TIME publicly hemmed and hawed about its Person of the Year selection, floating names like Syria's Bashar al-Assad, Amazon's Jeff Bezos, and even Miley Cyrus. On Wednesday morning, the magazine revealed its choice:
The charismatic new leader of the Catholic Church is a solid pick, and TIME's managing editor, Nancy Gibbs, makes a persuasive case for why the magazine chose him. Contributing writer Howard Chua-Eoan makes a similar case for why "the people's pope" deserves the nod in the video below. And there is some precedent: TIME made Popes John Paul II and John XXIII its Man of the Year in 1994 and 1962, respectively.
In his nine months in office, writes Gibbs, Pope Francis "has placed himself at the very center of the central conversations of our time: About wealth and poverty, fairness and justice, transparency, modernity, globalization, the role of women, the nature of marriage, the temptations of power." He "he has not changed the words, but he's changed the music" of the Catholic Church, and people inside and outside the church are listening and being challenged by his humility. Gibbs concludes:
The heart is a strong muscle; he's proposing a rigorous exercise plan. And in a very short time, a vast, global, ecumenical audience has shown a hunger to follow him. For pulling the papacy out of the palace and into the streets, for committing the world's largest church to confronting its deepest needs and for balancing judgment with mercy, Pope Francis is TIME's 2013 Person of the Year. [TIME]
It's fair to say that not everyone is persuaded. Many people who are not TIME's managing editor would have instead picked the magazine's runner-up, National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden. They also have a good point: Pope Francis leads a flock of 1.2 billion Catholics, but Snowden's revelations about NSA eavesdropping affect much of the world. Furthermore, his leaks are still rippling through the global body politic in interesting and unpredictable ways.
Here's The New Yorker's John Cassidy preemptively pushing for Snowden:
Snowden's [Person of the Year] claim isn't merely based on the quantity of news he has generated; his contribution is much larger than that. In opening the eyes of people around the world to how easy it is for governments to monitor digital communications, and to how complicit major technology companies have been in these surveillance programs, he sparked a long-overdue debate about how to preserve privacy in the information age — and whether such a thing is even possible. If Snowden hadn't come forward, the steady encroachment of the surveillance state would have continued, and most people would have been none the wiser. Now Big Brother and his enablers have been rattled, and have been forced to be a bit more open. [New Yorker]
Ultimately, of course, it was TIME's choice. And Pope Francis is an eminently defensible one. This pope has made his own news in creative and charming ways. Snowden is a key player in a multi-actor drama, sharing the stage with advocate-journalist Glenn Greenwald, documentarian Laura Poitras, and other reporters and activists amplifying his huge revelations. And whether or not you agree with Snowden's ends, the means he used to acquire his information are clearly illegal.
There's another reason TIME's selection is a better fit for 2013, though: He's a feel-good choice. This year has been an ugly one politically, following five years (or more, depending on how you count) of bitter partisan bickering, an increasingly bloody conflict in Syria, fizzling democratic flames elsewhere in the Middle East, and a whole host of other, more mundane outrages around the world.
Many of us in the media mock the touchy-feely headlines at sites like Upworthy and the adorable-puppy gifs at BuzzFeed, but there's a reason those sites draw enviable amounts of traffic. Upworthy, in particular, has capitalized on the "social" half of social media, creating and curating articles and videos that people feel compelled or "moved" to click on — ridiculous headlines and all — when their friends share them on Facebook. In a media environment that thrives on delivering the digital equivalent of an endorphin rush, Pope Francis is an all-too logical choice.
In a coincidental bit of news released Wednesday, Facebook revealed its lists of what people clicked on and talked about in 2013 on the world's dominant social network. Guess who topped the list?
Snowden didn't even make the top 10.