Persons of the year?
December 27, 2002 12:55 AM   Subscribe

Time Magazine's 2002 Persons of the Year. A distinction that has been given to such newsmakers as Gandhi, Hitler, Jeff Bezos, a machine, and a planet, now belongs to three whistleblowers at Enron, WorldCom, and the FBI. Is Time magazine way off or right on target?
posted by MarkO (29 comments total)
This is the only 'Person of the Year' that's ever resonated with me. I would've just gone with Coleen Rowley, myself, but I can appreciate the desire to boost whistleblowers in general. I also hadn't seen the details of Cynthia Cooper's smart bravery against the corporate culture at Worldcom:

When she didn't relent, Sullivan angrily told Cooper that everything was fine and she should back off. He was furious at her, according to a person involved in the matter. Cooper, concerned that her job might be in jeopardy, cleaned out personal items from her office...

As the weeks went on, Cooper directed her team members to widen their net...She and her team began working late into the night, keeping their project secret. And they had no allies. At one point, one of Cooper's employees bought a CD burner and started copying data, concerned that the information might be destroyed before they could finish. In late May, Cooper and her group discovered a gaping hole in the books...

Yes, please do make that courageous woman a person of the year.

I admit I'm ambivalent about the inclusion of Sherron Watkins, who didn't really 'blow the whistle' publicly. But while you can argue that she should have gone to the business press as soon as she realized her memo was being ignored, I have to admit it took a lot of guts to take her concerns to the top. Especially since "Texas law does not currently protect corporate whistle-blowers."

Lord knows we can use more pop culture boosting of individual courage. Bravo to Time for honoring folks who dared to stand up against corporate groupthink in their own ways.
posted by mediareport at 1:43 AM on December 27, 2002

Yes, especialy the Enron girl, who only 'blew the whistle' to her higher-ups.
posted by delmoi at 2:04 AM on December 27, 2002

What I find most interesting about that last article is that Don Luskin seems to have a problem with Time re-naming the feature "Person of the Year." Why did he put "person" in quotes but not "man"? Does he find gender neutral language offensive somehow?
posted by brina at 2:21 AM on December 27, 2002

well, all three were women, so they could have called them the women of the year, or somesuch. "Persons" is a retarded term... person plural is 'people'
posted by delmoi at 3:55 AM on December 27, 2002

Too bad the government didn't take any meaningful action in response to the whistles blown by these persons.
posted by alms at 5:32 AM on December 27, 2002

I noticed on the Time website that 95% of people, in a poll, disagreed. They must have expected Donald Rumsfeld or someone.

Not me. Score one against bureaucratic groupthink.
posted by inksyndicate at 6:11 AM on December 27, 2002

Delmoi, at first I agreed that it should be 'People of the Year.' After all, Time Warner has a 'People' magazine! Now, after looking at the definitions of persons vs. people, it seems that persons may be a better choice because people implies a collective group and these women operated individually. However, they are being honored collectively, so I guess it's up for debate.
posted by Frank Grimes at 6:23 AM on December 27, 2002

Whistleblowing is contacting outside authorities in order to stop bad behaviour inside. Watkins contacted Enron insiders warning them to cool it before the scam blew up on them.

Sorry, I don't see the nobility here.
posted by luser at 6:25 AM on December 27, 2002

So where was Time Magazine when Linda Tripp blew the whistle on Clinton? Just asking.....
posted by Durwood at 7:08 AM on December 27, 2002


Did their whistleblowing help the situation at all? No.
Did they whistleblow to the right people? No.
Is whistleblowing honorable? No.
Did they deserve to become "persons of the year?" No.
posted by Veritron at 7:12 AM on December 27, 2002

"Is whistleblowing honorable? No."

Can you explain your position on that a little, Veritron?
posted by nickmark at 7:27 AM on December 27, 2002

Durwood - Your embraced hatreds cloud your logic, again. I'd like to hear how you equate Linda Tripp with Coleen Rowley.

