Time’s Person of the Year: Usually A Person

pbumpSoon, my friends – soon we will know who the Gods of Journalistic Objectivity have determined to be the “Person of the Year,” as featured in Time magazine. You may have heard that the two people leading the pack right now are Mr. Twitter and Dame Economy.

This, at least, according to the judgment of a panel comprised of the following people: Rudy Giuliani, Barbara Walters, Dr. Mehmet Oz, Gayle King, Tom Colicchio and the Honorable Luke Ravenstahl. (I’d heard of five of those people, though Ravenstahl only made the cut because my sister lives in Pittsburgh.) This distinguished crew’s final vote: three votes for Twitter, three for the economy. (Hey sis! Your Mayor thinks Twitter is a person!)

For fifty-five years from 1927 to 1982, Time (which originally conceived of the “Man of the Year” during a slow news week) managed to bestow the honor on actual people. But everything went haywire after the magazine named Ayatollah Khomeini the honoree in 1979. It’s hard to deny that Khomeini had enormous impact on the world that year, but people weren’t thrilled with the bestowing of a putative honor on someone whose minions were holding Americans hostage. Time got cautious – so, after two years with obvious winners (Ronald Reagan and Lech Walesa) they copped out. In 1982, they declared The Computer “Machine of the Year;” Alan Turing likely rolled over in his grave.

In following years, the trend continued. In 1984, the winner was Peter Ueberroth, in recognition of the awesome job he did with the 1984 Olympics. (Americans won every single event including “Machine of the Year.”) In 1988, Time declared the winner to be the Earth, though our home planet won only because the Moon and its allies boycotted.

Let’s say, then, just for the sake of argument, that Time actually declares a human being to be the winner of its 2009 competition. I crunched the numbers to figure out how likely that was and if we might be able to make any predictions of who will win based on past awardees. Below, they’re categorized by gender, nationality, reason for winning and personhood. Spoiler! Predictions can be made.

Winners, by gender
Time has five times (five) named women as stand-alone honorees. Those five were: Wallis Simpson, who was able to marry the King of England once he abdicated his throne; Queen Elizabeth II; Corazon Aquino; a group of corporate whistleblowers all of whom happened to be women; and, in 1975, Women. Women, as in every single American woman. (So if you’re an American woman who was alive in 1975, you’ve won the award twice: as a woman, and as You, in 2006. Congrats.)

There have been slightly more times when a pairing or group including both genders won (including some groupings like “The American Soldier”) – but on the whole, this is an old boy’s club.

Winners, by nationality
The color in that map is scaled from light to dark orange; the more winners from a country, the darker the orange. See where we’re going with this?

Time is an American magazine, of course, so it’s not terribly surprising that the vast majority of award winners hail from here. And don’t be upset that you’re not recognized, Canadians – for the past fourteen years you’ve had your own award. (Which has gone to ten different people, no women, and, two years ago, to the Canadian dollar.)

Reason for Winning
Winners, by reason
This is a bit more subjective – but it’s unarguably the case that most of the winners have been politicians or political newsmakers. Please, feel free to debate my categorizations (derived, I should note, from Wikipedia’s index of winners). “Change,” for example refers to winners chosen for the social change they represent. Think MLK or Gandhi. Or Kissinger.

Winners, by what they were, so to speak
Most of the time, the Person of the Year is a person, or, at the very least, a group of people. The odds that we end up with a Twitter or economy victor? 1 in 50. I’ll take those odds.

So. Any predictions?

Actually, that majority combination – an American male who operates in the political world – has only won about a third of the time. Since Obama won last year, it seems unlikely that he’ll win again (Nobel not withstanding) – and it’s hard to think of what politician has had a bigger impact than him. So who else might it be?

Time’s goal, of course, is to sell magazines, so they may go for something controversial. Probably not Hitler (1938), Stalin (1939, 1942) or Khomeini (1979) controversial. But maybe Johnson (1933) controversial.

Hugh Johnson was pretty much exactly what the radical right thinks Obama is: a head of the National Recovery Administration in FDR’s New Deal who was also reported to be a fascist. In fact, Time itself helped to out him, noting that, during a Recovery Administration parade, Johnson raised his hand in a “continuous Fascist salute.” Oddly, though, that article came out the same year as Johnson’s award. Public perception of fascism changed a lot between 1933 and 1945, for whatever reason.

Who fits the mold of being “Johnson controversial”? Someone who would be considered unacceptable by half of America. Think of former Governors you know.

