Time’s “Person of the Year” is most newsworthy only because he wasn’t…
When you first heard that the Time Person of the Year announced for 2021 was Elon Musk, how did you feel? Did you think “Of course! The electric car guy was the obvious choice”? Or were you fooled into thinking that he deserved it for sending Captain Kirk on a short bumpy interstellar joyride? Oops, that was the other space jockey who owns Amazon. In fact, of the billionaire space jockeys who chose to go where no man has been, only Bezos and Virgin Galactica’s Richard Branson joined Kirk. Musk was stuck in traffic.
What was your next thought? Mine was has Time slept through this year? Elon Musk, for the record, needs no new honor or acknowledgment. His notoriety as a businessman and futurist has been a time-release adventure with his initial venture with fellow “Paypal Mafia” members in the 1990s, his later contributions to Tesla Motors — -$6.5 million in 2004, and SpaceX, the private launch company that Musk hopes will take him to Mars someday. No, it wasn’t the infusion of his massive intellect that began the Musk legend, it was his massive infusion of his wealth that funded the Tesla juggernaut that was founded by Martin Eberhardand Marc Tarpenning who invited him into their company in exchange for a much-needed cash infusion. Both Eberhard and Tarpenning had been forced out of leadership of the company they had founded by 2009. In fact, Tarpenning filed a suit against Musk that ended with a large financial settlement. Musk wasn’t the “brains” behind Tesla, nor was he the driving force in the development of the auto, his contributions were substantive but additive:
“Musk wasn’t the CEO, and he wasn’t the president,” Malcolm Smith, the VP of vehicle engineering, told Business Insider. He would “sweep in every few weeks” to see the development, learn the details, then want changes for a variety of reasons. And disrupt the workflow. It wasn’t the most efficient way of working, because the development teams and the marketing teams moving along trying to get the job done. It was three steps forward, one and half steps back.” — Business Insider Australia, November 12, 2014
Time editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal, in announcing the decision, underwhelmed listeners on NBC’s “Today” show with an explanation of Time’s thinking:
“He is reshaping life on Earth and possibly life off Earth, as well,”
Felsenthal seemed almost in amazement himself of Musk’s transformation from Paypal billionaire to techno-wizard. Armed with dueling Bachelor’s degrees in economics and physics from the University of Pennsylvania, the South African-born immigrant decided to take advantage of the Internet boom of the nineties after dropping out after 2 days from a Ph.D. program at Stanford. Imagine what Sheldon Cooper would think of Musk’s science chops given that thin resume.
Musk does deserve recognition for his accomplishments as a businessman and futurist, to be sure. His venture in SpaceX and his interest in monetizing space travel and storage were his passions long before Tesla came along. And it is true that he has invested much of his own money in his projects. Yet, it is a bit puzzling that Time chose 2021 as the year to honor him with their “Person of the Year” designation. Twenty-twenty-one — -a year that will be long remembered for things political and insurrectional would seem to offer far more worthy candidates for Time’s consideration, as they note in the article explaining their choices for this year. The year is brimful of worthy options from the political and medical/scientific fields especially. The vaccine developers, the courts, the coup combatants, the militia groups all fall into categories of good and evil that have inspired previous Time POY selections. Why Musk” Why this year?
Allow me to speculate.
Is it possible that most of the better options available to Time editors might endanger their bottom lines? Imagine if the magazine had chosen Eugene Goodwin the Capital policeman who saved members of the Congress from the onrushing hordes of Trump insurrectionists. Or the varied Federal courts who turned down 59 of the Trump Administration’s 60 suits to steal the election. Or Nancy Pelosi, Liz Cheney, or GA Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger. How about Simanchin? Can we elevate the vaccine developing scientists and drug companies to the cover rather than as the co-listed “Heroes of the Year” designationthat, in retrospect, could claim the title of saving rather than simply reshaping life on earth??? Looking for a “Stalin-Hitler-Khomeini” option? What about naming the inanimate (well, sort of) Delta variant that so far has proven to be the most deadly of the COVID spinoffs? Or — wait for it- The January 6 Insurrection?
Time may have considered the impact on the POY issue’s sales and the attacks from the delusional right had they dared upset their 2016 poster boy. Imagine the reactions of conspiracists, social media twits, and the RW news outlets that preach false news hourly to Trump-worshipping sheep. Time has seen its circulation numbers drop precipitously from 2007 (3.4 million) to 2020 (1.6 million.) The vindictive Time formercover-boy and his supporters might well have been lurking around in the minds of the magazine’s selectors for purely economic reasons and the fear of retribution from his rabid base. If Musk seems rather a safe choice, then compare the reaction if Time were to replace him with a photo of the ravaged Capitol on January 6 on their cover.
burying the lede
Consider Time’s elegantly simple criterion for their Person, Places, or Thing of the Year:
Time bases its choices on the person or thing that had the “the greatest impact on the news, for good or ill.”
Elon Musk was one of two billionaire space hobbyists who sent us into orbit this year. Tesla, his earthly venture, has made headlines this particular year for quality control problems, delivery delays, and safety issues. Jeff Bezos graced the cover in 1999 as CEO of Amazon and his Blue Origin space endeavor rivals Musk for the billionaire space race. It seems to be a curious choice for Time to determine that in this year the hairdo-challenged rich kid had the “greatest impact on the news” unless you decide to ignore what happened to be the news in 2021. Viewed from this perspective, Time’s choice for Person of the Year may be yet another act of cowardice by the mainstream media. Like so many of those who have chronicled the Trump years, all things considered, they decided they would be better safe than sorry — -better to bury the lede before it buries them.
Originally published at https://www.dailykos.com on December 15, 2021.