The news magazines are a dying breed. The entire Newsweek operation was sold a few years back for $1. And I think that price was too high. But Time magazine’s annual feature “Person of the Year” still captivates the attention of many people, myself included.
And since I was selected as Time’s Person of the Year in 2006, I feel qualified to offer my insights.
Here are the ten finalists for Person of the Year. The winner will be announced tomorrow morning:
Bashar Assad, President of Syria
Jeff Bezos, Amazon Founder
Ted Cruz, Texas Senator
Miley Cyrus, Singer
Pope Francis, Leader of the Catholic Church
Barack Obama, President of the United States
Hassan Rouhani, President of Iran
Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services
Edward Snowden, N.S.A. Leaker
Edith Windsor, Gay rights activist
Obama won it in 2012, so they’d need a big reason to select him twice in a row. The founder of Amazon will get the nod when he actually gets those drones to deliver packages to homes in 30 minutes.
But first let’s review how they select “Person of the Year.” When this started in 1927 as “Man of the Year” it was described as the person who “for better or for worse, …has done the most to influence the events of the year.”
Lately we have understood it as an honor, but of course, the person who most influenced the news or had the greatest impact on events is sometimes a monster and that’s why past winners included Adolf Hitler (1938) and Joseph Stalin (1939 and 1942).
Of the twelve mentioned for this year, Edward Snowden’s leaking of classified information from the NSA and Pope Francis’ day of peace for Syria lead the pack in sheer impact on the news. Kathleen Sebelius gets dubious credit as a newsmaker simply because the Obamacare debacle is blowing up before her eyes as we speak.
But news impact isn’t the only factor. In 2001, the logical choice would have been Osama bin Laden. But Americans wouldn’t have purchased the magazine if the country’s most hated terrorist were on the cover (unless it was bought as target practice). So Time put Rudy Guiliani on the cover.
And see, there’s the dirty little secret. This cover is ultimately about selling copies of a magazine.
Which is why you could see Time coming up with some fancy rationale why pop trash princess Miley Cyrus had the biggest impact. But will Miley fans really buy copies of Time magazine? Yeah, somehow I think the marketers at Time, Inc. realize that isn’t going to happen. No cover for you, Miley.
What about the Pope then? Well, you might think: “The media is totally anti-Catholic. There’s no way they would put a pope on the cover.” Well, that’s not true. Pope John XXIII was Man of the Year in 1962 and more recently Pope John Paul II received the nod in 1994.” And the media wasn’t friendly to Catholics in 1994.
So why would Time consider putting a pope on the cover again? Because Pope Francis has made not only real news impact (Syria), he has also generated interesting news as well (kissing the man disfigured by boils, riding the bus with the Cardinals, paying his own hotel bill). So he’s an interesting news figure. And interesting news figures sell news magazines. The average reader might purchase Time just to find out more about this pope from South America and see these photos of him doing this interesting things.
And that’s why I think Time magazine won’t put Snowden on the cover. “Oh, he’s the guy who leaked all the information that made the federal government all mad.” But it doesn’t make you want to buy the magazine. “Sebelius? Who’s that? Oh, Obama’s health secretary. In charge of Obamacare. Got it.Yeah, that’s a total mess. But I already know that.” Doesn’t make you want to buy the magazine.
There’s another reason that Time would put Pope Francis on the cover.
It gives the media an opportunity to compare and contrast Pope Francis against his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI, whose resignation occurred in 2013 of course. The media loved to refer to the gentle German professor turned Pope as “God’s Rottweiler.” Other more nasty attacks falsely accused him of Nazi-sympathies (despite the fact they killed his cousin with Downs’ Syndrome).
Ah, and Pope Francis is nothing like that strict, sour, angry German, our Media Overlords will tell us. He’s a happy, tolerant, Pope from the new World. He isn’t “obsessed” about abortion and gays. He’s focused on the lost sheep, the poor and focused on peace. That a pope has no ability to make the Catholic Church pro-abortion won’t in any way stop the media from a golden opportunity to use the dynamism of this man to bludgeon Catholics who work hard to promote the dignity of human life and the sanctity of marriage. In fact, it seems that the magazine might have let the cat get out of the bag yesterday anyway.
So I’ll be surprised tomorrow if someone other than Pope Francis is selected as Person of the Year.