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A peek under the hood as the Times considers Obama's Nobel Prize

President Obama, Nobel Peace 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:

If we want to railroad an edit [Editor's note: "railroad" is old-school newspaper jargon for rushing something into print] on Obama's Nobel, my thoughts are:
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:

Yes. It's insane.

Nick Goldberg, editor of the editorial pages, responded:

I'd like a piece. We should talk to Janet about what we have space for. But I think a piece that manages to convey the preposterousness (without attacking Obama TOO much, since it's not really his fault) while also talking about the history of the prize would be good. And making your point that the right will see this as nutty Obamamania.

Miller soon elaborated ...

... on Goldberg's point:

It does illustrate gap between how we view things in US and how we're viewed abroad. It isn't just Obamamania but symbol of how hated Bush policy was and how important is to Europe, say, that Obama has turned around belicose rhetoric and some policy.

She offered more thoughts in two messages shortly thereafter. Note the Yoda-style phrasing at the end of the first one:

You shouldn't get a prize for not being Bush. Or for giving speeches. And it disses the good work a lot of other people are doing. The lead candidate had been that black senator in Colombia who has arranged FARC hostage releases. Like her there are many.

And how many troops is he going to send to Afghanistan?

Editor-at-large Jim Newton checked in next, in typically conciliatory fashion:

I'd echo the view that this seems excessive, but I would note that he's reversed direction on a failed war in Iraq and reached out to the Muslim world in ways no American president ever has (both of which we have commended). If Kissinger could get a Nobel for bombing Cambodia, surely this is a small excess by comparison.

Karin Klein responded:

I agree with Marjorie. This is a chance to give someone who devotes his or her life to helping unfortunate people, right at the ground level . OK, and sometimes it's not given to that sort of person but to a political leader like Anwar Sadat, but in that case it's for accomplishing something tangible (and not easy) in the way of peace.

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:

I agree but I agree too with Jim that we could emphasize, after dumping on the choice, that at least it shows how badly Bush hurt the US image. The other question is whether we think the Nobel Peace Prize is a big deal as a general proposition or, like the Nobel Prize for Literature (Sinclair Lewis?), is such a mixed bag that it should be taken with a grain of salt

He also reacted to the Friends of the Earth statement:

does this mean he's no Al Gore, or that they had a preferred candidate?
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:

on the other hand, the prize was deserved by the Northern Ireland guys (that has held up, though Gordon Brown had to go there recently to stop a rupture ). and william faulkner is no sinclair lewis. It's a mixed bag.

GOP response:


Klein then offered an idea about the cash Obama stands to receive:

We could suggest he might want to donate the prize money to the people who are working so hard every day on the key issues this represents, groups that are starving for money because of the economy. The very donation would be an accomplishment toward piece.

And Newton noted:

And the Peace Prize often has been given to encourage the pursuit of peace, not merely to reward it.

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:

The timing of the actual decision—several months ago, apparently—argues against that

Offering futher evidence about the density of my gray matter, McGough added:

PS—it’s Norwegians.


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:

Mike, you’re making a better point here than you might think. When you really think about it, can you name one person on planet Earth who has made a profound contribution toward the cause of peace over the last year? I can’t. In that context, the award to Obama starts to make more sense. It’s not that he has done so much, but nobody else has done more.

Finally, Lisa Richardson imagined the reaction at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.:

We'll never know, but I bet he was seriously put out at receiving this award.

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:

What Lisa said.

Photo credit: AP Photo / Gerald Herbert

-- Jon Healey


Comments () | Archives (35)

The comments to this entry are closed.

zulfiqar tareen

for the first time in my life i have no respect for noble prize. it is all propangda and politics.
obama has done nothing to deserve it. he has achieved nothing. he did not even have proper resume to be the president, he had done nothing for america, he got it, just becuse he is black.
this is outrageous.


Why is the Long Beach Police Dept. "borrowing" helicopeters from the LAPD?
Why is the LAPD "loaning" helicopters to the LBPD?

