Pope Francis is ‘Time’ Person of the Year

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Pope Francis. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia.)
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Nicole Levy

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Pope Francis is Time's Person of the Year, Time managing editor Nancy Gibbs announced this morning on the "Today" show in a well-hyped segment hosted by Matt Lauer.

"He really stood out to us as someone who has changed the tone and the perception and the focus of one of the world's largest institutions," the Roman Catholic Church, "in an extraordinary way," Gibbs told Lauer. Pope Francis is the third bishop of Rome to be named Person of the Year, after John Paul II in 1994 and John XXIII in 1962.

As of last night, the list had been narrowed down to the pope and runners up Texas senator Ted Cruz (No. 5), Syrian president Bashar al-Assad (No. 4), Edie Windsor, the woman who successfully fought the Defense of Marriage act (No. 3), and first runner up N.S.A. leaker Edward Snowden.

Time's Person of the Year is the individual who, in the opinion of Time's editors and, to some extent, the public, has "had the most impact on events this year, for better or worse," Gibbs told Lauer. The magazine has chosen a Person of the Year — or "Man of the Year," as the franchise was called before 1999 — since 1927, and this year the media storm in the days leading up to the announcement was no less intense than usual.

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Pop provocateur Miley Cyrus's inclusion in 2013's top 10 newsmakers garnered lots of attention, prompting Gibbs to explain that power takes different forms: "Power is not just political. It can be cultural, it can be spiritual. [Cyrus] came in like a wrecking ball, literally," she said in a wind-up appearance on "Today" earlier this week. National Journal's Major Garrett has a darker view of Cyrus's presence among the more sober ranks of President Obama and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos: "Cyrus is a Time gimmick, a flashy and exploitable Web commodity transparently unfit for POY status and unambiguously grafted onto the list for commercial reasons."

While Garrett describes the "Person of the Year" franchise as a "cultural lodestar" and a part of each year's time capsule, the Atlantic's David Graham took it to task last year as a "warmed-over sweepstakes" that Time uses to convert the media into "a gigantic public relations arm of Time Inc."

Pope Francis is staying detached from such earthly matters: "The Holy Father is not looking to become famous, or receive honors," the Vatican declared in a statement that Lauer read out loud this morning, "but if the choice of Person of the Year helps spread the message of the gospel, a message of God's love for everyone, he can certainly be happy about that."