Time's Pick: Female Whistle-blowers

Fannie Gotti and her son, John. (Gotti Family Photo)
Gotti Family
Every year since 1927 Time Magazine chooses a "Person(s) of the Year." The magazine's choices are often controversial. Editors are asked to choose the person or thing that had the greatest impact on the news, for good or ill.

These guidelines leave them no choice but to select a newsworthy - not necessarily praiseworthy - cover subject. This year Time chose the whistleblowers - Coleen Rowley from the FBI, Sherron Watkins from Enron, and Cynthia Cooper from Worldcom.

"The three women basically came together because they had the chance to meet each other. I don't think they would have done it one by one," said Jim Kelly, managing editor of the magazine on The Early Show.

According to Time, they took huge professional and personal risks to blow the whistle on what went wrong and in doing so remind us what American courage and American values are all about.

Watkins went from an imagined office high in the Enron power to a metal desk and almost afraid for her life at work. " She alerted Ken Lay to the fact that there were all these off-the-books partnerships that were being fueled by Enron stock. And that's illegal," Kelly explained.

Cooper was an internal auditor at Worldcom. These are the people who say you're spending too much on paper clips and ended up blowing the whistle on a much larger issue.

"She discovered that there were certain regular costs that were being put off as capital expenditures and that's also illegal." Kelly said.

And Rowley, of course, is the woman who wrote the amazing memo at the FBI. "The 13-page memo which Time was lucky enough to get its hands on first in June. It's a remarkable, remarkable piece of prose. And she describes in Time magazine, she wrote it, you know like 17 hours straight and it was full stream of consciousness," Kelly noted.

The women also get high marks from the American public: six-out-of-ten Americans (59%) surveyed think whistle-blowers are heroes, while two-out-of-ten (18%) think they are traitors, according to a new TIME/CNN poll. Almost three-out-of-four (73%) Americans would become a whistle-blower if they observed serious criminal wrongdoing at work.

A woman has been named "Persons of the Year" five times. Wallace Warfield Simpson was first in 1936. The other women: Madame Chiang Kai-shek '37; Queen Elizabeth II '52; American Women '75; and Corazon Aquino '86.

Last year's "Person(s) of the Year" was Rudolph Giuliani and the year before it was President Bush.

Kelly noted President Bush was not chosen because as much as he's accomplished this year, there's still so much unfinished business with the economy and with Iraq, so Time decided it was not his year.