Time Editor Previews Person of the Year: Hypes Julian Assange's 'Enormous' Impact

Appearing on Monday's Today show to reveal the finalists for his magazine's Person of the Year issue, Time's managing editor Richard Stengel hyped that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is "changing the way we look at" diplomacy, the "perception of secrecy" and hailed he had "an enormous year." Stengel didn't bother to attach a value judgment to Assange and the negative effect he's had on national security, but Today co-host Matt Lauer did remind Stengel that Assange was "embroiled in some personal scandal."

As for another finalist, the Tea Party, Stengel explained the rationale for putting them on the list is that they tapped into a generalized "feeling of frustration that people have of distrust for authority, of distrust for centralized leadership. That's almost a theme of the whole year." Neither Stengel nor Lauer pointed out the Tea Party also represented a backlash to Barack Obama's liberal policies.

The following is the entire segment as it was aired on Monday's Today show:

MATT LAUER: Since 1927 Time magazine has selected a man or a woman, a group, even an idea as its Person of the Year and the field is wide open in 2010. We're gonna reveal this year's pick, Wednesday, right here on Today. And this morning we have a look at the short list of finalists. Rick Stengel is Time's managing editor. Rick, good to have you back. Welcome.

RICHARD STENGEL, TIME, MANAGING EDITOR: Good to be here.

LAUER: Go through the process-

STENGEL: Okay.

LAUER: -for those who don't remember. How do you come up with even the final list?

STENGEL: Well it's the person or thing who has most influenced the culture and the news during the past year for good or for ill.

LAUER: For ill - that's important.

STENGEL: Yes.

LAUER: It doesn't always have to be someone that's a great guy or a great woman.

STENGEL: Exactly it's not an honor, it's a recognition of somebody whose influence is overpowering.

LAUER: We're gonna, we're gonna talk about six finalists right now and from this group will come the winner. The Chilean miners. Okay? I mean these guys, trapped underground for 70 days. Why do they make the list?

STENGEL: The feel good story of the year. It's a story of human courage and pluck, in fact, human leadership, because the Chilean president actually said, "Look we're gonna do this" and he did it.

LAUER: Yeah some people could argue the rescuers could be the People of the Year as well.

STENGEL: Absolutely.

LAUER: Let's move on to Steve Jobs. Massive year in 2010. Introduced a little thing called the iPad. Is that why he makes the list?

STENGEL: Yes, iPad could be a transformational device. It's changing the way we create and consume information. Apple this year passed Microsoft, in terms of size. Big, big year for Steve Jobs.

LAUER: Let's go to that criteria again. The person or persons who most affected the news for good or for ill.

STENGEL: Yes.

LAUER: Question mark about this next guy. He's Julian Assange. He is the founder of WikiLeaks. Why does he make the final list?

STENGEL: Again he, he is changing the way we look at diplomacy, changing the way countries deal with each other, changing the perception of secrecy. He's had an enormous year in terms of the leaks at the beginning of the year, and the latest round-

LAUER: Embroiled in some personal scandal as well, we should mention.

STENGEL: Indeed.

LAUER: And so is he someone who has a shot, do you think?

STENGEL: Absolutely.

LAUER: Yeah, they all have a shot, okay.

STENGEL: Okay.

LAUER: The current president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai is also on the list. Why this year?

STENGEL: Well because he is at the nexus of the most important and vital and dangerous issues in the world. In Afghanistan, in, in Iraq, in Pakistan. And, and he, in many ways is a symbol of the things that we're reckoning with - terrorism, the Taliban, you know the future of our own safety.

LAUER: Another guy who had a huge year is the, is the CEO of Facebook and this is Mark Zuckerberg. Over 500 million subscribers. If not this year, when, I guess you could say?

STENGEL: Well they're approaching 600 million now. In fact 1 out of 10 people on the planet subscribing to Facebook. It's, it's not only a new technology. It's changing the way human beings relate to each other. That's something new under the sun.

LAUER: And the last one we want to talk about, a group of people, not a person or individual. And this is the Tea Party. Why do you think they belong on this list?

STENGEL: Well it was a huge change election, two years after you had an original change election. It's, it's another thing that taps into this feeling of frustration that people have of distrust for authority, of distrust for centralized leadership. That's almost a theme of the whole year.

LAUER: And Wednesday morning, here on Today, we will take the question mark off of that graphic and reveal Time magazine's Person of the Year.

STENGEL: Yeah.

LAUER: Rick Stengel, it's always fun for us to be a part of the process. Thanks very much.

—Geoffrey Dickens is the Senior News Analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.