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« Alone for Christmas | Main | Lit or Not-Lit? »

December 21, 2005

"Time" Marches On Into the Ditch?

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

To the hoots and sneers of a number of Internet denizens, Time Magazine recently unveiled its "Person of the Year" for 2005.

Actually, it's a trinity: rocker Bono and M & Mme Gates of Medina, Washington. And my two cents say the choice was an emergency-room case of lameness, given what has been going on in the world in 2005.

My second reaction to the selection was "Boy, Time has really been screwing up the PoY's in recent years!"

Was I being fair?

Well, as they almost used to say, "Let's roll the archives!" or videotape or whatever. A list and related links are here. I'll present the awardees by decade and score the results based on my (possibly warped) historical knowledge and judgment.

The first "Man of the Year" ("Person" came later) was Charles Lindbergh, for 1927. His New York to Paris flight was huge news in that peaceful year and it had a considerable impact on the popularity of aviation and the future of the aviation industry in its various guises. The next two MoY's were businessmen -- Walter Chrysler and Owen Young -- the latter was chairman of the war reparations conference, an important issue in those days. Call it two out of three, lumping Chrysler and Young together as a "one."

The 1930s MoY's were, in order, Gandhi, Pierre Laval, FDR, Hugh Johnson (of the NRA agency -- "We Do Our Part"), FDR again, Haile Selassie (king of Ethiopia, target of Mussolini's war), Wallis Simpson (King Edward VIII's flame), Generalissimo and Mme Chang Kai-Shek, Hitler, and for 1939, Stalin. I say Laval was a mistake and give half-points each to Gandhi and Wallis, so call the 30s eight of ten.

World War 2 and the Cold War dominated the 1940s, and Time selected Churchill, FDR, Stalin, Gen. George C. Marshall, Eisenhower, Truman, Secretary of State Byrnes, Marshall (now Secretary of State, and author of his Plan), Truman again and, in 1949, Churchill as "Man of the Half-Century." Somewhere in my heap of stuff I have a copy of the 1949 MoH-C issue. I say Time had a hot ten of ten run here.

The 1950s started with the Korean War "G.I. Joe", then Mohammed Mossadegh of Iran, Queen Elizabeth II, Konrad Adenauer, John Foster Dulles, Harlow Curtice of General Motors, Hungarian patriots (for their 1956 rebellion), Khrushchev, De Gaulle (for his return to power), and Eisenhower. My take is that Joe, QEII and Curtice were flat-out mistakes and that Mossadegh and Ike rate about half a point each, so my call is six of ten. The big question: Was Harry Luce asleep at the switch?

"U.S. Scientists" started the 1960s with a judgmental whimper. MoYs for the rest of the decade were JFK, Pope John XXIII, Martin Luther King, LBJ, Gen. Westmoreland (in Vietnam), "Young People," LBJ again, "U.S. Astronauts," and the "Middle Class." I say the scientists, Westmoreland and the middle class rate zip. The "Young People" award might have been a year or two premature, but much as it pains me to admit it, the Boomers did have (and still have) a great impact. I rate the astronauts at half a point. Call it 6.5 of ten.

The Seventies are as follows: Willy Brandt, Nixon, Nixon and Kissinger, Judge Sirica (Watergate), King Faisal (for the OPEC cartel), "U.S. Women," Jimmy Carter, Anwar Sadat of Egypt, Teng Hsiao-Ping, and the Ayatulla [Time's spelling] Khomeini. I say "American Women" was pure Political Correctness and that Willy Brandt was another bad choice. And I count Jimmy Carter as half a point, given the events of 1976, so it's 7.5/10 for the decade.

The Eighties got started with Ronald Reagan, followed by Lech Walesa (Poland's Solidarity movement), the personal computer, Reagan and the USSR's Yuri Andropov, Peter Ueberroth of the LA Olympics, Deng Xiaoping (new spelling), Corazon Aquino of the Philippines, Gorbachev, "The Endangered Earth," and Gorbachev (again) as "Man of the Decade." And NO Margaret Thatcher!! Inexcusable. Let's see ... for 1983, strike Andropov, leaving half a point for Reagan. Then zap Ueberroth, Aquino and Earth. The "Man of the Decade" award for Gorby is nonsense (that goes to Reagan in my book), but a MoY for '89 makes sense because of what he could have done, but didn't. The result? ... 6.5 of ten.

