in Kristalnacht initiated the violence against the Jews that led to the Holocaust. That was truly a terrible and significant year.
And, for 1979, Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini was named "Man of the Year." By then, Time had dropped the cover caption, but the headline on the article still captured the spirit: "The Mystic Who Lit The Fires of Hatred." That was the year, Khomeini took power in Iran and seized the American hostages, initiating the aggression of Islamic extremism which we are fighting today, a quarter century later.
Of course, where the central motife of the year was more positive, Time named good guys. For 1940, the "Man of the Year" was Winston Churchill and the caption was, "Blood, Sweat, Tears...And Untold Courage." That was the year Churchill and the Royal Air Force stopped Hitler for the first time, in the Battle of Britain.
And for 1942, the "Man of the Year" was Joseph Stalin, and the caption was, "He Took All Hitler Could Give...For The Second Time." That was the year, Stalin stopped Hitler at Stalingrad, the turning point of World War II.
Even for 1958, Time's choice was appropriate. It was Charles de Gaulle, returning to power, to deal with the French crisis in Algeria and save French democracy. The operative phrase of that article was, "Glory came to Charles de Gaulle."
And Time wasn't off base either when on Jan. 1, 1990, it selected Mikhail Gorbachev as "Man of the Decade" for the 1980s, the decade in which the Iron Curtain fell.
By these high standards, Time should have named Osama bin Laden "Man of the Year," for 2001, the year of 9-11. But by then, the editors of the magazine had turned softer and more politically correct. Didn't they think Americans could take it? They named New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani instead. They were finessing history, and not reporting it.
Who will they name next week for 2005? With Hurricane Kristina, it could be Mother Nature, but that is not a person, and the great Asian tsunami actually took place at the end of 2004.
No, if Time magazine were truly gutsy and reporting history, the "Man of the Year" or "Person of the Year," would be Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi, the terrorist who this year has thrown the U.S. for a loop and dominated the world scene with his terrorist outrages. Despite the Iraqi elections, this is still a year of ascendent extremism.
But this week Time has an article on al-Zarqawi, and the headline is, "The Rise of an Evil Protege." If Time were doing its duty this year and naming the man who struck the tone for the year, it would not have had that article this week.
Just as Time's "Person of the Year" for 2004, President Bush, (Time's ridiculous caption then was "American Revolutionary"), was a miss, and a bad one at that, so Time's editors are probably for 2005 going to miss again.
If Time is an American institution, doesn't all this mean we are having a hard time taking it as a nation these days? We're fighting a war without the President calling upon the American people for any meaningful sacrifice. We're ducking the challenge of New Orleans. And Time has become a magazine more interested in the latest gadget or marketing invention than the sweep of history.
I wonder who the "Person of the Year" will be. Not the Tribune Company's Dennis FitzSimmons, thank goodness, but I'll bet it's a disappointment nonetheless.
(Time really did cop a plea and it was a disappointment, as I had expected. The Time editors didn't even name a single person. They named three of them -- Bill and Melinda Gates and the rock star Bono -- for their charitable giving, their good works. So the same weakening institution that gave way on journalistic principles of protecting confidential sources in the CIA leak case, gave way on this and named non-consequential persons of the year. What a disappointment! How politically correct!)