Luser - Consider for a moment what would happen if an FBI lawyer went FIRST to the media instead of trying to alert her superiors.

I think that maybe that's the difference between a "tattletale" and a "whistleblower" - the former just wants attention by pointing out other's wrongs whereas the latter is trying to genuinely fix a significant problem often at expense to themselves.
posted by stevis at 7:41 AM on December 27, 2002

Durwood - Your embraced hatreds cloud your logic, again. I'd like to hear how you equate Linda Tripp with Coleen Rowley

What "hatred" has clouded my logic? Is simply mentioning Linda Tripp and former President Clinton in the same sentence now considered "hate speech?"

I believe that Time obviously viewed the three women as "honorable" for exposing their allegedly corrupt supervisors. I do not disagree with Time in this case, but note that Linda Tripp received only ridicule for exposing Clinton as a liar.
posted by Durwood at 8:54 AM on December 27, 2002

"So where was Time Magazine when Linda Tripp blew the whistle on Clinton? Just asking....."

[snark] I thought it was the other gal who blew the whistle on Clinton. [/snark]
posted by DBAPaul at 9:01 AM on December 27, 2002


I think the difference here is the magnitude of the lie. Clinton lied about getting a blowjorb, not stealing billions...big difference. Tripp was a tattletale, not a whistleblower.
posted by wsg at 9:02 AM on December 27, 2002

When did Tripp become a White House employee? I missed that part.
posted by NortonDC at 9:06 AM on December 27, 2002

meanwhile.. an unnamed Web wackjob who wonders what happened bashed this decision claiming since the online poll was rigged better by the Palestinean supporters, that Yassir Arafat should be man of the year.

At least they didn't make Ashcroft or Ridge Man of the Year.
posted by RobbieFal at 9:37 AM on December 27, 2002

When did Tripp become a White House employee? I missed that part.

Actually, Linda Tripp had been transferred from the White House to the Pentagon some time during Clinton's tenure, but was still a federal employee when the scandal was exposed.

OK folks, I realize that this horse was beaten to death long ago, so I do not want to debate whether the whole Clinton/Lewinsky scandal was "just about sex" or about the President's perjured testimony in a civil lawsuit. You will never get me to believe that it was just about sex, and I am certain that I will never be able to convince my left-leaning friends that it was anything more than an attempt by Republicans to "get Clinton."

Again, the only point I wanted to make here is that liberals love whistleblowers, but not when the whistle is blown on one of their own.
posted by Durwood at 9:44 AM on December 27, 2002

Again, the only point I wanted to make here is that liberals love whistleblowers, but not when the whistle is blown on one of their own.

Nonsense. Any sane human being loves whistleblowers that risk their jobs, families and lives to save other peoples' lives and/or livelihood, regardless of the petty labels you might want to paint everyone with. It's called altruism, and it's a noble thing.
posted by mathowie at 9:53 AM on December 27, 2002

I believed that there were great men and great events in the world that I needed to know about

Apparently, Mr. Luskin feels only men are involved with these great events.
posted by witchstone at 10:04 AM on December 27, 2002

This is an old report, and one that I thought I had seen discussed on MeFi before, but I can't find it for the life of me now: What Happens to Whistleblowers?

The short answer is that most of them are fired or face some other sort of retaliation, according to this admittedly unscientific study by the National Whistleblower Center. Workers who report election fraud, campaign finance abuse, obstruction of justice, or witness intimidation do not have legal recourse if they are fired.
posted by teenydreams at 10:04 AM on December 27, 2002

Dang, forgot to link to the National Whistleblower Center...there's lots of good stuff on their site.
posted by teenydreams at 10:05 AM on December 27, 2002

Is Time magazine way off or right on target?

That seems a question impossible to answer, given that we don't know Time Magazine's criteria for selecting their "Person of the Year." It's obviously not intended as an accolade, given some of the past recipients, and if it's supposed to indicate the person who has made the greatest impact on the world (positive or negative) in the preceeding year, then clearly this represents a poor choice, since the whistleblowers' impact seems negligible.

