This week, Time magazine put radio talk-show host Don Imus on the cover, OK, he's not a solo act. Imus is a cover boy along with six other cover guys and gals.

As it turns out, he's right below comic-strip character Dilbert and to the right of TV talk show host Rosie O'Donnell. But the I-Man doesn't mention Dilbert and O'Donnell during a recent morning show.

He only mentions his proximity to Secretary of State Madeline Albright, retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell, and golfing sensation Tiger Woods.

They are all among Time's picks of the 25 most influential people in America.

"These are people," gushes Time, "who have accomplished something subtle and difficult. They have got other people to follow their lead."

Why oh why do these lists always seem silly rather than inspiring? Maybe because they always make me feel so uncool. Who are these people who seem to be leading everyone but me? And where are they leading them?

Not all of Time's 25 choices are obscure (to me), and some even sound like decent citizens. I recognize all four African-American men who made the cut: Woods, Powell, Henry Louis Gates Jr. and even Babyface Edmonds, thanks to a recent decision to add some musical variety to my listening repertoire.

Of course, I know the Beltway crowd: Albright, Arizona's Senator John McCain and Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin.

But Robert Thurman -- the "Billy Graham of American Buddhism," according to Time -- is off my radar screen.

And I've never watched "The X-Files," so its creator, Chris Carter, is a mystery.

Sure, I shop at the Gap. But I had no idea a woman named Lisa Schultz is the power behind the hype, the one whose awesome responsibility, as she tells Time, is to say: "This knit pant and this woven pant overlap. This one goes. This is a better piece."

And why would Time single out Robert Earl, the CEO of those annoying Planet Hollywoods and their equally annoying offspring? And why have I never eaten at a single one of them, if the eateries and Earl are so darn influential?

This being the '90s, no one dreams up a list like this without groveling toward someone like fund manager Michael Price. After all, as Time trills, he is "filthy rich and more than a little arrogant." Price sold his company for a cool $850 million, but his "work" is not done. He now makes a business out of targeting companies he feels are "laggard."

For all his shameless self-promotion, Imus had it right. There's a reason for every one of these picks, and it has little to do with who influences the readers. It has everything to do with the editorial selection committee and whom it wants to influence.

Somewhere, smirks Imus, there's a Time editor who has written a book just waiting to be flogged on a nationally syndicated radio show. Putting Imus on the list of the nation's most influential doesn't hurt the editor's chances to make it happen. And that's what influence is all about, isn't it?

Pub Date: 4/20/97

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