Revolution #222, January 16, 2011

Time Magazine’s Person of the Year… and an Inconvenient Poll

In the run-up to determining and announcing its 2010 Person of the Year, Time magazine conducted a poll asking people who their choice would be, among the magazine’s 25 suggested candidates. The people’s choice? Overwhelmingly, and quite significantly, it was Julian Assange, director of WikiLeaks, the Internet media outlet dedicated to government transparency. Assange received 382,024 votes, greater than the number received by the second and third choices combined.

The public choice of Assange didn’t sit at all well with the editors of Time. And this, despite the fact that, according to Time itself, its Person of the Year selection is not an award or an indication of approval on its part, but instead goes to the person who “for better or worse ... has done the most to influence the events of the year.”

In 2010 WikiLeaks published hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. military reports on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq followed a few months later by batches of secret U.S. embassy and consulate cables, which will number more than 250,000 when all have been made public. In bringing to light these secret documents, WikiLeaks broke no law, but governments and police agencies demanded Assange’s arrest anyway. (Assange turned himself in—on supposedly unrelated charges—on December 7 at a London police station, and is now out on bail and under virtual house arrest.) Some prominent U.S. media and political figures clamored not only for his capture but also for his execution—all of which was given major play in the mass media and accompanied by major editorials and columns vilifying Assange as a dangerous “cyber-terrorist,” while remaining silent on what the WikiLeaks exposures reveal about the truly terrorist workings of the U.S. imperial state.

So who, then, did Time select? Founder and CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg. No matter that Zuckerberg finished a distant 10th in the editors’ own public opinion poll.

Time not only did not choose Julian Assange as its Person of the Year, despite the strong popular vote in his favor—it also selected as a major runner-up the Tea Party. That, despite the fact that the Tea Party wasn’t even among the Time’s poll’s 25 suggested candidates.

Here it is worth reflecting on how often, and how definitively, the sacrosanct POLL is invoked by those who control the media to claim that their actions and policies, their wars and round-ups, the prejudices they promote… are simply reflections of “the people’s will.” And, the way polls are used to tell people what to think in the form of telling people what “everyone” (supposedly) thinks—marginalizing, isolating, and declaring irrelevant and illegitimate any thinking and action that strays outside the box of terms defined by “the poll.”

Except, as in this case, when those who orchestrate the whole process don’t like the results.

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