Time Names Al Gore Runner-up to Person of the Year
Time magazine has named liberal icon Al Gore runner-up for 2007's Person of the Year, second only to the winner, Russian President Vladimir Putin. Richard Stengel, the publication's managing editor, appeared on Wednesday's edition of the "Today" show to announce the decision. Stengel, the man responsible for the final decision, also showed up on Monday's program and toyed with the possibility of choosing Gore, saying he'd be a "superb choice."
[Updated with transcript: December 19, 2007- 10:53 -0500]
Today co-host Meredith Vieira seemed shocked at the decision. Upon hearing the news that Gore had not won Time's prize, she stumbled, "Oh! He wasn't -- oh, interesting." In 2007, Stengel's news magazine repeatedly gushed over Gore. In May, Time writer Eric Pooley lamented the 2000 candidate's decision not to enter the current presidential race and lovingly labeled him a "improbably charismatic, Academy Award–winning, Nobel Prize–nominated environmental prophet."
Appearing on Monday's show, Stengel exclaimed, "He's had an extraordinary year. He's had an extraordinary influence." The editor took sides in the global warming debate and told co-host Meredith Vieira on Monday, "There was a real tipping point this year in terms of people being conscious of the environment."
NBC, which hosted the big announcement for Person of the Year, has also followed a similar environmental template. In July, the network and its various cable subsidiaries devoted 75 hours to the ex-VP's "Live Earth" concert. During a July 9 interview with "Today" reporter Ann Curry, Gore even thanked her for "what NBC has been doing." Curry then offered this softball plea for a 2008 run at the White House:
Curry to Gore: "A lot of people want me to ask you tonight if you're running for President. And I know what you're answer is gonna be, believe me. I gotta ask you though. After fueling this grass roots movement if you become convinced that without you there will not be the political will in the White House to fight global warming to the level that is required, because the clock is ticking. Would you answer the call? Would you answer the call, yes or no?"
In December of 2006, "Today" host Matt Lauer also asked Gore to accept his calling and declare as a candidate:
Matt Lauer: "From your point of view, if you were to run for President you could take this issue [global warming] to the next level, even during just a campaign. And if you were fortunate enough to win the presidency, you’d sit in the most powerful office in the free world with a real chance to make — you could be in a position to save the planet, without putting too much emphasis on it. Wouldn’t that be enough of a reason to run for President for you?"
Former Vice President Al Gore: "Well, I appreciate the impulse behind the question. I am not planning to run...."
Lauer: "But as someone who feels as passionately about the subject as you do, and your documentary is evidence of that, why pass up the opportunity to have that world stage again?"
— Exchange on NBC’s Today, December 6, 2006.
For more glowing portrayals of Gore, be sure and check out the MRC's "O Great Goreacle Award" for biased reporting.
This type of coverage has certainly not been limited to NBC. In April, a MRC study found that, through the first three months of 2007, 97 percent of all global warming stories on network morning shows suggested an oncoming global catastrophe. Only three percent expressed some doubt as to whether the problem is quite so serious.
So, Americans probably shouldn't be surprised that the very liberal Gore would be so highly placed in Time's contest. And there's no doubt that NBC's "Today" show has, in the past, supported the notion that Al Gore is both a prophet of the environment and a political superstar.
A transcript of the segment, which aired at 7:43am on December 19, follows:
MEREDITH VIEIRA: The moment has arrived. It is time for one of 2007's biggest announcements, Time magazine's pick for Person of the Year. Richard Stengel is Time's managing editor. Rick, good morning to you.
RICHARD STENGEL (Time): Good morning.
VIEIRA: Okay, we got it down to a list of the five top contenders. And let's go through them, all right? Before you name the one. First off, Petraeus, General Petraeus.
