The tradition of selecting a Person of the Year began in 1927, when TIME editors contemplated what they could write about during a slow news week. Recycling the year's earlier events, they came up with the idea of a cover story about Charles Lindbergh being the "Man of the Year". A person, group of people (either a team of a few select individuals or a demographic category), invention, or in one case the planet has been selected at the end of the year for a special issue every year since.
Until 1999, the title was named Man of the Year, but this was changed to reflect that the title is not limited to men.
The title is sometimes mistakenly assumed to be an honor. There was a massive public backlash in the United States after TIME named Ayatollah Khomeini Man of the Year in 1979. Since then, TIME has often shyed away from choosing overly controversial candidates. TIME's Person of the Year 2001 — in the wake of the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks — was New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani. It was a controversial result; Giuliani was certainly deserving, but many thought that the rules of selection ("the individual or group of individuals who have had the biggest effect on the year's news") made the obvious choice Osama bin Laden. They cited previous choices such as Adolf Hitler demonstrating that Man of the Year did not necessarily mean "Best Human Being of the Year".
According to stories in respected newspapers, TIME's editors anguished over the choice, fearing that selecting the al-Qaeda leader might offend readers (and advertisers). Adding a wrinkle to the equation was the fact that bin Laden had already appeared on its covers on October 1, November 12, and November 26. Many readers expressed dissatisfaction at the idea of seeing his face on the cover again. In the end, Giuliani's selection led many to criticize that TIME had chickened out.
Men of the Year
Persons of the Year