But fooey on Time Magazine, anyway. Three cheers for the ladies!
posted by rushmc at 10:18 AM on December 27, 2002

Durwood, you don't even have a remote fragment of a comparison here. Time is reviewing the actions of three women who risked their jobs to report, in many cases, the illegal activity of their executives who very well may have subverted their own positions. Linda Tripp was an employee who subverted her own position, broke the law and was later indicted for illegally wire-tapping someone to provide "evidence" of a "crime" an Executive committed three years after the events in which he was actually being investigated for. Covertly taping someone talking about performing oral sex and releasing it to a man prosecuting a real estate deal in exchange for immunity while claiming you had no idea it was illegal is "whistleblowing?"

Linda Tripp would have been comparable if, for example, there had been some kind of attempt to suppress and hide the evidence she obtained in regards to Whitewater, if she had actually found evidence in regards to Whitewater, and if she hadn't broken the law with the help of others to do it. Your argument that this is hypocritical because of how "liberals love whistleblowers" is a striking example of how your trolling is making you blind to the blatant opposites these two scenarios were.

If it makes you feel better, though, Clinton and Ken Starr shared Person of the Year in 1998. I'm sure Time sells back issues if you'd like a copy to frame and hang in your den.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 11:42 AM on December 27, 2002

Thanks, rushmc, for highlighting something that often gets ignored in any discussion of Time's "Person/Man/Woman/Whatever of the Year." To reiterate, "Editors are asked to choose the person or thing that had the greatest impact on the news, for good or ill—guidelines that leave them no choice but to select a newsworthy—not necessarily praiseworthy—cover subject."

Which is why I think they chickened out last year -- Osama bin Laden clearly had more impact on the news in 2001 than Rudy Giuliani did.

That's also why Capitalism Magazine muffed it in the linked article -- they don't recognize this:

I believed that there were great men and great events in the world that I needed to know about, and that there was a great arbiter of them -- Time -- that somehow make the great even greater by recognizing them as great.

Besides being a horribly written sentence, it's assuming something that can be easily checked by READING Time Magazine.
posted by Vidiot at 11:58 AM on December 27, 2002

I great think that great sentence had a great editor.

They absolutely chickened out last year (as discussed previously). They should rename it Newsmaker of the Year to avoid misinterpretations.
posted by kirkaracha at 1:34 PM on December 27, 2002

After what happened last year, I no longer respect Time's "Person of the Year" titles. You canNOT tell me that Rudy Giuliani was the biggest newsmaker. The Person of the Year for 2001 was Osama bin Laden. Hitler got it, afterall. Albeit not for reasons of being evil. If not bin Laden then Bush. I like Giuliani, but the title didn't belong to him. I subscribe to Newsweek, a magazine that has yet to become the sellout Time is.

On the People vs. Persons debate, Persons is right. Because it is three Person of the Year awards. People refers to a collect group at one. Persons refers to individuals at one.
posted by MrAnonymous at 1:47 PM on December 27, 2002

Meanwhile, the guy who prevented Coleen Rowley from investigating Zacarias Moussaoui before Sept. 11 has been given an award for "exceptional performance" and a cash bonus.
posted by homunculus at 3:49 PM on December 27, 2002

Good point, teenydreams.

I'm in a similar situation at the moment.....I work for a small company (three employees) at which I'm the only female. I'm also the only employee who has the cost for her Blue Cross deducted from her check every week, and I'm also the only one not on the company's pension plan. (When I became eligible, I asked the owner about it, and he shrugged and said "I've decided not to add anyone new to it.")

I've made some inquiries and have been advised that yes, the owner is violating several laws, but that I should think twice about proceding with any sort of action, because I could be the victim of "retaliation."
posted by Oriole Adams at 4:53 PM on December 27, 2002

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