On Tuesday, Time Magazine announced the magazine's coveted person of the year: Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the United States Federal Reserve. As is often the case, many people seem unconvinced that the winner deserved the victory. But even after looking beyond Ben Bernanke's merits as an effective chairman, there are three reasons why this was a poor selection on Time's part.
The first has to do with democracy. A few months ago, Time Magazine made a list of final candidates for this title available on its website and began collecting votes. I found out about it after multiple Iranian activists contacted me from Iran with the exciting news that "Iran Protesters" had been selected as one of the finalists. In the weeks that followed, hundreds of thousands of Iranians and non-Iranians from around the world went to Time's website and voted to make "Iran Protesters" the Person(s) of the Year.
On Wednesday morning when the Time's person of the year was announced, Iran Protesters stood at 573,561 votes in first place. Second place was Barack Obama -- a previous Time's person of the year -- at 111,848. Steve Jobs took third place with 86,729 votes. With 63,250 and an average rating of 32, which was almost a third of the average rating for Iran Protesters, was Ben Bernanke in sixth place.
This was not a vote that an external party decided to put together. The online opinion polls and voting was made available by Time Magazine's own official website. The overwhelming winner was "Iran Protesters" with more votes than those in places second through eight, combined.
It is very ironic that what sparked the historic Green Movement in Iran that is vigorously continuing today was President Ahmadinejad's coup d'état after cheating Iranians out of their votes for Mir Hossein Mousavi. And today, Time Magazine did the same thing to Iranians by completely disregarding the will of its own readers. Thanks to Time, Iranians got cheated out of their votes ... again.
The second criticism has to do with the elite-centric mentality of the editors at Time Magazine. Over the past thirty years, twenty-six of the winners were heads of states (with Mikhail Gorbachev and Bill Clinton each winning twice) and two of them have been non-human (earth and the computer) while only four have been a collection of more than one individual. Even in the case of political movements, such as the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and Solidarity Movement in Poland, it was the leaders -- rather than the people -- who won the title. This is important because it shows that Time Magazine seems to assume that it is predominantly the contribution of the elite at the top that does the most to make a movement successful. This cannot be further from the truth. In fact, what makes massive social and political movements successful is the collaborative effort of thousands, if not millions, of people throughout long stretches of time. It's the foot soldiers in a movement against repressive systems that are the most vulnerable and do the most to stand against tyranny and endure torture and brutality, because they believe in working together toward a cause that is bigger than themselves.
The third and perhaps most fundamental criticism has to do with the selection of an American bureaucrat as the Time's Person of the Year. There were four runners-up for the title, two of whom -- Stanley McChrystal and Nancy Pelosi -- were also Americans. This means that 60% of Time's candidates came from a country whose population makes up about 4% of the world population.
This kind of disproportionate representation is an indication that Time Magazine seems to be stuck in a post Cold War, American centric mentality of the early 1990s. It is true that following the end of Cold War, the world had for the first time entered a unipolar arrangement with the United States standing as its single superpower. But this century is marked by major changes in the balances of power. Continents have seen the rise of major regional powers that are exerting ever more influence on global affairs. The European Union is posing a serious challenge to the competitiveness of the United States, Brazil and South Africa have risen as major powers in South America and Africa respectively, and China and India have been growing at rapid rates with the former underwriting trillions of dollars of American debt. But although the rest of the world is rising and other peoples are playing more significant roles in the world relative to the United States, Time Magazine seems to be in denial. It claims to be a global publication, but it continues to overstate the influence of American actors over those of the rest of the world.
Some make the argument that Time is an American magazine and has the right to focus on American topics. That argument lacks merit because the magazine has selected foreign individuals on occasion as persons of the year. Time is either an openly U.S.-centric publication that selects influential individuals in American life for Persons of the Year, or it is global such as The Economist and gives the same amount of weight to the accomplishments of peoples from around the world as it does to Americans. It cannot claim to be one but act as the other.
Some may think that the magazine's refusal to select Iranians as Persons of the Year should not be a matter of concern. Most of these individuals are the same people who didn't mind when the Western media stopped covering the massive Green Movement after Michael Jackson died. But the reality is that as the movement is in one of its most sensitive stages with student leaders and activists facing ever more instances of repression and torture, many of them express frustration about the Western media's complete lack of coverage of these events.
Iranians believe, rightly so, that the smallest amount of media coverage could give them significant momentum and uncover the brutalities of the Iranian regime, which has historically shown to be extremely sensitive to media coverage. In this context, the Time Magazine could have done a significant favor for the Green Movement and global cause of human rights by selecting Iranians for its coveted title, forcing the Western media to give up its steadfast denial of the movement's continued rigor and begin covering the events. Just five minutes of coverage every few days will do, and Americans won't be surprised when the Iranian regime reaches its inevitable end.
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