By Ellen WulfhorstTue Nov 15,10:31 AM ET
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.
Time does not prepare or publish a formal list of nominees; instead, its editors make the selection privately after reporting
by the staff.
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 parlor 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 panelists 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; Pope Benedict; 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 transatlantic flight. At the end of that year, the editors decided to make him man of the year to
remedy the oversight, Time said.
Some selections have been notoriously unpopular with Time readers, such as Adolf Hitler in 1938, Joseph Stalin in 1939
and 1942 and Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979.
Time's 2004 Person of the Year was U.S. President George W. Bush.