Person of the Year is an annual issue of U.S. newsmagazine TIME that features a profile ostensibly on the man, woman, couple, group, idea, place, or machine that "for better or worse, has most influenced events in the preceding year."
The tradition of selecting a Man of the Year began in 1927, when Time editors contemplated what they could write about during a slow news week. Primarily, they sought to remedy an editorial embarrassment from earlier that year when the magazine did not put aviator Charles Lindbergh on its cover following his historic trans-Atlantic flight. At the end of the year, they came up with the idea of a cover story about Charles Lindbergh being the "Man of the Year."
Since then, a person, group of people (either a team of select individuals or a demographic category), or in two special cases, an invention and the planet Earth, has been selected for a special issue at the end of every year. In 2000, the title was broadened to Person of the Year. However, the only women to win the renamed award were those in 2002 who were recognized as "The Whistleblowers." Four women were awarded the title when it was still Man of the Year: Corazon Aquino in 1986, Queen Elizabeth II in 1952, Soong May-ling in 1937 and Wallis Simpson in 1936. Oddly, the title is not limited to people — "The Computer" and "Endangered Earth" have each won once.
Every elected President of the United States since Franklin Delano Roosevelt has been a Person of the Year at least once. Some may have been chosen for little more than winning a close election.
The December 31, 1999 issue of TIME named Albert Einstein the Person of the Century.
The title is, in ignorance, sometimes mistakenly assumed to be an honor. There was a massive public backlash in the United States after Time named Ayatollah Khomeini Man of the Year in 1979. Since then, Time has generally shied away from choosing controversial candidates. Time's Person of the Year 2001 — in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks — was New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani. It was a somewhat controversial result; many thought that Giuliani was deserving, but many others thought that the rules of selection ("the individual or group of individuals who have had the biggest effect on the year's news") made the obvious choice Osama bin Laden. They cited previous choices such as Adolf Hitler to demonstrate that Person of the Year did not necessarily mean "best human being of the year". It is interesting to note that the edition which declared Rudolph Giuliani as Person of the Year included a section that mentioned their earlier choices of Ayatollah Khomeini as Man of the Year and rejection of Hitler as Person of the Century. This suggested to many that Osama bin Laden was a stronger candidate than Giuliani for Person of the Year and Hitler was a stronger candidate than Albert Einstein for Person of the Century, but they were not selected due to their "negative" roles.
According to stories in respected newspapers, Time's editors anguished over the choice, reasonably fearing that selecting the al-Qaeda leader might offend readers and advertisers. Bin Laden had already appeared on its covers on October 1, November 12, and November 26. Many readers expressed dissatisfaction at the idea of seeing his face on the cover again. In the end, Giuliani's selection led some to criticize that Time had failed to uphold its own declared standards.
In recent years, the choices for Person of the Year have also been criticized for being too Americentric, which is a departure from the original tradition of recognizing foreign political leaders and thinkers. The last non-American Person of the Year was Pope John Paul II in 1994. Thirty-six Persons of the Year were born in the USA, while only 29 foreigners have been selected.
People of the Year
TIME's 2004 Person of the Year Cover
- Time's 100 most influential people of 2004
- Yearly Time covers (http://www.time.com/time/personoftheyear/archive/covers/1927.html)