A nod to Osama?
December 4, 2001: 12:42 p.m. ET

Gauging historical influence may lead to an unsavory choice at Time.
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NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Man of the Year. Conjures up images of confetti and applause raining down upon some smiling, self-effacing business-suited guy, doesn't it? You'd never think it would be Osama bin Laden.

Yet, he just might be, at least in Time magazine's view. The magazine has him on a list of candidates for the designation popularly known as Man of the Year (although the award has gone to women, groups and even to non-organic forms).

"He is on the list, as are a lot of people," said a Time spokeswoman. "Anyone who has had anything to do with news this year is being considered. ... This is not an award. It's recognition of the impact someone or something has on our lives."

Nevertheless, some people will take issue with Time should it ultimately decide to give bin Laden the distinction. My buddy, Jack Cafferty, for one.

Who's your choice for Man of the Year?

"It's no wonder so many people detest the news media," Jack said in our Eye Opener newsletter, which we write during the CNN Money Morning show. " ... Unless they run a picture of bin Laden's head on a stick, I'm not interested. This man is revered by thousands of people in the Middle East who don't know any better and putting him on the cover of a prestigious publication like Time magazine only adds to his cachet as a larger-than-life figure."

Actually, and much to Jack's chagrin, I can understand Time's reasoning.

Who has changed the course of world events this year more than Osama bin Laden? His acts of terror and cowardice have pushed the world's super-power into a war and a mission it would have never contemplated a year ago. Thousands of lives ended because of him. Thousands more are changed, because of this one man.

It wouldn't be the first time the magazine has singled out a villain as the Man of the Year. Adolf Hitler was the honoree in 1938. Joseph Stalin, who arguably killed more people than Hitler, got the nod in 1939 and 1942. More recently, the Ayatollah Khomeini, no friend of the United States, was named in 1979.

There have been unsavory choices before at Time.
It should be clear from these past choices and current considerations that Time's Man of the Year designation isn't so much about honor as it is about influence. That's why Time would be better off calling its exercise "Newsmaker of the Year."

But it doesn't, which is unfortunate for those of us with corporate ties to the magazine (CNN/Money and Time are owned by the same company, AOL Time Warner). The magazine, while pursuing a journalistically sound goal, runs the risk of alienating some of its primary audience. Some folks won't get the philosophical intent. They will just see Time giving what looks like an honor to America's deadliest foe.

And the magazine has also painted itself into somewhat of a corner. Now, if it doesn't name Osama, there will be those of us who wonder if the publication didn't just chicken out.

That's not to say there aren't plenty of legitimate contenders, not the least of which is President George W. Bush (again), who has done an admirable job of pulling the country together in a positive response to the ongoing crisis. A year ago his stock wasn't so high.

Jack's pick is Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for his masterful coordination of the Afghanistan effort. In the same vein, Secretary of State Colin Powell could be a contender.

One of the staff members here suggested the magazine could go with a more thematic ideal -- like the embodiment of the fireman or policeman. You have to admit, there's a certain amount of appeal in that notion.

But personally, I think the magazine should name New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Here is a guy who was becoming a major media joke in early 2001 through his ongoing marital and political problems. Yet his response and handling of the events of Sept. 11 is probably one of the best displays of on-the-spot leadership since the October missile crisis of 1962.

It is an example of someone taking control of events and serving his fellow human being in a time of need. This is in juxtaposition to someone simply prompting and manipulating events to coerce and terrorize his fellow human being. One is the act of a hero, the other the act of a coward.

Guess which one is a better Man of the Year? graphic

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