Monday, December 28, 2020

TIME's odd choice for "Person of the Year"

TIME's 2020 "Person of the Year"

by George J. Dance

In one respect, TIME magazine's choice of Person of the Year was unsurprising. Back in 1932, when the title was still "Man of the Year," TIME's choice was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the first Democrat to be elected POTUS in the magazine's history. Since then the editors have automatically awarded it to every Democratic president – Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama – but one upon his election. (The exception was John Kennedy, who won the cover the following year.) 

In fairness, TIME's motives have not been merely partisan. It gave the honor and the cover to Ronald Reagan on his election as well. It gave every GOP president after Roosevelt the same honor and cover at least once in his term. And since 1999, when the title was changed to "Person of the Year," the magazine has bestowed it on every incoming president, Democrat or Republican alike. This recurring outcome (one cannot even call it a choice) reflected a widespread consensus that, come what may, the U.S. presidential election was the most important story of the year; the one that "affected the news or our lives the most, for better or worse," as the magazine puts it. 

So it was no surprise that TIME's choice for 2020 Person of the Year was Joe Biden. Biden won the presidential election, and Biden was a Democrat; to TIME, what else would matter? Still, to many readers besides myself, this year's choice must have seemed odd.

For one thing, while Biden appeared on the shortlist by himself, he ended up having to split the award with his running mate, Kamala Harris. That unprecedented decision wins points for diversity – balancing off the old white guy with a younger, racially mixed woman – but loses points for grammar. How are Biden and Harris collectively a "person"? Why not call them "People of the Year"? Or, if more specificity is required, "Persons of the Year"? 

It is not as if TIME had never heard of plural pronouns; when the editors gave George H.W. Bush a cover, after all, they dubbed him "Men of the Year ". To me, it looks most like a case of sloppy editing: TIME's editors made a last-minute decision to include Harris, for the sake of the "Movement for Racial Justice" (another candidate on TIME's "Person of the Year" shortlist), but none of them thought to change that word of the headline. 

For another thing, the U.S. presidential election was clearly not the story that affected the news or our lives most in 2020. By any margin, that belonged to the coronavirus pandemic and the worldwide human response to it. Why did the coronavirus not make the cover, or even the shortlist? Sure, a virus is not a person, but TIME has bestowed the cover on non-humans before. In 1982, it was given to "The Computer." In 1988, president-elect Bush was passed over for "The Endangered Earth," which won as "Planet of the Year." 

If "Virus of the Year" would have been too much in bad taste, there were more popular alternatives available. Why not the front-line health-care workers who have been hailed since March as the undisputed heroes of 2020? (TIME did put "Frontline Health Care Workers and Dr. Anthony Fauci" together on its shortlist.) Or the scientists and business executives who brought us vaccines in record time? Or, since we're including "for worse," the people responsible for pushing the world into lockdown: a far more newsworthy event, and one with longer-term ramifications, than the coronavirus pandemic itself?   

Finally, TIME's choice appeared odd (to me, at least) because of the expectation that the "Person of the Year" must have done something notable to deserve the honor. Yet neither half of TIME's person did anything of note in 2020. Harris's primary campaign was a disaster, which led to her withdrawal amid general speculation that her political career was finished. So was Biden's campaign in the early stages, and his eventual victory in the primaries was almost entirely due to Jim Clyburn, not to anything Biden did. 

Even after clinching the nomination, Biden hardly campaigned, hunkering down in his basement to emerge only with the odd policy pronouncement – from a nationwide lockdown in March to a nationwide facemask mandate in September – that often turned out to be unconstitutional. For the most part, Biden was simply AWOL. In his absence, the Democratic campaign was taken up by the usual media suspects – the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, NBC and MSNBC, et al – who successfully framed the election as a referendum on Donald Trump. The presidential campaign became a series of exchanges between Trump and a rotating host of surrogate opposition figures, from Andrew Cuomo to Anthony Fauci. 

When Biden finally had to surface, in the election debates, Trump clearly had the best of him; but by then not many Americans cared. The only choice that mattered by that point was Trump or not-Trump; Biden himself (that is, Biden as anything but "not-Trump") was irrelevant. 

My conclusion, from this odd choice, is that TIME magazine (and with it a good portion of the American mainstream media) is sadly unaware of what really most affects the news and our lives.

1 comment:

  1. TIME caters to the woke demographic along with many other “venerable” mainstream magazines. Their choice reflects the modern, mainstream “progressive” political culture that has been created over the last 20 years. It began within public Education institutions from kindergarten through to postgraduate university studies, then it’s graduates have infiltrated politics, the mainstream media, book & magazine publishers, public institutions at every level, labour unions & and their members, HR policies within corporations, and the Tech Social Media giants.

    To reverse this trend, it will take “an act of God”, but since God apparently approves of “progressivism” via churches and mosques, don’t expect God to take out a Libertarian party membership card anytime soon.