STENGEL: Yes. It's the first time we've ranked the runners-up and General Petraeus is number five. He did an extraordinary job in Iraq by calming things down. He's number five. Hu Jintao, the president of China, who has really made China, of course, a great superpower into the 21st century, is number four. J.K. Rowling, the author, is number three. We have an extraordinary, exclusive interview with--
VIEIRA: I'm angry.
STENGEL: Well, a lot of people are, because she was number one on the Time.com poll.
DAVID GREGORY: Yeah.
STENGEL: But you can go to Time.com and read the whole interview with her, a great story by Nancy Gibbs about her.
STENGEL: Number two is Al Gore.
VIEIRA: Oh! He wasn't -- oh, interesting.
STENGEL: Of course, there was a tipping point this year in terms of people getting-- caring about and interested in the environment. He really was the leadership, the person who led that.
VIEIRA: Got the Nobel Peace Prize for it.
STENGEL: Right. He won everything but the Heisman Trophy this year, I think.
VIEIRA: But not the cover of Time. No.
STENGEL: But not the Person of the Year.
VIEIRA: Because the Person of the Year is--
STENGEL: No. Because the Person of the Year for 2007 is Russian President Vladimir Putin for an extraordinary feat of leadership in taking a country that was in chaos and bringing it stability and making it important for the future of the 21st century, Vladimir Putin.
GREGORY: You actually met with him and discussed this with him. And this shouldn't be seen as some sort of a popularity contest or reward.
VIEIRA: No. There's no winner here.
STENGEL: He's not a good guy.
STENGEL: But he's done extraordinary things. We met with him last week in Moscow and, it was an extraordinary meeting. We went to his presidential dacha outside of Moscow. And, you know, all three of us have interviewed world leaders and, and presidential candidates. And you know how they're always ingratiating trying to win you over?
VIEIRA: He was not?
STENGEL: He is not at all. He has no charm. He is just pure force and pure force of will.
VIEIRA: So, how did he react when you told him he was Person of the Year?
STENGEL: Well, you don't actually tell the person, Meredith, that they're--
VIEIRA: Oh, you don't? I thought you did.
STENGEL: No. We say, we're considering you, you know, you're right up there. We really want to talk to you and find out.
GREGORY: Then you say, watch the "Today" show to find out.
STENGEL: Exactly. I think he's probably watching right now and finding out.
GREGORY: But, what is his significance?
STENGEL: His significance is that, look, we all grew up with Russia as this great superpower that was a rival to the U.S. And in the '90s when the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia became a basket case. It was a dangerous place. It has a 2,000 border with China. It has more nuclear weapons than any other country except the U.S. It exports more oil than any other country than Saudi Arabia. It is really critical to the future of 21st century.
VIEIRA: I bet a lot of people think he is a dangerous man and he is going to be the power behind the power soon enough.
STENGEL: Well, exactly. I mean, he's the new czar of Russia and he's dangerous in the sense that he doesn't care about civil liberties. He doesn't care about free speech. He cares about stability. But stability is what Russia needed. And that's why Russians adore him. I mean, he has a 70 percent popularity rating.
GREGORY: And also in the chapter of U.S. relations with Russia, the President said famously back in 2001 that he looked into his soul and he found that he could trust him and, yet, that relationship has deteriorated. It's going to be a significant chapter in our relations with Russia.
STENGEL: Absolutely. You know, it's very interesting. He was very bitter about the way Americans look at him and the way we treat him. I mean, he said, you Americans think that we still need to bathe and that we're still savages. He's an angry, angry man. And what we will see in the next few years is whether he becomes a kind of Stalin-like figure, which would be terrible, or more like Peter the Great, who is the person he admires, who modernized Russia.
VIEIRA: But either way, he's very important. Richard Stengel, thank you very much.
VIEIRA: You didn't reconsider, huh? Jamie-Lynn? No?
STENGEL: I told you it wouldn't be you guys.
VIEIRA: Well, I know you told us. You rubbed that one in. Time's Person of the Year issue hits newsstands on Friday. And for more go to our website at TodayShow.com.