Time Person of the Year: the Inconvenient Truth

No, Not Green, Not the Earth, Gore? And Who Is Petraeus, Anyway?

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Time magazine's Person of the Year luncheon threatened, at least briefly, to eschew debate and instead settle on the inconvenient truth that none of the assembled panelists could think of anyone other than Mother Earth/Al Gore/the word "green" for the cover of the magazine's storied issue.

The environmental-crisis surrogates were the predictable nominees of the first three panelists, MySpace founder Chris DeWolfe, NBC's Brian Williams and Whoopi Goldberg. Fortunately for the audience there were some slightly more out-of-the-recycled-box thinkers on hand. Former Virginia Sen. George Allen -- who strangely spent some stage time thanking Whoopi for making the movie "Ghost" -- proposed Gen. David Petraeus and the troops, while the final panelist, the women's-rights campaigner Ayaan Hirsi Ali, nominated French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Case for Dubya
From the floor, MSNBC's Joe Scarborough spoke up for Dubya, making the argument that the president has got everything he's really wanted -- you know, an ultra-conservative Supreme Court and a surge in Iraq and so on -- despite a Democratic Congress and atrocious approval ratings. And 11-year-old Hannah Spicijaric, a reporter for Time for Kids, made perhaps the best argument of the day, advocating for J.K. Rowling on the basis that her "Harry Potter" series had prompted a lot of kids who might not otherwise have been attracted to reading to pick up a book.

For the Fox fans in the audience -- think the New York Post's Keith Kelly or Gary Ginsberg, exec VP-global marketing and corporate affairs for News Corp. -- it was somewhat disappointing that Mr. DeWolfe didn't make a stronger argument for his boss, Rupert Murdoch. Sure, it would have been a suck-up move, but the key criterion for a Person of the Year, as panel moderator and Time Editor Rick Stengel had stressed, is someone who has influenced the news more than anyone else and it's hard to think of someone who has influenced news more than Murdoch in recent years.

Mr. DeWolfe did mention that Murdoch yet again showed his ability to "see around corners" when he bought the social network and, in case you missed it, this was the year that he did the deal to buy The Wall Street Journal, arguably the most influential newspaper in the U.S. Oh, and then there's the launch of Fox Business and the general Fox factor.

Side debate
In fact, the question of politicized cable news became a side debate at the luncheon. Mr. DeWolfe, admitting he didn't even know how to say Gen. Petraeus' name and didn't know much about what the chap had been up to, blamed the media for not informing kids about stuff like Iraq. Mr. Williams was quick to come back at him, noting that there was no shortage of coverage on the war. Mr. DeWolfe acknowledged this but then pointed out that the news was either left-biased, right-biased or came from mainstream outlets like Mr. Williams' NBC, which younger people "don't watch."

Mr. DeWolfe also faced a question from the floor about his thoughts on Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder, and Microsoft's recent acquisition of a slice of the super-hot property. Referring to the fact that the Microsoft deal essentially valued Facebook at $15 billion, Mr. DeWolfe said he was delighted to hear about the deal because it meant that, by his reckoning, MySpace is now worth about $45 billion.
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