A safe bet is that Time, no matter who it chooses, hopes to avoid what happened with their 1931 choice, Pierre Laval. Laval, the first European to be picked, was named while the world struggled to emerge from the Great Depression. Newly elected as Premier of the Republic, Laval’s optimism in the face of increasing international and economic tensions and a then-famous tete-a-tete with Herbert Hoover made him a media darling.

However. Following the outbreak of World War Two, and the accession of a large part of France by Germany, Laval, though historically antagonistic to the Germans, became the head of the Vichy (German-controlled) state. In that role, he collaborated with Nazi Germany, including facilitating the deportation of non-French Jews to concentration camps. After the war, Laval was tried for treason by the French Government and executed, with some good reason.

Man of the Year!

Time’s accolade, while always tainted by marketing needs, has been through a particularly rough stretch. (Case in point: one-third of the past nine winners have been George W. Bush or Rudy Giuliani.) There are three options for the magazine this year: name a deserving person and sell fewer magazines, name an undeserving person and be mocked, or name a thing and be mocked. Not an envious position for a stumbling business.

So I offer a solution: me. I’m American, male, and have worked in politics. I use Twitter and participate (however modestly) in the economy. Am I deserving of the award? No. But I promise – I swear on my future children – I will not commit treason, resulting in my execution. Which must count for something.

Of course, I also just won in 2006. This deciding thing is harder than it looks.

Geraldo Rivera Squares Off Against Ann Coulter and Judge Pirro On 9/11 Trials

Picture 4Once you’ve heard from those directly involved, it’s time to turn the issue over to the screaming heads. Sunday morning on Geraldo At Large, a particularly boisterous panel, featuring Rivera, Ann Coulter, Judge Jeanine Pirro and comedian Joe Piscopo, took on the issue of the recently announced 9/11 terror trials to take place in New York City.

With a “tsunami of reaction” flooding in since the federal government’s decision to try Khalid Sheik Mohammed and his alleged co-conspirators on U.S. soil, in federal court, Rivera sees justice that will “reverberate” throughout the world. His emotional appeal and search for a symbolic victory seem noble, and play well on TV despite the lack of a legal basis. But on Fox News’ Sunday lineup, he’s outnumbered. ”I suspect, Ann, that you’re not very happy with my position on this particular issue,” Rivera began.

“A lot rides on this for Obama,” Coulter said, stating that either the Obama administration gets a conviction and looks like a “macho studs” or “they blame everything on the Bush administration.” At this point, she’s on auto-pilot as she derrides the “crazy liberal base of the left,” specifically frequent targets MSNBC and MoveOn.org. Never quite stating a position, Coulter’s airtime is limited, leaving her a less imposing panel member than usual, but it’s clear that she believes that a war act deserves a military tribunal, despite Rivera’s point that most of the murdered were civilians.

And Coulter is none too fond of the trial’s planned locale: “We’re in New York…,” she noted, scoffing at the well-known bastion of sin also known as the island of Manhattan.

Rivera remained confident, but emotional, saying that the “sissy muderin’ pig Khalid Sheik Mohammed” has confessed “out his tushy” since he was captured, making a conviction a sure thing. 

Judge Pirro, meanwhile, made the strongest, most convincing case in the short panel format, arguing that it is clear from the start that these suspects have been treated unconstitutionally and argues that there’s no reason to give them rights now, for fear of a judge throwing out the case. “This is insanity! We are affording Constitutional rights to war criminals,” she said. Her legal background and rhetorical passion made her the clear panel leader, even with Rivera’s patriotic, New York-centric appeals.

Piscopo provided the comic relief, recommending a Sopranos-style end for the suspected terrorists. “What happened to good old fashioned covert action?” he asked. Check out the whole dialogue in the clip below:

Newsweek Cover Races To The Bottom With Old Photo Of Palin


How to solve a problem like the coverage of Sarah Palin? According to Newsweek you take the low road. The weekly magazine, which since its relaunch has opted for increasingly blogosphere-like headlines to generate readers, apparently has decided that the best way to cover Sarah Palin’s reemergence on the national stage is with a old photo from Runner’s World (Palin is well known for running marathons). Wow. Were there no other photos available? Did they perhaps neglect the Google search option in their rush to be as condescending and marginalizing as possible? Maybe so. The headline, however, would suggest otherwise.