Jeffrey McManus

The notion that the Nobel committee came to its decision on Obama back in February (as reported in Rupert Murdoch's NY Post this morning) is totally false. The committee explicitly stated that the award was given for Obama's work over the past year (which makes sense since this is an annual award, not a lifetime achievement award as some misunderstand it to be).

In an interview with the NY Times, they stated that the committee came to their final decision on Monday. So the deliberation time on this was eight months, not twelve weeks as some critics are asserting.


Say what you want about whether he deserves the award, but let's not assist the folks who are making stuff up about Obama because they don't like his politics.

Charles Rinehart

I have thought about this since I heard the President won.
Maybe he doesn't deserve it. But who are we to denigrate this?

Let's keep in mind he was unaware of this, and he just can't refuse. Would you?
Let's see what happens after this. Maybe, just maybe, it will be the catalyst to force the end of the useless wars.

Either way, this gives him a heavier gravity and I for one think it's a good thing.

For one day, lets congratulate the President, and hope he uses it for good.


This seems consistent with the new philosophy of rewarding failure that we see so much of today. "Too big to fail", bailing out fraudulent banks and handing out money to every failing industry. This is the new way of magical thinking.

It does not matter what Obama has done. It's appearance and the attempt that matters. Mind over matter. Style over substance. Rewards for failure.

Jon Healey

@Jeffrey -- Thanks for pointing that out. In fairness to Mike McGough, just after I published this thing, he sent me a note saying he'd been incorrect about the timing of the Nobel committee's decision. But I left the post as it was because, as I said in the first graf, the exchanges here were just a starting point for the work on the editorial.


Right on Zulfiqar Tareen! And please remember Barack mother is white.

Marshall Davidson

No matter how your editorial board seeks to justify Obama's absurd Nobel, based on his nomination one month after inauguration and award nine months thereafter, a child who has just diagrammed his first sentence will soon receive the Nobel for literature.

The only thing I have recently read that is as vacuously self-referential as an Obama speech is the e-mail traffic among those of you on the LA Time's editorial board but, thankfully, most of you will soon be unemployed and less likely to plague the rest of us with your fatuous blather.

andrew nelson

I think this might have been timed for a different outcome to the Israeli-Palistinian talks, that did not go well. And did not spark the era of peace that the campaign had promised.

Instead, it highlights the significant gap between our expectations and reality. A philosophical person, who has read Albert Camus, would point out that this fits the classic definition of absurdity.

No ones fault really. It's just absurd. Obama, his administration, and the liberals of western civilization who would call him king, need to begin to see the world as it is, not as they want it to be.

That way, they might have a chance to deal with those realities to move the world to where they want it to be.

Holly Helmstetter

The people who are using this as an excuse to bash President Obama are mainly those who would rather see our nation fail rather than see Obama succeed.

Yes, it's early days for him to get this prize. But I believe many of the people who are just ranting in the negative (however many "points" they use to support their rants), are still sore about this particular man being elected to the presidency of the most powerful nation on earth.


Unfortunately the award iss premature to the point of appearing to be influence pedaling.


If you read the requirements of the peace prize, how the founder of this prize defined it, it clearly states that it should be rewarded for someone who actually HAS DONE A TANGIBLE TASK. It's not designed to be forward-looking as to "what he/she COULD HAVE DONE" or "what he/she WILL DO". This is such a joke!


How does this man who has been on the National stage for a little over 4 years, our President for less than 10 months and in office for only 12 days BEFORE his nomination for the Noble Peace Prize, deserve this honor? HE HAS DONE NOTHING TO EARN IT! This man is a divider, not a uniter! He's leading this country to ruin by spending money we don't have; he's weakened our ability to defend ourselves and he's using "Czars" to run an "end around" game by by-passing Congress and making "Executive" decisions that cannot be properly vetted by Congress and the Supreme Court!

It seems that the World and the "Obama Nation" within this country are doing their best to turn this "boy wonder" into a God or a King! I'm here to tell you that as long as there is a breath in my body, he will be neither! He and his supporters would be wise to remember the fate of Caesar when he attempted to become a God!

Marcia Twane

Where the heck is the poll??????????????????????????????????????????

El Guapo de la ciudad de los angeles

Europeans trying to finesse U.S, Foreign policy.