As for the 1990s, PoYs were George H.W. Bush, Ted Turner (for CNN and its live-TV coverage of the first Iraq war), Bill Clinton, "The Peacemakers" (Mandela, De Klerk, Rabin and Arafat), Pope John Paul II, Newt Gingrich, David Ho (an AIDs researcher), Andy Grove (of Intel), Clinton and Kenneth Starr (joint award), and Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com. Jeez -- where to start? I give zeroes to Ho, Grove and Bezos (fine guys I suppose, but not PoY material in my judgment). Bush 41 gets a grudging half point and the "Peacemakers" get a half because the disastrous Rabin-Arafat combo had an impact, but not the peaceful one Time used for its justification. I have mixed feelings about Turner, but he symbolizes a media-technology shift of genuine importance. Call it six of ten, barely.

The 2000-09 decade thus far has George W. Bush, Rudolph Giuliani, "The Whistleblowers" (Worldcom, Enron and FBI), "The American Soldier," Bush again, and this year's Terrific Trio. I give the 2000 award to W half a point. Ditto the soldiers -- they are outstanding, but PoY status strikes me as iffy. Whistleblowers and the Trio are zilches. So the decade score to date is three of six, according to me.

Lining up Pittenger's Percentages by decade we find: 67, 80, 100, 60, 65, 75, 65, 60 and 50.

My conclusion is that Time is indeed slipping on the MoY/PoY front.

On the infinitesimally small chance of disagreement, Comments are open. Fire away!

Later,

Donald

posted by Donald at December 21, 2005




Comments

Does anyone still read Time? Or Newsweek? On the rare occasions I've looked at a copy, there seems to be very little _there_ there (to paraphrase, IIRC, Gertrude Stein).

Posted by: Peter on December 21, 2005 11:40 PM



Have you noticed what else has been dropping? Notice of anything outside our own borders. 6/10 in the 30s, 5/10 in the 40s, vs 2/10 in the 90s and .33/5 in the 2000s. If anything, the rest of the world is even more relevant today, isn't it? I still think it's absurd that Osama didn't win POY in 2001, Vlad Putin has certainly been deserving, Lt. Col Bashir in Sudan, etc.

Posted by: cure on December 22, 2005 12:16 AM



Interesting to think about many of the old traditional magazine franchises generally: Man of the Year ... SI Swimsuit Issue ... The many End of the Year Best-Of orgies ... They all seem to me to have lost their luster, and the editors of all these "event" issues seem to me to be just going through the motions, hoping no one's noticed that the magic's no longer there. The whole idea of a magazine doing a "special issue" of any sort seems a little weird these days, for some reason ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 22, 2005 3:09 AM



They should have picked Bloggers, really. Especially back in 2001 or 2002 or 2003, or when did the Iraq war begin? The American Soldier got the award a bit too late, would you agree?

Posted by: Alexei on December 22, 2005 5:56 AM



Peter -- When I was a high school kid in the 50s I eagerly awaited the weekly arrival of Time in our mailbox. By the mid-80s I pretty much stopped reading news mags. I changed. The world changed. The news mags tried to change, but mostly seem to be running on inertia, as Michael points out in his comment.

cure -- I suppose you'ld have to ask past & present editors why the domestic focus had gotten heavier. I suspect a political agenda.

Michael -- True. But when the news cycle becomes nearly instataneous where can they hide other than in the interpretation/features bag. I see no way out, but maybe I lack imagination.

Alexei -- I think soldiers should have gotten the award in 2004 for having successfully adjusting to a new tactical situation rather than in '03 for the initial campaign (which was brilliantly done). And last year Time (in a shorter article in the PoY issue) did cite the Powerline Blog gang as "blog of the year" for coordinating the Dan Rather demolition.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on December 22, 2005 8:40 PM



That's funny, Donald. I followed the same pattern as you - read Time, got tired of Time, abandoned Time just after age twenty - only I did it in the mid 'nineties. Glancing through the odd issue now, I'm flummoxed as to what I ever saw in it.

I wonder if newsmagazines simply become irrelevant to anyone who grows beyond a teenager's level of intelligence?

Posted by: Brian on December 22, 2005 11:56 PM



Donald, I would choose 1945 or 1991, right after major victories. Whether this Iraq war will result in a military victory -- a total suppression of the insurgency that is -- I rather doubt.

Posted by: Alexei on December 23, 2005 1:53 AM



I thought this year's pick was pretty lame-o too. It was like...huh? The Iraqi voter or The Deficit or Islamic terrorists didn't have more impact than Bono? It was like they went out of their way to ignore what was really going on in the world. I thought "the whistleblowers" were pretty weak too, especially since nobody at the FBI has ever been disciplined for that "Islamic young men who want to learn to fly jets but not land them" thing. What exactly did she blow the whistle on? And Giuliani in 2001??? Not Osama Bin Laden??? Are they kidding?

Posted by: annette on December 26, 2005 12:28 PM



Bono's mug sells magazines.

Posted by: Dave F on December 29, 2005 4:50 AM






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