A peek under the hood as the Times considers Obama's Nobel Prize
The Times editorial board meets three times a week to discuss what we're going to say in our editorials, but sometimes news breaks between meetings and we scramble to reach a consensus through e-mail. The announcement that President Obama had won the Nobel Peace Prize is a case in point. To give you an idea how ideas germinate within the Opinion Manufacturing Division, here's a transcript of that electronic discussion (with the spelling cleaned up a bit). Please note that this is just the starting point for an editorial -- the off-the-top thoughts that present the writer with angles to pursue and questions to answer. In other words, don't confuse this banter with the reporting editorial writers put into their pieces.
Michael McGough, our Washington-based senior editorial writer, started the conversation at 6:57 a.m. Pacific with a query circulated to the rest of the board:
1) It's pretty preposterous.
2) He should interpret it as a road map for what he should do (Arab-israeli peace blah blah blah)
3) Even retrospective Nobel Peace Prizes have a pretty checkered history -- e.g., Kissinger, Rabin-Arafat.
I'm afraid Republicans will use this as an example of mindless Obamamania among those furriners
Marjorie Miller, who writes about foreign policy (and Winnie the Pooh sequels), punched out a retort on her Blackberry as she got out of the gym:
Nick Goldberg, editor of the editorial pages, responded:
Miller soon elaborated ...
... on Goldberg's point:
She offered more thoughts in two messages shortly thereafter. Note the Yoda-style phrasing at the end of the first one:
And how many troops is he going to send to Afghanistan?
Editor-at-large Jim Newton checked in next, in typically conciliatory fashion:
Karin Klein responded:
She also forwarded a fence-straddling comment from Friends of the Earth that criticized the administration's latest moves on climate policy.
Next, McGough responded to the Afghanistan question that Miller raised:
He also reacted to the Friends of the Earth statement:
And what does Enemies of the Earth say? :)
McGough's critique of the Nobel Prize for Literature triggered a brief exchange about the merits of those awards and the science prizes. He soon retreated a bit on his criticism of the Peace Prize, and alerted the board to the Republican response:
Klein then offered an idea about the cash Obama stands to receive:
And Newton noted:
McGough then circulated the comments from a D.C. think tank on arms control, and Klein provided a link to The New Republic's opinion. By 9 a.m., the die is cast. McGough says he'll write the editorial. I offered my two cents shortly thereafter:
My initial reaction, after saying “You can’t be serious” six or seven times, was to wonder as Marjorie did about what this means for Afghanistan. Maybe the Nobel committee wasn’t paying attention to that issue at all, but a conspiracy-minded person might be inclined to believe the Swedes were trying to affect his decision on troop levels.
McGough pointed out the fatal flaw in my thinking:
Offering futher evidence about the density of my gray matter, McGough added:
This is why they don't let me write about anything that happens outside the U.S. Of course, that just begs the question why they let me write about anything that happens inside the U.S.
Dan Turner chimed in at 9:47:
Finally, Lisa Richardson imagined the reaction at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.:
The Nobel committee accomplished the opposite of its stated mission; it created a headache for him that he doesn't need right now. In the middle of unfinished health care reform, and uncertain economy, a floundering war in Afghanistan, he now has to spend the next few days saying "I'm not worthy."
And while I can't think of any mega-peace types, one thing I count on the committee to do is to call attention to people laboring in places and for causes I hadn't considered. I know Wangari Maathi's work planting trees was big in environmental circles, but the Nobel made her a global name. They could have done that with groups like Women for Women International, which has helped women survivors of war become self sufficient providers for their families. Or Tostan, which has helped thousands of villages in Egypt, Sudan and Senegal stop female genital cutting. There's real momentum and progress on FGM and the Nobel would have it a tremendous boost. I'm sure there are many others, but those are two I'm familiar with.
Which prompted Karin Klein to write:
Photo credit: AP Photo / Gerald Herbert
-- Jon Healey