Glenn Beck has been nominated for Time's "Person of the Year," a title given annually to the year's most influential person. The list of 25 also includes Barack Obama, Lady Gaga, Steve Jobs, Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart, and even Chinese communist leader Hu Jintao. But while the list is thorough the descriptions are not.
This year, readers can view the full list and rate the candidates. Reader ratings, however, do not determine the final outcome. "TIME's editors, who choose the actual Person of the Year, reserve the right to disagree," the magazine says.
Past winners included George W. Bush, Pope John Paul II, Bill Clinton, and the American soldier. So one might expect that the magazine's description of each candidate is a balanced, or at least impartial, representation of the person's accomplishments.
You may be expecting too much.
Let's compare Beck's description with a few other on the list. First Beck's:
Pundit, proselytizer and paranoid, Fox News Channel's Glenn Beck isn't just the king of cable's 5 p.m. hour anymore. The year 2010 saw Beck pen a politically tinged airport thriller, launch his own online university (featuring such courses as "Presidents You Should Hate"), draw tens of thousands of Tea Party faithful to D.C. for his "Rally to Restore Honor" and help motivate a devoted cadre of Obama haters to return control of the House to the Republicans. At a time when the political echo chamber is more cacophonous than ever, the weeping wild man is cutting through the din and amassing a media empire that takes in tens of millions of dollars each year.
"Proselytizer" and "paranoid"? Followers described as "Obama haters"? Describing a non-political rally as a motivating factor for sending Republicans back to the House? "Weeping wild man"? In rhetoric and logic this is usually called "poisoning the well."
But maybe Beck's description is just a sample -- surely Time gave the same treatment to others. Lets look at fellow rally-holders Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart:
Glenn Beck may have the Tea Party, but Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have, well, the non–Tea Partyers. After a midterm-election campaign filled with high-pitched partisan rhetoric and unyielding positions, Stewart and Colbert on Halloween weekend took their Comedy Central fake-news shows to the National Mall to hold what they called the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. The two comedians — Stewart, who makes his living as a satirist on The Daily Show skewering politicos and the media, and Colbert, who poses as an ultraconservative on his show The Colbert Report — gathered a crowd of some 200,000 of their fans, or rather, those people who felt drowned out amid the constant shouting between right and left. It was a rally that mocked rallies — many attendees carried protest signs that mocked protest signs — and in the process cemented Stewart and Colbert as two of the most influential entertainers today (and whose late-night ratings among younger viewers are starting to outpace those of Letterman and Leno). In fact, whether they like it or not, they are arguably the leaders of a distinct group of informed but not inflamed Americans, those who can really identify with Stewart when he sums up the rally's guiding philosophy as, "I disagree with you, but I'm pretty sure you're not Hitler."
"The most influential entertainers today"? An audience described as "informed but not inflamed Americans"? If the cover is a popularity contest, the Comedy Central duo might have just won.
Okay, Okay. Stewart and Colbert aren't serious, so maybe we're not supposed to take their description seriously. But surely the description of someone such as Nancy Pelosi will be a little more balanced -- heck, even Democrats ran on a platform against her and are now asking her to step aside. Don't hold your breath:
In what turned out to be her last year as Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi led the 111th Congress through one of its most prolific and productive sessions in the past 50 years. Along with her colleague Harry Reid in the Senate, Pelosi overcame numerous procedural hurdles to pass President Obama's historic health care reform law by a painfully narrow margin, and in June, the House passed the final version of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. But any sense of triumph for Pelosi was short-lived, as she and the Democrats proved utterly incapable of selling those achievements to voters more concerned with unemployment and a floundering economy. That disconnect, and the fact that Pelosi herself was a potent rallying cry for Republican and Tea Party voters angry about an overreaching Congress, cost the party more than 60 House seats in this year's midterm elections — and Pelosi her leadership post. In the wake of the humbling defeat, most observers assumed Pelosi would give up Washington for good. Yet three days after the election, the unmatched Democratic fundraiser and savvy strategist once again confounded the pundits by announcing she wasn't going anywhere and would in fact run to take over as minority leader.
One of the House's "most prolific and productive sessions"? Legislation-passing seen as a "triumph" after Americans just voted out so many who passed that legislation? A politician described as an "unmatched Democratic fundraiser and savvy strategist"?
The cover may have been decided before it was ever printed. An honor, yes. But it could be fast turning into a joke.