Yesterday Steve Krakauer noted that MSNBC had provided us with preview of one way Palin would be welcomed back — “with marginalization, jokes and borderline sexist segments.” And I noted that without question “there will be more than enough reasons to hold Palin to account in the coming weeks without resorting to infuriating nonsense like this.” And she will, as she usually does every time she opens her mouth. But resorting to a photo like this (and yes I realize she posed for it, though in an entirely different context) to accompany such a condescending headline makes me conclude that Newsweek thinks she is an annoying little problem because she looks good in runners shorts and not a problem because, as both the magazine’s articles suggest, she is the 21st century’s version of Barry Goldwater and has broad national appeal, for a whole slew of reason, very few of which having to do with how she looks in runner’s shorts.

The fact of the matter is she is a problem and the accompanying article is actually well-argued — pointing out history is not on Palin’s side in term’s a populist nominee winning the White House — and worth a read, as is Meacham’s column which touches on many of the same points. But wow does that cover make me not care what the magazine has to say. Of course the fact that picture exists in the first place makes me wish more that Palin was capable of exercising better judgement and that the most powerful woman in the Republican party wasn’t quite so easy to mock.

White House’s Anita Dunn Shreds Fox News Again, Fox Responds

Obama's TeamOutgoing White House Communications Director Anita Dunn made a parting strafing run at Fox News on Friday, calling the network out for airing misleading crowd footage, jumping the gun on an announcement of a Presidential interview and letting its opinion tail wag the news dog. In doing so, she heavily name-checked her should-be successor, The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart.

Fox News’ spokespeople responded swiftly, passively and aggressively.

Here’s a sampling of Dunn’s remarks (via HuffPo):

“A fun fact from this week is that an opinion show on a certain news network was using edited footage to make it appear that a rally last week, and political opposition to the president, was much larger than it appeared,” said Dunn, during her appearance at the Bloomberg News Washington Summit. “Some of you may have heard about it. The people who went in and did fact checking on that, and actually exposed the spliced edited was… Jon Stewart of the ‘Daily Show’ on Comedy Central. Well that is where you are getting fact-checking and investigative journalism these days folks. It is a different media environment.”

She rewound a little bit to talk about the bleed-through of Fox’s opinion programs to their news desk:

…”Jon Stewart actually did one of the most amazing pieces of journalism last week or a couple of weeks ago,” she said, “in which he looked at the way Fox, on their opinion shows, raises some issue that then gets reported on by their news division as ‘a controversy.’ … Now, that’s a point of view. That’s fine. That’s entertainment. It helps their ratings. But I think if you go downstairs and walk through the Newseum that’s not traditionally what you think of as traditional news — to some extent inventing the story.”

On reports leaked to Drudge, and confirmed by Fox News, that Major Garrett had scored an interview with the President on his current Asia trip:

“We have on past foreign trips done what are called round-robins where there are short interviews with all of the networks that travel with us,” she said. “We have not made a decision network on whether or not we are going to do those. There are no confirmed television interviews in china. And if, oh, some network sent out a press release announcing that was going to happen you’d have to ask about that network and whether or not they really had their facts confirmed before they leaked that.”

Fox News responded by wishing Dunn well. Again.

“We wish her well in her new position where we’re sure she’ll continue providing brilliant strategic vision,” a Fox News spokesperson told the Huffington Post in response to Dunn’s parting shots against the network.

Fox’s laudatory view of Dunn’s strategy may have been sarcastic, but as our own Colby Hall pointed out, that strategy did accomplish a very important mission. Furthermore, although the White House took heavy criticism while the feud raged on, since the ostensible truce, Fox has been reinforcing the White House’s view. In addition to the Hannity incident, Fox’s response to Dunn points up a more recent example. Of the reported Presidential interview, Fox News issued a strangely damning correction:

“Once again, Anita has her facts wrong,” the spokesperson said. “Fox News never issued a press release.”

Anita was only half-wrong. While she did reference a press release, she also characterized the story as a leak. By denying issuing a press release, Fox appeared to be copping to the leak; a leak of information that was given to them off-the-record. In their zeal to juxtapose Dunn’s exit with news of a major “get,” did Fox News, again, prove the White House’s point?

Pamela Anderson Helps Defeat Whale Penis SUV

dartzThanks to actress Pamela Anderson, among others, overcompensating jillionaires the world over will now be denied the Holy Grail of douchy excess: a giant, armored SUV with an interior crafted in genuine whale penis leather. Russian automaker Dartz has bowed to pressure from Anderson, and other environmentalists, and has pulled the feature from its Pombron Monaco Red Diamond Edition SUV.

