Hero of the Year
On weasel words, this year's most laudable souls, and why Time Magazine should quit hiding behind "Person of the Year" and tell the world what their values are
Time Magazine has performed its annual act of grand self-promotion by naming a Person of the Year. The choice this year was obvious: Volodymyr Zelenskyy. He not only qualifies as one of the year's most substantial newsmakers, he is also easy to defend as a righteous character.
■ Of course, the "Person of the Year" designation perpetually stirs up the debate over whether the title is an honorific or not. Time implicitly denies that the title is meant as as an honor: It lists four individuals (chosen a total of five times) who rank as "controversial choices": Hitler, Stalin, Khrushchev, and Khomeini. Presidents of the United States are vastly over-represented in proportion to their absolute virtue, and both groups and inanimate objects have been over-selected as well.
■ What Time could do to serve a genuine purpose -- and to make a real editorial statement, as a self-respecting publication ought to do -- is to name specific Persons of the Year, according to what characteristics they represent. Zelenskyy? Easily a "Hero of the Year".
■ But what about a "Movement of the Year"? That could well be awarded to the protesters in Iran who are courageously demanding their liberties, often at great personal hazard. It's a movement worthy of global support, and the editors of a publication benefitting from the protections of the First Amendment should be willing to say so without ambiguity.
■ The NASA team behind the Artemis program could justifiably be named the "Trailblazers of the Year". After half a century, not only is the free world going back to the Moon, it is doing so with a team that looks like America and a leadership structure that values women as much as men. The same could not have been said of the Apollo program, nor could it be said of rival space programs.
■ Time could well charge itself with naming someone as a "Coward of the Year", and certainly a "Contemptible of the Year", too. It is worthwhile to name champions, but it can also be righteous to name villains. Had they come right out and named their past "controversial choices" as "contemptibles" or "cowards", perhaps the choices would not need to be couched today in weasel words like "controversial".
■ Every publication has its own prerogatives, and Time could just as easily stop its practice as reform it. But the editors and publishers won't, because the publicity makes the publication seem relevant. Given the inevitable assumption that the choice involves some weighing of right and wrong, surely it's worth offering a firmer definition of what qualifies the Person of the Year for the title (or for any subordinate title). Every editorial decision is a matter of judgment and choice. There's no reason to avoid making it clear.