Flashback: Saluting Teenage Radical as “Person of the Year”

December 10th, 2022 12:45 PM

This year, Time’s “Person of the Year” was a no-brainer — Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky, whose decision to stay and fight the Russian invasion of his country had a profound effect on events in Europe and the rest of the world.

But three years ago, the same magazine’s editors made the ridiculous choice of making the radical activist Greta Thunberg their “Person of the Year” for 2019, when she was just 16 years old. The idea seemed frivolous then and seems even more preposterous now, as Thunberg has become even more extreme in her views.

Before looking back at the coverage from three years ago, let’s check in on what yesterday’s media hero is saying these days. As originally reported by the UK’s The Telegraph November 2, Thunberg now sounds a bit like this year’s winner Zelensky’s brutal foe, Putin, as she militantly declares that capitalism and the entire Western world order must be wiped away:

The 19-year-old Swedish activist has announced that as well as tackling her usual area of climate action and awareness-spreading, she has now thrown her weight behind defeating the West’s “oppressive” capitalist system....

She said: “We are never going back to normal again because ‘normal’ was already a crisis. What we refer to as normal is an extreme system built on the exploitation of people and the planet.

“It is a system defined by colonialism, imperialism, oppression and genocide by the so-called global North to accumulate wealth that still shapes our current world order.”

Charming. Yet that’s the same high-school dropout who thrilled the easily-impressed liberal media elites in 2019. “She became the biggest voice on the biggest issue facing the planet this year, coming from essentially nowhere to lead a worldwide movement,” Time’s editor-in-chief enthused on NBC’s Today show as he announced his magazine’s choice of Thunberg on December 11, 2019.

The magazine’s cover story, penned by Charlotte Alter, Suyin Haynes, and Justin Worland, declared Thunberg “the icon of a generation:”

She is neither the first to sound the alarm about the climate crisis nor the most qualified to fix it. She is not a scientist or a politician. She has no access to traditional levers of influence: she’s not a billionaire or a princess, a pop star or even an adult. She is an ordinary teenage girl who, in summoning the courage to speak truth to power, became the icon of a generation. By clarifying an abstract danger with piercing outrage, Thunberg became the most compelling voice on the most important issue facing the planet.

Hosting Felsenthal on NBC, Today’s anchors heartily approved the choice. Hoda Kotb said it was “pretty cool” that Thunberg was the youngest person ever to receive the “Person of the Year” designation, as co-host Craig Melvin chimed in: “She embodies student activism.”

Kotb envisioned Thunberg, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, as a role model to other young people: “I’m sure there are parents whose children, you know, have something like that who are probably looking at this young girl and are saying, like, you know [claps], way to go.”



On CBS This Morning, Gayle King lauded a “very good choice” by the magazine. Over on ABC’s Good Morning America, co-host Michael Strahan said Thunberg “definitely deserves it.” Co-host George Stephanopoulos agreed: “Yeah, no question about that. Inspired a lot of kids.”



On CNN’s New Day, anchor John Berman beamed: “She really has shown incredible courage and perseverance....She’s making a giant difference.”

Actually, Thunberg’s real “power” as an activist always rested in the worldwide media’s yearning promote her radical opinions. Her unusual story made her a convenient vehicle for left-leaning news organizations who desired another excuse to inject the so-called “climate agenda” into the headlines.

Thus, the liberal applause directed at Thunberg three years ago was really the media’s narcissistic self-regard for their own tidal wave of coverage devoted to her and her cause. Because after all, they were climate radicals long before Thunberg came on the scene.

For more examples from our flashback series, which we call The NewsBusters Time Machine, go here.