Topic: Media

List Ethics and Time Magazine

It’s such a common strategy that it is boring and predictable. If you’re putting together a list that ranks the best, most or greatest, you better have a shocker in it, or nobody will pay attention. The whole point to these lists, other than entertainment value, is to cause arguments. Opinions everyone agrees with won’t do that. So if you’re making a list of the greatest baseball players, make, say, Rogers Hornsby “Number One,” not Babe Ruth. Put the Supremes on the top of your list of pop groups, and have the Beatles fourth. Don’t put “Moby Dick” or “The Great Gatsby” on the pinnacle of the Great American Novel list; put “Valley of the Dolls” on top. This isn’t honest, of course. But most people understand that most such lists are arbitrary and subjectiveÂ…in technical terms, crap. And the purveyors of these lists tend to be the likes of VH1, E!, the AFI and People Magazine, so there is no pretense that anyone is supposed to take the rankings seriously.

But the lists complied by news magazines are different. These lists are supposed to tell us something about our nation. They are supposed to be snapshots of some aspect of our culture. They are still arbitrary and subjective, but news magazines are supposed to have some integrity, and not play “the shocker” game. Readers know that the lists are just opinions, but they expect honest opinions.

Time magazine just released its list of the one hundred most influential people in the world, and it expects us to take seriously the fact that President George Bush, the most powerful man in the world, isn’t on it. Anjelina Jolie is on the list. So is America Ferrara, who plays “Ugly Betty.” So is Rosie O’Donnell, who wasn’t even influential enough to keep her job on “The View.” Besides making Bush-haters happy by convincing them that they have fallen into a parallel universe where Al Gore is president, Time’s decision to omit the President of the United States is both transparent in motive (“p-u-b-l-i-c-i-t-y”) and an abdication of any journalistic integrity. Does Time really think that model Kate Moss has more influence on the world than George Bush? Absolutely not! Saying so on a list is therefore a lie, and news magazines aren’t supposed to lie, even to get publicity.

“While it’s true that any President has a certain amount of built-in power, we felt that he has lost much of the influence he once had,” explains Deputy Managing Editor Adi Ignatius. Uh-huh. And Woodrow Wilson, lying half-paralyzed on his bed following his stroke and being fed like an infant had more influence as president of the United States than “Ugly Betty” in her wildest dreams. Ignatius’ comment either marks him as either a liar or a fool (all right, the “certain amount of built-in power” comment proves that he’s a fool), and that goes double for the magazine he works for. If Time really is so ignorant of how the world works that it believes the President of the United States has less influence over people’s lives than Sasha Baron Cohen (“Borat”), subscribers would be better off reading Mad Magazine. If Time is so willing to misrepresent fact that it will try to make its readers believe that Bush has less influence on the world than Tina Fey (quick, now: who is Tina Fey, and outside of writing the movie that made Lindsay Lohan a star, what is the proof of her “influence”? ), its readers might as well rely on the World Weekly News, with its alien sightings and tales of bat-human hybrids.

The Scoreboard wondered what a weekly news magazine like Time would do in the era of the 24 hour news cycle, blogs, cable news and the Drudge Report. Now the answer is sadly apparent.

It will completely disgrace itself. Henry Luce must be spinning in his grave.

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