Time Names Obama Person of the Year for ‘Historic’ Re-election

Rick Stengel calls Obama a 'symbol of the new America'

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Time named President Barrack Obama its Person of the Year—a choice that's not surprising, given the president's hard-won re-election, but unusual nonetheless. Time managing editor Rick Stengel revealed the magazine's choice on the Today show.

“[Obama] is the symbol of the new America,” Stengel told Adweek, citing the president’s popularity with millennials, minorities and college-educated women. “The next four years will see him fulfilling the original vision that he was elected for.”

While nearly every president has appeared on the Person of the Year list since it began in 1927 (and two-term presidents have generally appeared twice), Stengel said that it’s an anomaly for a president to be given the title in both of his election years. “His re-election was historic,” said Stengel. “There have only been five presidents in U.S. history that have gotten more than 50 percent of the vote in consecutive elections, and no president has been elected in 75 years with the unemployment above 7 percent.”

The president's response to the Sandy Hook school massacre also factored into his win, said Stengel. “The incomprehensible events in Newtown, as far as they affected President Obama, showed that he really is the healer-in-chief,” Stengel said, adding that the cover image of Obama is intentionally somber. “You feel the weight of the world on his shoulders.”

Runners-up included education activist Malala Yousafzai (a favorite at the Person of the Year panel discussion), Apple CEO Tim Cook, Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi and physicist Fabiola Gianotti.

Cook’s inclusion in the list is especially notable because his predecessor, Steve Jobs, was never given the top honor. “Steve Jobs was disappointed that he was never Person of the Year,” said Stengel, who was impressed with the continued growth of Apple despite the loss of its leader. “Tim Cook is the polar opposite in terms of leadership style, but he’s still successful.”

At Time’s annual Person of the Year panel discussion last month, many of the suggestions tossed around were international figures or symbolic groups (e.g., the “American voter,” the “unemployed worker”).

The 2012 Person of the Year issue features a silver border instead of the magazine’s trademark red, marking the fourth time in the magazine's 89-year history that it’s been changed. Stengel said that he hoped the silver border would become a permanent feature of the Person of the Year issue.

@adweekemma emma.bazilian@adweek.com Emma Bazilian is Adweek's features editor.