NEW YORK -- The year's biggest scandals -- the intelligence failures before the Sept. 11 attacks and the collapses of Enron Corp. and WorldCom Inc. -- earned three whistleblowers the honor of Time magazine Persons of the Year.
In its issue reaching newsstands Monday, Time called Coleen Rowley, Cynthia Cooper and Sherron Watkins ''ordinary people who did not wait for higher authorities to do what needed to be done.''
Time's 2002 picks are unusual in that most people cited by the magazine in the past have been well-known public figures. Last year's selection was New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, for his conduct in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Rowley, Cooper and Watkins were selected ''for believing -- really believing -- that the truth is one thing that must not be moved off the books, and for stepping in to make sure that it wasn't.''
Rowley, 48, was the FBI agent based in Minneapolis whose scathing memorandum to FBI Director Robert Mueller last May said agency headquarters ignored her pleas in the weeks before the Sept. 11 attacks to aggressively investigate Zacarias Moussaoui, now charged as an accomplice. In later Senate testimony, Rowley charged that the FBI was plagued by ''careerism'' and bureaucracy.
Cooper, 38, was an internal auditor at WorldCom who alerted the telecommunications firm's board of directors to $3.8 billion in accounting irregularities. A month later, WorldCom declared the biggest corporate bankruptcy in U.S. history. Investigators have since uncovered more than $9 billion in accounting fraud at WorldCom.
Watkins, 43, was a Sherron Watkins, who warned company chair Kenneth Lay in 2001 that the firm could collapse as a result of extensive false accounting. Enron also filed for bankruptcy, and Watkins resigned last month.
''It's an amazing recognition. ... It's still sinking in,'' Watkins said Sunday. ''It is mind-boggling and amazing because we are just ordinary average Americans.''
In an earlier interview with Time editors, Rowley, Cooper and Watkins said some colleagues now hate them for exposing the mistakes of their bosses.
''There is a price to be paid. There have been times that I could not stop crying,'' Cooper said.
The trio symbolized a critical struggle in the country to restore trust in disgraced institutions, from business firms to the Catholic Church, Time managing editor Jim Kelly told The Associated Press.
''All three are just resolute in standing up for what is right,'' Kelly said. ''All three of them are made of very strong character.''
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