Fact Check

Osama bin Laden as Man of the Year

Is Time magazine considering designating Osama bin Laden as its "Man of the Year" for 2001?

Published Dec 24, 2001


Claim:   Time magazine considering designating Osama bin Laden as its "Man of the Year" for 2001.

Status:   True.

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 2001]

Time magazine is considering making Osama Bin Laden the Man of the Year and putting him on the cover of the magazine.

If ever there was a time to express your opinion or, in my case, outrage - it is NOW!

Should you find it as deplorable as I do do that Time is even considering this, please write and let them know how you feel by sending email to the editor at letters@time.com right away.

I hope you will take a few minutes to forward this email and encourage others to write as well.

Origins:   Every year since 1927, Time magazine has presented a Man of the Year — someone it has designated as the person who has most influenced events in the preceding year. Strictly speaking, Time does not limit the designation to a man, a single individual, or even a person: over the years it has also recognized women (Elizabeth II), couples

Nikita cover

(Generalissimo and Madame Chiang Kai-Shek), groups (U.S. Scientists), teams (Apollo 8 astronauts), non-specific group representatives (Hungarian Freedom Fighter), and machines (The Computer).

Public confusion and dismay has often followed some of Time's choices because of a misunderstanding of the nature of the "Man of the Year" designation. Although it is often assigned to people who have achieved significant political, military, or scientific accomplishments we would consider an overall benefit to mankind, the designation is not technically an "honor" or an "award," nor is it something bestowed as praise for good works. It is (and always has been), in Time's own words, a recognition of "the single person who, for better or worse, has most influenced events in the preceding


It is an inescapable fact of life that the bad, the evil, and the notorious often have a great deal influence on world affairs, and Time's annual "Man of the Year" selection is simply an acknowledgement of the person they perceive to have been that year's most influential individual, whatever the nature of that influence. Some of Time's previous "Man of the Year" selections such as
Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Ayatullah Khomeini (or even
Mrs. Wallis Warfield Simpson) were not intended to heap laudatory praise upon those persons, but to simply recognize their profound effect upon world history.

So, by the standards Time has employed for more than seventy years, Osama bin Laden is an obvious choice as someone to be considered for designation as 2001's "Man of the Year." Certainly some may believe that there are better choices (i.e., that there are other people who have had more of an influence on world events in the past year than Osama bin Laden) or that as nothing more than a terrorist (i.e., someone lacking any official political standing) Osama bin Laden shouldn't be afforded any publicity at all — good or bad — by an American national news magazine, and those are legitimate issues one might choose to raise with Time. But complaints along the lines of "How dare you even consider honoring a murderer like Osama bin Laden!" are likely to fall on deaf ears, because honor is not what Time's "Man of the Year" is about.

Update:   Time avoided the controversy by naming New York mayor Rudy Giuliani as their Person of the Year for 2001, disdaining Osama bin Laden as a "garden variety terrorist":

Though we spent hours debating the pros and cons of naming Osama bin Laden, it ultimately became easy to dismiss him," said managing editor Jim Kelly. "He is not a larger-than-life figure with broad historical sweep . . . he is smaller than life, a garden-variety terrorist whose evil plan succeeded beyond his highest hopes."

Last updated:   16 March 2008

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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