Not to worry, though. The pricey ride still comes with plenty of pointless luxury. Jalopnik lists the car’s non-penile features:

* Ruby Red matte paint
* Gold-plated bulletproof windows
* 22″ Kremlin Red Star bulletproof wheels
* Tungsten exhaust
* Tungsten and white gold gauges with diamonds and rubies
* White gold diamond and ruby encrusted badges – grill, side and dashboard
* Special edition Vertu mobile phone with “alert” button
* Additional outside kevlar coating
* Rogue Acoustic Audio System.

While the gold-plated windows and diamond-and-ruby encrusted gauges are impressive, the cars come with 3 bottles of vodka, the flasks of which are made from melted antique gold coins. The bottle’s cap features a diamond-encrusted eagle. The only thing missing here is a cigarette lighter with a supply of ignitable $100 bills.

Dartz announced Tuesday that it would drop whale penis from its list of options, saying “We want to tell our hello to all whales: “Our Sea Brothers! We all know that earth are stand on three whales – we will keep You live! We don’t Earth fall down to Ocean!”

Instead, they’re foregoing leather entirely, and will “focus on world most advanced nanotechnologies to achieve interior highest quality using artificial materials which also was never used for cars.”

So, the next time you see one of these, you can rest assured that the only dick in the car is the driver.

Yoani Sánchez Goes on the Attack

The story of the attack on three Cuban bloggers a week ago is still developing. Not only did more international organizations denounce the incident – most notably Human Rights Watch and the Interamerican Press Association, the latter with a statement affirming that Cuba holds 27 reporters in jail – but Yoani Sánchez used her blog and Twitter account to move from prey to vigilante.

On Wednesday night, Sánchez announced through Twitter — to her over 13 thousand followers — that she had identified one of her attackers as “Agent Rodney,” linking to a picture of the man on the blog Penúltimos Días. (A later post on this blog identified the agent’s last name and the address of his father.)

Yoani Attacker Tweet

Yoani Agent Rodney

On Thursday, she published a post on Generation Y describing the constant surveillance she is subjected to, including pictures of those who, she says, “watch and harass” her – the “beings of the shadows.”

Some of them were running away; a woman covered her face, “perhaps afraid of the future,” Sánchez wrote.

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After all, as she tweeted later that day from her cellphone, “If Twitter cannot be used as a loudspeaker for those condemned to silence, what is its real purpose?”

Yoani Speaker Tweet

All this echoes something she said to us when we spoke to her on Sunday: “They still haven’t understood the potential of the web.”

The 375 Worst Actors and Directors of the Past Decade

Screen shot 2009-11-13 at 1.38.32 PMRotten Tomatoes has unveiled what it deems its Worst of the Worst, those movies of the past decade that received the worst reviews.

Not surprisingly, Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever was the number one worst movie, with a grand total of 0% good reviews. The cast was promising: – Antonio Banderas, Lucy Liu – so why so bad? Do you really want to see it to find out? That goes pretty much for all the movies on the list — from Glitter to Swept Away to The Hottie And The Nottie.

Which prompted a natural follow-up question: what directors and actors had the worst results on Rotten Tomatoes from 2000-2009? Thanks to computers, we have the answer.

First, the methodology. Each person (actor or director) was given a number of points that corresponded to how badly the movie did. The 100th worst movie earned a participant 1 point – Ecks vs. Sever earned 100. Directors, however, deserve special blame for resultant crappiness, so they were given a 50% mark-up on their scores.

Which leads us to our list: the 375 Worst Actors and Directors of the Past Decade. (To be fair, most of these people were in one moderately bad movie, but that title is so catchy, we’re sticking with it.)

Here are the top ten:

  1. Uwe Boll
  2. Jason Friedberg
  3. Aaron Seltzer
  4. Roberto Benigni
  5. Larry the Cable Guy
  6. Natascha McElhone
  7. Zach Cregger
  8. Trevor Moore
  9. Stephen Dorff
  10. Kaos

Number 1 is no surprise – Uwe Boll. Somehow, a director who makes deliberately terrible movies is still given money to do so.

Likewise with Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer – their insipid Movie movies are designed to cost a minimal amount and make up for it by fooling enough teenagers into coming that they end up being profitable.

As for number 4 – Roberto Benigni’s role as actor and director of the terrible Pinnochio did double damage. Is it fair to ding him twice for it? Yes.

Anyway, here’s the full list, as a sortable Google Doc. Points are calculated as above; “dings” are counted each time the person was in or directed a movie, regardless of rank. What do Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez, Dianne Weist, Scott Baio, Kal Penn, Brent Spiner, Jessica Alba, Bradley Cooper, Kate Beckinsale, Charlotte Rampling, Steve Martin and DJ Pooh all have in common? They’re aaaaaall in here. Enjoy.