OBAMA, YOUSAFZAI OR ONE DIRECTION?: As the year draws to a close, magazines and news organizations are trotting out their annual capstones, such as GQ’s Men of the Year, Glamour’s Women of the Year and CNN’s Heroes of the Year. The most important franchise of this ilk is Time magazine’s Person of the Year, at least according to the title’s managing editor, Rick Stengel. On Tuesday, Time assembled a luncheon panel of opinionated folk to hash out prospective nominations for the 85-year-old distinction.

While newly reelected President Obama is the obvious candidate for the accolade, the emotional choice in the room was Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who in October was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen for speaking out in support of girls’ education. “You have this 15-year-old girl right in the heart of darkness as a beacon of light,” said panelist Padma Lakshmi. “Here in California, in Calabasas, you have Christian fundamentalists and Kardashians living side by side and that’s totally normal. But in Pakistan, especially in the Northwest region, [women] cannot drive. You cannot read. You cannot play music. You cannot paint.”

This story first appeared in the November 14, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Even Newt Gingrich agreed with Lakshmi — “I hope that doesn’t scare you out of it and make you reconsider,” he quipped to the “Top Chef” host. The failed presidential candidate also advanced German chancellor Angela Merkel for almost single-handedly keeping the euro afloat, as well as the symbolic candidate of “the American Voter,” for confounding prognosticators this year.

NBC’s Matt Lauer downplayed Obama’s election victory, attributing much of it to crucial changes in demographics and dissatisfaction with Mitt Romney as an alternative. Lauer proposed the unemployed American worker as the year’s most-talked-about figure, while Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia highlighted the importance of women around the world in changing the political landscape — such as Sandra Fluke, Aung San Suu Kyi and the female crusaders who helped foment the Arab Spring.

Actor Bryan Cranston of “Breaking Bad” and “Argo” gave shout-outs to the demographically diverse trio of Jeremy Lin, Usain Bolt and Adele — but drew a groan from Lauer when he mentioned One Direction as the new Beatles (even though the pop group played on the “Today” show Tuesday morning and attracted a record crowd). Mayor Julian Castro of San Antonio, who was in the audience, praised another unlikely candidate in Felix Baumgartner, the supersonic skydiver who plummeted to earth from 24 miles up in space last month.

Stengel will have the final word on who ends up on the Person of the Year cover and he’ll reveal it on the “Today” show on Dec. 19, after much debate with his staff and influential outsiders. “It’s not scientific, it’s subjective. We generally reach a consensus,” he explained.