Time magazine revealed the 2011 choice for its iconic Person of the Year cover live on TODAY Wednesday. The Protester is this year’s choice, managing editor Rick Stengel told Matt Lauer and Ann Curry.
“There was a lot of consensus among our people,” Stengel told the TODAY anchors as he revealed the magazine’s cover. “It felt right.”
As it has for the past 84 years, the weekly newsmagazine selected the person (or sometimes group, or thing) that its editors deemed had the single greatest impact during the past year, for better or for worse. Time’s Person of the Year has been a perennial topic of year-end debate ever since aviator Charles Lindbergh was chosen the first Man of the Year back in 1927 (the title was amended to Person of the Year in 1999). But the title is not necessarily an accolade; while many presidents, political leaders, innovators and captains of industry have been cited, some of the more notorious Persons of the Year include Adolf Hitler in 1938, Joseph Stalin in 1943 and Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979. There have also been more conceptual choices, such as “the American Fighting-Man” (1950), “Middle Americans” (1969), and this year’s choice, The Protester.
Polled online earlier this week, hundreds of TODAY.com readers came up with many other nominees for 2011, including late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and SEAL Team 6, who killed Osama bin Laden.
“Gabrielle Giffords is in the magazine,” Stengel pointed out when Lauer mentioned the support for her and Jobs. "Steve Jobs is in the beginning of our Farewell section.” (The Farewell section spotlights the most noteworthy deaths of the year.)
Via Facebook, TODAY.com reader April Merenda said Jobs should be the choice “to make up for (Time) not getting it right in 1984 as well as acknowledging his contribution to our global society and generations to come.” Reader ririjam suggested “the three women who just won the Nobel Peace Prize” or first lady Michelle Obama, who “has maintained grace and dignity.”
And Time conducted its own poll last month, offering a list of 34 candidates that ranged from prominent political leaders to pop culture icons. Time’s list included Casey Anthony, Herman Cain, Kim Kardashian, Steve Jobs, and such movements and groups as “The 99%” (and “The 1%”), and the international hacking collective Anonymous.
Time also revealed the runners-up for 2011 Person of the Year on its website, Time.com. Coming in No. 2 on the list is Admiral William H. McRaven, who organized the raid that led to the death of Osama bin Laden in May (a choice similar to the popular TODAY.com nominee SEAL Team 6).
The No. 3 choice is Ai Wei Wei, the Chinese conceptual artist and activist who helped design Beijing National Stadium for the 2009 Olympics — and was held incommunicado for 81 days and interrogated some 50 times by Chinese authorities last spring and summer while supporters around the world petitioned for his release.
No. 4 on Time’s list is Rep. Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican whom the magazine credits with bringing to the front of the national consciousness an issue that Washington was loath to confront: America’s ballooning national debt.
And coming in No. 5: Duchess Kate. Having captured the attention and affection of millions, the magazine says, the former Kate Middleton is now “poised to reinvent celebrity with restraint.”
“Admiral McRaven captured bin Laden, and the Duchess of Windsor captured our hearts,” Stengel commented on TODAY. Still, he added, “It’s not a lifetime achievement award.”
So in the end, it was the image of The Protester — summarizing mass actions against dictators in the Middle East, anti-drug cartel sentiment in Mexico, marches against unaccountable leaders in Greece, the America-spawned Occupy movement, and dissent from the Putin regime in Russia — that appeared on Time’s 2011 Person of the Year cover.
“There’s this contagion of protest,” Stengel said on TODAY Wednesday. “These people who risked their lives... I think it is changing the world for the better.”
Read more about the Time Person of the Year at Time.com. Follow @Time on Twitter for more on #POY2011.