Emilia Misiura

This is very comical, for many reasons.

Russell Stoddard

This award is richly deserved by president Obama just for defeating the war mongering Republican party. I can't think of any other person or event ,since Obama has taken office, that has made the world a safer place.


I didn't know the Nobel Prize had a category for grand apologist. mm mmmm mmm

Buzz in Solvang

While it may surprise many of those suffering from Obama Derangement syndrome, the Nobel Peace prize people said it was for his efforts to change the political discourse of America and make America once again the country the world looks up to to try and dis arm the world's nuclear arsenal.

Obama has changed the course of America from one of fear and warmongers ala the "Bring 'em on" mentality of the former president to one of working for peace, despite the two wars he inherited from the warmongering Cheney administration that treated the world like it should be under our bootheel.

AND he was humble enough to say he didn't deserve it but would work to live up to it's ideals.


I always thought that a great candidate for the nobel peace prize would be peter gabriel and his work with Amnesty international..He has done yaerly concerts to promote peace..better choice than obama imho.


A complete and total farce. Obama does not merit the Nobel Peace Price. I thought the prize was given to someone who had actually accomplished something of significance, not what one wishes to accomplish. That being the case, I strongly wish for world peace so that makes me a viable candidate.


"No matter how your editorial board seeks to justify Obama's absurd Nobel..." Marshall Davidson

Marshall, maybe actually read the article. Because if you did, you would see that most of the editorial board -- like most people I know among my circle of friends (all of whom love him and voted for him and are die-hard lefties) -- come across as both shocked and negative about Obama being awarded the Nobel prize. Several suggest people who should have got it in his place. Most weigh in that the Nobel is fairly ridiculous these days. A number point out that it -- quite clearly based on your comments -- feeds into right-wing conspiracy theories.

Dave in Northridge

Reading this, my guess is that Michael McGough is angling for a job at the Washington Post, because he's pretty much channeling a piece that Michael Gerson (you remember, the Bush speechwriter who didn't write a tell-all book about the previous administration) wrote as an instant reaction to the Nobel Prize. It might be good for this paper if he takes it.

Linda Bell

What's wrong with us? Why can't we just celebrate that the Nobel Committee thinks our president is worthy of this prize because he has changed the discourse in the world in just a few short months in a direction that makes the rest of the world evidently feel safer? This is something for Americans to be proud of, quite simply, not to fight over. They deliberated on it, they had 200 nominees, they decided President Obama was the best. That's a good thing.


Obama awarded Nobel Peace Prize. I guess good intentions/ aspirations are good enough. This is like today's schools, no one fails and everyone wins. There is no accounting of actual achievement. Obama's award like a few in the past seem to be more about trying to push a political point of view rather then actual achievement. Sadly this lessens the award for those who have actually worked and contributed to improve the plight of humans. Politics, power and money have sullied the award.


First, it would be nice for everyone to comment if they voted for President Obama or not. At least, we can see how "objective" these comments are.

I voted for Obama and I agree their choice is surprising. I do not agree with those that aim their ire at him versus the Nobel Committee. Nor do I understand the ire given he's not the first controversial recipient.

There seems to be much more going on here than meets the eye. Republicans were soundly repudiated in the last election. They are desperately trying to prove America got it all wrong. Therefore, they will never give President Obama any credit for anything.


Actually, Alfred Nobel's will says nothing about accomplishment in and of itself. What is says is this: "and one part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity among nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses."

Obama has executed the "best work for fraternity among nations." He has quieted the saber rattling and has calmed the bellicose voices of years past.

Common courtesy and civil discourse is the first step toward peace. If we are determined to state no peace has been achieved during his time, then the prize should never have been awarded to any prior laureate as we are still awaiting lasting peace throughout the world.

I, for one, am proud our president was chosen and offer my congratulations.


Well, that discussion certainly puts a kibosh on the whole left-wing media conspiracy thing. Sheesh. Why not use the prize to encourage the most promising, as well as to reward the most accomplished? Think of it as an international MacArthur Fellowship.

