Time Magazine's choice of Pope Francis as its Person of the Year was not wholly unexpected, but it was also pretty safe. Time reasoned the Roman Catholic church's new leader has changed the perception of the church in an extraordinary way in a short time, which we cannot deny.
Nancy Gibbs, the magazine's managing editor, said Francis has taken over at a time when the Catholic Church "has been weakened worldwide by scandal, corruption, a shortage of priests and a challenge, especially across the fertile mission fields of the southern hemisphere, from evangelical and Pentecostal rivals."
"He's changed perceptions of the church from being this out-of-touch institution to one that is humble and merciful," noted Time Magazine's international editor, Bobby Ghosh. "He's changed the focus of the church from being focused on doctrine to becoming more about service. And he's changed the tone in which the church speaks to one of compassion. It's all about the poor. This is the church as it used to be in its -- arguably its best period in the past. And Francis seems to be bringing that back."
If for any other reason, in our opinion, his pick as Person of the Year could be for the following message he included in a letter to the church: "I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security."
But whether or not the Pope's rhetoric is enough to change an entrenched culture that is somewhat hostile to his proclamations, only time will tell. Nevertheless, as we touched on in a previous editorial, the Pope's hand on the rudder of the Catholic Church just might be strong enough to bring it into, at least, the 19th century.
Still, we would have preferred a bolder choice from Time Magazine, and if you look at the finalists, there were plenty of controversial people they could have picked. They included Syria's Bashar Assad, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, singer Miley Cyrus, Pres. Barack Obama, Iran's president Hassan Rouhani, Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services and Edith Windsor, whose lawsuit led to the U.S. Supreme Court striking down portions of the Defense of Marriage Act.
But if we had had any say in the selection, we would have cast our vote for Edward Snowden, who came in a close second to Francis.
As Forbes noted, "Francis's reformist tendencies could make him a somewhat controversial choice, but Snowden, the former (National Security Agency) contractor whose leaks about the agency's far-reaching surveillance efforts have been dominating headlines for months, would have been far more controversial."
As John Cassidy, writing for the New Yorker, noted, "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, (Snowden) 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."
Daniel Ellsberg, who some of you may remember for blowing the lid off the lies perpetrated in defense of the Vietnam War, said Snowden's leak of NSA documents was perhaps the most important leak in American history.
"Snowden's whistleblowing gives us the possibility to roll back a key part of what has amounted to an ‘executive coup' against the U.S. constitution," wrote Ellsberg.
Writing for the Washington Post, Andrea Peterson noted Time Magazine got it all wrong by picking Francis over Snowden.
"Time's mandate for 'Person of the Year' is to choose the person who 'most influenced the news this year,'" she wrote. "And that person was Edward Snowden."
While some people consider him a traitor, many more people, both in the United States and the around the world, consider him a hero for standing up to the indiscriminate vacuum that is the NSA's data collection practices.
"Snowden has ignited a fierce debate about the meaning of civil liberties in the 21st century in the United States and abroad," wrote Peterson. "From the dragnet collection of domestic cellphone metadata and of online content through programs like PRISM to revealing the actual breakdown of U.S. intelligence spending, Snowden's leaks have dramatically disrupted the cloud of secrecy surrounding surveillance practices in a way that will change public discourse for years to come."
Though Peterson disagreed with the choice, she did point out that because of the sheer volume of documents still waiting to be reported on, "Time may have an opportunity to highlight Snowden's importance again next year."
So while we wish Time Magazine had picked Snowden for its Person of the Year, we'll give them a pass until next year. It's obvious that Snowden's legacy is still being processed through the filter of history, and his own fate, as a man without a country, has yet to be determined. But more importantly, Snowden's impact on civil liberties and the modern surveillance state has yet to be fully assessed. While he has stirred much debate about the limits of government intrusion in our lives in exchange for security, has it really changed the way the NSA and other spy agencies do business? At this point, not that we can tell. But then again, what we have learned from Snowden's leak is really just the tip of the iceberg. There are thousands and thousands of documents still being combed through by media outlets and new revelations yet to come.
Perhaps Time Magazine was indeed quite wise in at least delaying its choice of Snowden as Person of the Year.