In 2016, TIME named Donald Trump Person of the Year, just one month after he was elected president in one of the most stunning political upsets in modern history. The magazine will not announce its 2017 pick for the title until Dec. 6, but that didn’t stop the president from commenting on it on Friday. After the president tweeted that he turned down the title after being told he'd "probably" be named TIME's Person of the Year, the magazine denounced Trump’s claims as “incorrect.”
In a tweet that quickly went viral, the president claimed that he received a call from the magazine, and was told that he would "PROBABLY" receive the title again this year. "Time Magazine called to say that I was PROBABLY going to be named 'Man (Person) of the Year,' like last year, but I would have to agree to an interview and a major photo shoot. I said probably is no good and took a pass," he tweeted on Friday evening. "Thanks anyway!"
For whatever reason, the president has fixated on receiving recognition from TIME for years. As far back as 2012, he tweeted that the magazine "lost all credibility" when they didn’t include him on their list of 100 Most Influential people. When he was finally named Person of the Year last year, the president told Matt Lauer in an interview that it was "a tremendous honor." TIME, of course, has selected extremely controversial individuals for the title in the past — from dictators like Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin to authoritarian figures like Ayatollah Khomeini, the former supreme religious leader of Iran.
For TIME, the Person of the Year is not a laudatory title, but rather recognition of an individual who "had the greatest influence, for better or worse, on the events of the year." In an essay published after TIME gave the title to Trump for his outsize influence on the year’s events in 2016, editor Nancy Gibbs wrote that the president would have to reckon with "how profoundly the country disagrees about the answer."
While it’s unclear if the president has ever truly considered what the title means, Trump’s comments yesterday indicate that he’s still mulling over TIME’s selections.
Trump was quickly mocked for the gaffe, as athletes, celebrities, and comedians offered their best imitations of the president. Tennis star Andy Murray joked, "Bbc just called to say I was PROBABLY going to be named sports personality of the year,” quoting the president verbatim."
Julia Louis-Dreyfus followed suit, tweeting that the New York Times "just called to say I was PROBABLY going to be named comedienne of the year." New York Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard did the same, writing, "Sports Illustrated called and said I was probably going to be Sportsman of the Year."
Some expressed embarrassment that Trump is still tweeting about this kind of stuff even as he holds the highest office in the country. Dan Pfeiffer, who served as a senior advisor to President Obama, called the tweet sad, writing, "Imagine being super rich, President of the United States, and still being so needy for approval."
Robby Mook, who was Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, complained that the TIME debacle draws attention away from more pressing issues, such as healthcare. He wrote that he preferred to focus on the fact that "Millions of CHILDREN" are "about to lose health insurance over the holidays," likely in reference to the Children’s Health Insurance Program that Congress did not renew this fall.
And MSNBC commentator Joy Reid said Trump’s statements would have been "hilarious" if he didn’t have access to the nuclear codes.
One point that many couldn’t help bringing up: Trump has a well-documented obsession with making the cover of TIME. Back in June, Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold discovered that a framed cover of TIME that hung in at least five of the president’s golf clubs was, in fact, fake. The cover, which was dated March 1, 2009, boasted things like, "The ‘Apprentice’ is a television smash!" and "TRUMP IS HITTING ON ALL FRONTS...EVEN TV!" TIME confirmed that the cover hanging in Trump's golf clubs was a fabrication.
Richard Stengel, a former managing editor at TIME, wrote that the magazine probably just wanted a photo shoot if they contacted Trump, and added, "I’m sure you still have that fake TIME cover somewhere in storage."
Even as Trump’s claim that TIME had asked him to sit for the cover this year was widely denounced, he did have one person who came to his defense. Fox News pundit Sean Hannity called “total bullsh*t” on the magazine, tweeting to TIME, "Answer the question; did you or did you not call the WH and say @realDonaldTrump @POTUS was being considered for person of the year and ask for an interview?"
Even if TIME was in contact with Trump, it seems unlikely that they would name him Person of the Year for a second consecutive year. It has happened before, though — president Richard Nixon received the title in 1971 and 1972.