Time magazine has once again chosen US President Barack Obama as ‘person of the year.’ He beat seven other shortlisted contenders, including his Egyptian counterpart Mohammed Morsi and Pakistani activist for women’s education Malala Yousafzai.
The magazine calls Obama a cultural figure, “the symbol and in some ways the architect” of a new America, who spells the end of 30 years of US politics that began with the ‘Reagan realignment.’ The country that he represents is one that embraces gay marriage and undocumented immigrants. In this new America, fast-growing groups are gaining influence, promising greater diversity. Already the new generation of millennials is 40 percent non-white, and that demographic trend is here to stay.
Time said that Obama is worthy to be called Person of Year 2012 for “finding and forging a new majority, for turning weakness into opportunity and for seeking, amid great adversity, to create a more perfect union.”
The US president has received this award – given to the person who had the most influence on global affairs – for a second time. The first was in 2008, right after his election.
Obama was chosen from a shortlist of eight candidates announced by Time on Tuesday. Six of the nominees were among the top 20 entries in an online poll that the magazine conducted ahead of the selection.
The shortlist did not include the new leader of North Korea Kim Jong-Un, who won Time’s online poll of most influential people of the year with more than 5.6 million votes. Editors explained that the supreme leader of the isolated Asian nation got a boost from Internet pranksters, including members of the image board 4Chan.
The online poll may have been manipulated apart from Kim’s name being pushed to the top of the list. The first letters of the top names on the list form an acrostic spelling “KJU GAS CHAMBERS” – a reference to the allegations that Pyongyang uses gas chambers to execute political prisoners, as in Nazi Germany.
It’s not the first time that a Time internet poll has been discredited by pranksters. Back in 2009, 4Chan founder Christopher Poole, better known by his Internet nickname ‘moot,’ received almost 16.8 million votes in the annual Time 100 poll for world’s most influential people. In that poll the acrostic of the first letters of the top 21 names also spelled a meaningful phrase. The poll mechanism is apparently still prone to hacking, which makes its results entertaining rather than representative of who the readers actually regard as top newsmakers.
Time editors have the final say on who makes it to the shortlist for the person of the year issue. “It’s always interesting to see where some of our preferred candidates end up,” TIME executive editor Radhika Jones said after the magazine announced its shortlist.
Time has been reluctant to select controversial figures as their person of the year since 1979, when Ayatollah Khomeini, the Iranian revolution’s supreme leader, was granted the title. The decision sparked a public backlash, prompting the magazine to avoid featuring figures controversial in the US on its December issue covers.
Time explained this policy when it selected Rudolph Giuliani over Osama bin Laden as the person of the year for 2001. The magazine said the then-mayor of New York symbolized America’s response to the September 11 terror attacks, and favored him over the mastermind behind it.