FAKE NEWS OF THE YEAR

Time magazine has announced its 2017 “Person of the Year,” which qualifies as news only if you define news as anything that happens, like paint peeling, skin wrinkling and the sun rising and setting.

But tell that to the media minions who giddily treat this announcement, this annual microscopic speck of  history as cosmic—like a papal succession with throngs gathering outside Time’s New York headquarters to await smoke from the chimney.

Granting it this much weight and attention is “way out of whack” with the magazine’s atrophied clout, noted Brian Williams on MSNBC’s “11th Hour”—his own announcement adding to the fattened coverage. Not that a knot of chin-stroking Time editors proclaiming who “has done the most to influence the events of the year” should ever have earned a headline, even back in the day when Time was a major media player and not the footnote it is today.

Never underestimate media capacity for hyperbole, though. We are champs at sweeping generalizations; overstatement is in our DNA.

With the 24-hour news cycle shrunk to 24 seconds by the Internet, much of journalism is increasingly of the moment, failing to acknowledge the past and anticipate the future. For too many journalists, reality is only what’s in front of their noses.

Throughout the 20th century, for example, news entities oversold at least half a dozen courtroom proceedings as “the trial of the century.” The key words here—of the—are versatile enough to fit nearly every news scenario. Take entertainment reviews: how many times do kneejerk critics prematurely write “movie of the year” or “performance of the year” without knowing what awaits the rest of the year? These attention-seeking hacks do it because “of the year” tags, with their names attached, are catchy candidates for blurbs in movie and TV ads, generating fame for the critic.

We live in an epoch of gratuitous awards. More than a mere designation, of the is often attached to a tangible award the likes of  A & E’s “Biography of the Year,” Game Magazine’s “Game of the Year,” Glamour’s “Woman of the Year,” Fire Chief Magazine’s “Chief of the Year” or the Canmaker Magazine –yes, it does exist—“Can of the Year.” If you’re interested, in 2017 that prestigious honor went to the Czech creator of Dove antiperspirant cans, which also earned “Gold” in the aerosol category.

But you’re not interested. Which is why “Can of the Year” earns zilch coverage, in contrast, year after year after year after year, with the equally faux news of Time’s “Person of the Year.”

Originally titled “Man of the Year,” it’s the 90-year-old granddaddy of this group and nothing more than a shrewd marketing strategy to sell Time and its advertising space. Enabled by fellow media, the strategy has worked, making the annual award an institution. Some years ago, CNN even created a behind-the-scenes “special report” on the Time editors’ deliberations, replete with man-on-the-street interviews responding to their choice.

The 2017 “Person of the Year,” by the way, is not one person but many—“The Silence Breakers” of the ever-widening #MeToo movement now exposing a decades-old culture of male-dominated sexual harassment.

And look, all glory to these (mostly) women (some of whom are on the current Time cover) for bringing to light antics ranging from serial butt pinching to sexual assault.

But the award description includes “…for better or for worse,” meaning it’s intended not only for heroes; Hitler earned it in 1938, Stalin twice. So get serious, sentiment aside, the prime shaper of news in 2017 has not been the “Silence Breakers,” however profound their influence and noble their cause. Hands down, that title goes to Time’s 2016 “Person of the Year.” Known also as the Doofus of the Year…

The Big Twit himself.

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Published by

Howard Rosenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning former television critic for The Los Angeles.

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