Summary: Time magazine's annual Person of the Year for 2005 may not be a person at all.
Mother Nature topped the unofficial list of nominees at a panel discussion held on Monday by the weekly magazine to debate who will grace the cover of the issue that hits newsstands on December 19.
The choice is supposed to remain a secret until December 18, when it will be disclosed on the magazine's Web site, but it does become a parlour game in America to ponder who fits the criteria as the person or persons who most affected the news and our lives, for good or for ill, and embodied what was important about the year, for better or for worse.
Mother Nature -- encompassing natural disasters from the Asian tsunami to Hurricane Katrina and the Pakistan earthquake -- evokes issues ranging from presidential politics to race to oil to infrastructure and leadership, said NBC news anchor Brian Williams, one of the panellists gathered to debate the annual selection.
It has laid bare so many cracks and fissures in our system, he said.
Other suggestions included so-called first responders to emergencies; Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, commander of military relief operations after Katrina; Jordanian-born Abu Musab al Zarqawi, leader of al Qaeda in Iraq; U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates for the money he has donated to fight malaria; and J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books.
The person of the year is not always a person. Time selected The American Soldier in 2003, the Endangered Earth in 1988 and The 25 and Under Generation in 1966.
The tradition grew out of an editorial embarrassment in 1927 when Time failed to put pilot Charles Lindbergh on its cover after his historic solo trans-Atlantic flight. At the end of that year, the editors decided to make him man of the year to remedy the oversight.
Some selections have been notoriously unpopular with Time readers, such as Adolf Hitler in 1938. Time's 2004 Person of the Year was U.S. President George W. Bush.