Who Should Be Time Magazine’s 2011 Person of The Year? Brian Williams and Others Discuss

This afternoon Time magazine hosted its annual panel discussion debating exactly who deserves to be the 2011 “Person of the Year.”

The panelists were comprised of “NBC Nightly News” anchor and panel stalwart Brian Williams, his colleague Saturday Night Live fake news anchor Seth Meyers, actor Jesse Eisenberg, law professor Anita Hill, Americans for tax Reform president Grover Norquist and celebrity chef Mario Batali. Moderated by Time editor Richard Stengel, the panelists debated whether a dead person (Steve Jobs, Osama Bin Laden) or group (populist movements, the 99%) deserve to be considered.

Some of the surprises:  Hill had a stern “no comment” when asked about the Herman Cain allegations, though she did say sexual harassment is more likely to be taken seriously now than it was 20 or so years ago.

Batali is a serious dude. As you will see below, he had harsh words for Wall Street bankers (comparing them to Hitler and Stalin!), as well as Occupy Wall Street protestors, saying “it is a kind of a part time job for those guys, they aren’t really playing the real thing. They are kind of quietly sitting around. It is a very 2011 rebellion, they aren’t breaking anything, no one is getting hurt, for that very reason no one is paying any attention.”

Some of the other highlights from the lunch:

The nominees

While a wide range of potential nominees were discussed over the course of the hour, at the start Stengel asked every panelists to name who they think deserves to be “POY.”

Williams cast his vote for the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs:

“Not only did he change the world, he gave us that spirit again, that you could look at a piece of glass or plastic and move your finger, that is outlandish. You can make things bigger or smaller like that, oh, the places you’ll go, and oh the way you will change forever the music and television industries.”

Eisenberg made his case for “populist movements”:

“This year it seemed to me that the biggest news stories and the biggest shifts globally and domestically were made by individuals that formed together to resist, reject and at times even topple leaders and individuals. They have been movements of populism…these individuals, the Tea Party, the Occupy Wall Street movement, the Arab Spring, they are made up of individuals of populist movements.”

Hill argued for Elizabeth Warren, and that “social justice” is the biggest factor for her.

Norquist said that the Tunisian fruit vendor who started the revolution there by protesting the corruption of the government should get the nod.

Batali said that Jobs and author Michael Pollan were worthy, but lobbied hard for bankers:

“The way the bankers have toppled the way that money is distributed–and taken most of it into their own hands–is as good as Stalin or Hitler, the evil guys that [Time has featured as POY].”

Meyers went with European leaders Nicholas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel “if Europe  is still around by the time you go to press.” And also “angry people” because “they have a right to be angry.”

Throughout the remainder of the discussion, Jobs came up a few more times, as did President Obama, George W. Bush, the 1%, the 99% and a wide range of other contenders.

The Comedy Stylings of Brian Williams and Seth Meyers

BriWi and SethMey were on the top of their game at the lunch, playing off of one another as though they had rehearsed (and who knows, maybe they did).

After Williams made the case for Jobs, Meyers retorted “I thought we agreed that you would pick me if I picked you. So I am a little stunned by that Steve Jobs selection.”

Williams on the revolution in Egypt: “I was the only one on this panel in Tahrir Square… though Seth was playing Caroline’s right around the corner. Louis C.K. killed that night.”

When asked who the biggest villain of 2011 was, Meyers interrupted Williams’ response, quipping:

“If you say me now, we are done, walk back to 30 Rock with somebody else.”

Williams replied: “I wrote my friend Seth at around 1 a.m. Saturday night to say that this weekend was probably the finest individual performance by a Weekend Update anchor in the 30+ years I have been watching his show. When we walked together, I think our hand more than brushed.”

When Williams brushed off a question of weather weather stories do better in the ratings than other stories, Meyers used the opportunity to poke fun:

“I do believe him; I will say he is one of the hardest-working guys at 30 Rock. And I have nothing but respect for him, but he is always talking about how he did in the demo. I will say that the jobs crisis could be solved if he did fewer of them.”