Pope Person of the Year, Snowden Vice Person?

Photograph by Moises Avila/AFP/Getty Images

Members of the Youngs Together activist group with masks of Edward Snowden during a public hearing of Brazil-based Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald, at the Brazilian Senate’s foreign relations committee, in Brasilia, on August 6, 2013.

Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” inevitably stirs a robust debate –as that honor has gone to people infamous for evil as well as famous for good.

Today’s pick of Pope Francis has stirred a mischievous strain of debate, suggesting that an agent of good has seized the spotlight from a villain (or hero to some) who had a remarkable impact on the world this year: Edward Snowden.

Of course, Time stirred the debate by listing Snowden, “the dark prophet,” as No. 2 on the “shortlist” of contenders. A list that includes a man responsible for the slaughter of tens of thousands of his own citizens, Syrian President Bashar Assad, “the lethal tyrant.” Sen. Ted Cruz, master of the faux filibuster, rounds out the list at No. 5.

Had the instantly popular Pope not captivated the Catholic world’s imagination and turned many secular heads as well, the fugitive IT guy who fled his job as a national security contractor with thumb drives full of state secrets about government surveillance might well have stood out as the one who left the most lasting imprint on 2013. The giants of Internet communication have risen in protest of the government’s reach into the private lives of citizens, read clients.

Lately, though, the good have occupied the stage. Last year, President Barack Obama was honored by Time. The year before, in the era of the Middle East uprisings, “the protestor” was the winner. Before that, it was Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, the genius of social media, and before that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who deserved some credit for rescuing the American economy. It was Obama before Bernanke, following the president’s historic election campaign and victory.

Eleven American presidents have claimed the title, including Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan and John Kennedy.

Although it shifted from Man of the Year to Person of the Year some time ago, few women have been chosen — including Queen Elizabeth and Billie Jean King.

And then, there have been the notorious — Time allows “controversial” — choices:  Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, the Ayatollah Khomeini.

Snowden, wanted on federal charges of theft and espionage for divulging the breadth of National Security Agency surveillance of telephone and Internet traffic, seems a figure somehow short of the rogue’s gallery cited for their dark influence on history. Indeed, in some quarters of Europe in particular the American techie turned exile in Russia holds hero status for exposing the reach of American snooping that found no boundary at the cell phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

In the end, in picking the Pope who tweets, Time has gotten a good conversation going, particularly in the Twittersphere, which the NSA is no doubt monitoring, and that debate always has been the benefit of attempting to single out one human being for having the greatest impact on our lives.


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