Time magazine has announced its 2018 Person of the Year is “The Guardians,” four individuals and one group – all journalists – who this year helped expose “the manipulation and the abuse of truth” around the world.
They are the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post contributing columnist who was killed inside Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul in October; the staff of the Capital Gazette newspaper in Maryland; journalist Maria Ressa, the chief executive of the Rappler news website, who has been made a legal target for the outlet’s coverage of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte; and journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who have been jailed in Myanmar for nearly a year for their work exposing the mass killing of Rohingya Muslims.
“As we looked at the choices, it became clear that the manipulation and the abuse of truth is really the common thread in so many of this year’s major stories, from Russia to Riyadh to Silicon Valley,” Time magazine editor Edward Felsenthal said on the “Today” show Tuesday morning, when the announcement was made.
Of Khashoggi’s selection, Felsenthal said it was the first time the magazine had ever chosen someone no longer alive as Person of the Year. But it wasn’t so much the brutal details about his death as the work he had done most of his life – holding Saudi Arabia’s government accountable – that solidified his legacy.
“It’s also very rare that a person’s influence grows so immensely in death,” Felsenthal said. “His murder has prompted a global reassessment of the Saudi crown prince and a really long overdue look at the devastating war in Yemen.”
Fred Ryan, the publisher of The Washington Post, said he applauded Time for using its much-anticipated annual award to highlight journalists’ work.
“Time Magazine’s choice to honor journalists who have lost their lives or the freedom to do their jobs is a powerful reminder of the critical role journalists play and the increasing dangers they face,” Ryan said in a statement. “We hope this recognition will prompt our nation’s leaders to stand up for America’s values and hold accountable those who attempt to silence journalists who cover our communities, or in Jamal’s case, an oppressive authoritarian government.”
Time also honored the staff of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, where five staff members were shot to death in June after a gunman opened fire in their newsroom. Despite the tragedy, the Capital’s surviving staff persisted in their work in the hours, days and weeks afterward.
“I can tell you this,” Capital reporter Chase Cook tweeted hours after the shooting. “We are putting out a () paper tomorrow.”
Time also recognized journalists across the world.
On the “Today” show Tuesday, Felsenthal emphasized that the two Reuters reporters who were being honored, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, had been imprisoned in Myanmar for almost exactly a year.
The two had been covering the mass killing of 10 Rohingya Muslims in the country last September, and in their reporting had found Myanmar troops were complicit in the executions – part of a wave of killings, rapes and arson internationally condemned as ethnic cleansing of minority Muslims in the majority Buddhist country.
Police learned of their investigation and gave the two men documents in a meeting three months after the massacre. Shortly afterward, the reporters were arrested for possessing the documents, which they had not read, in a plot widely derided as a farce to punish them for their work – and as a warning to other reporters.
Their story was published in February, as they faced charges. In September, they were sentenced to seven years in prison despite testimony from an officer that the operation was a setup.
“The clear flaws in this case raise serious concerns about rule of law and judicial independence in Myanmar,” the U.S. Embassy said a statement then, calling the verdict a “major setback” in expanding democracy in the country.
For her work in the Philippines, Felsenthal praised honoree Maria Ressa as an “extraordinary individual” who has relentlessly exposed the thousands of extrajudicial killings taking place as part of Duterte’s war on drugs in the Philippines.
Ressa’s outlet, Rappler, has distinguished itself for coverage of Duterte’s brutal drug war amid tightening access to news. A lack of online access has transformed Facebook into the de facto internet in the Philippines, Ressa has said, allowing Duerte’s government to filter and restrict reporting and criticism.
Duterte has been emboldened by President Donoald Trump’s liberal use of the term “fake news” to discredit critical reporting, Ressa has said. Last year, Trump chuckled after Duterte cut off questions from American reporters, calling them “spies.”
“I think the biggest problem that we face right now is that the beacon of democracy, the one that stood up for both human rights and press freedom – the United States – now is very confused,” Ressa told Time.
Ressa has already received accolades for her work at Rappler. In June, the Committee to Project Journalists awarded her the Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award.
And just as Time announced Fessa as one of its choices for 2018 Person of the Year, Ressa became a free woman – at least for now. Ressa posted bail Tuesday following tax evasion charges seen as a thinly veiled attempt by Duterte to further silence reporters and critics.
Special counsel Robert Mueller III, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, was third, while Trump was runner-up, Felsenthal said.
“There’s always a strong case for the president of the United States, particularly this president,” Felsenthal said.
The magazine’s shortlist had included Trump, Mueller and Khashoggi.
It also had included the more than 2,000 migrant families separated at the U.S. border; Russian President Vladimir Putin; “Black Panther” director Ryan Coogler; California psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford, who alleged then-Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were high school students; March for our Lives activists fighting for gun-control reforms; South Korean President Moon Jae-in; and former actress-turned-British royal Meghan Markle.
It was the second year in a row Time named a group of people, rather than one single person, for the honor. Last year Time recognized “The Silence Breakers,” the women (and some men) who came forward with stories of sexual harassment and assault and helped force a nationwide reckoning.
Among them were Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan, the actresses whose accusations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein helped lead to his downfall; and activist Tarana Burke, creator of the #MeToo movement, along with the Hollywood star who amplified it on social media, Alyssa Milano.
Trump has had an on-again, off-again love affair with Time, often angling for the honors it hands out and criticizing the magazine as irrelevant when he feels snubbed. The president told a reporter last month he could not imagine anyone but himself receiving the distinction this year.
(c) 2018, The Washington Post · Amy B Wang, Alex Horton