William Joseph Miller

That's the term that best describes all of those critics who have gone on warpath the moment Barack Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize. As a retired teacher who spent a life time teaching in an inner city high school in south Los Angeles, I am quite familiar with that term. My students used it to describe a clique of students, usually girls, who refused to accomplish anything productive, and instead spent their energies bad-mouthing students who tried to make something out of their lives.

I also saw the same mentality behind a bumper I saw one day which said "MY KID BEAT UP YOUR HONOR STUDENT." Recently an honor student in Chicago was beaten to death by a gang of thugs. That tragedy is NOT new. Killing like that have occurred in Los Angeles on a regular basis, and one of the reasons I rarely left my classroom was to provide a safe haven for students during the school day.

So all the hatred and animosity that the GOP and the right wing spews simply proves that they are no better than the thugs and know-nothings back at my former school.
NOTE what Obama himself said when he received the news:
"Let me be clear: I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations."

Or let's note another statement: "We can't accept a world in which more people are denied opportunity and dignity that all people yearn for -- the ability to get an education and make a decent living; the security that you won't have to live in fear of disease or violence without hope for the future.""

This vision truly represents the best of America. In view of the arrogant, hate-filled attitude of the Bush administration and in view of the current atmosphere of violence, ignorance, fear and hatred, not the mention death threats, that exist in this country, anyone who dares to make such a visionary statement - a risk to his own life - deserves a Nobel.

You won't find such quality of leadership in the GOP, Wall Street, and certainly NOT in the media.

Obama made it clear that the Nobel Peace Prize was his prize but a prize for the American people. The gang of GOP, right-wing haters who are no on the attack don't hate Obama - they hate America. Like the ignorant, indolent adolescents I described, they have not positive vision for themselves or for America, and they cannot stand to America transcend the gutter if ignorance, violence, hatred, and fear that they themselves inhabit. Just like the Taliban, they want to see America fail.

Bob Cobbs

What is the matter with everyone, are they so caught up in the Washington "game"? Barack Obama deserves this prize as do the American people for electing him and bringing reconciliation and cooperation to the table of nations. The cold war mentality of the last 60 years is finally over and the world can look to a new vision in global affairs.


@ Buzz "Obama has changed the course of America from one of fear and warmongers ala the 'Bring 'em on' mentality of the former president to one of working for peace..."

So THAT'S why The Boy Blunder did nothing when Russia invaded Georgia, then rewarded Putin's bad behavior by removing the missile shield from Czechoslovakia, oh, and while telling the world that America is arrogant and uncaring! Thanks for clearing that up!



Just how has Obama executed the "best work for fraternity among nations"? By demanding that Israel stop building settlements? By declaring that "the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran" as thousands risked their lives protesting a rigged election? By doing nothing as Russia rolled over Georgia? By removing the missile defense shield from Czechoslovakia and Poland? By bowing to the Saudi king? By shaking hands with Hugo Chávez? By saying he was "deeply concerned" as Honduras saved herself from a Chávez-backed takeover? Oh, I know! By telling you dopes what you want to hear: that America is arrogant and uncaring -- two adjectives which sum up your lord and god very nicely!

Jon Healey

@Lisa -- Umm, I know it seems like a long time since George Bush was president, but W. was the chief executive when Russia rolled troops into Georgia. You should direct your criticisms at him, although one wonders what you would have liked to have seen Bush do -- bomb Moscow? Or maybe just keep deying it entry into the WTO? And if I'm not mistaken, American presidents have been calling on Israel for years to stop building settlements.


Is there someone in Europe,Asia,South or Central America,North America who deserves the prize?
Given the state of the world in our modern times,one wonders if the Nobel Prize group had any candidates.
Surely the critics know of many individuals who they could nominate for the prize.
The election of Obama indicated the Bush Doctrine was not popular.This is a vote for the good judgement of the American citizenry. Take it as an honor,not a burden.

Victoria Ryan-Bailey

Yes, We Can Bring Peace!

President Obama may not have deserved the Nobel Peace Prize as he humbly proclaimed, and his enemies wrongly concurred. But how many of us ever get what we truly deserve? Still, to many people, including those on the Nobel committee, Obama epitomizes a young world leader who effectively advocates peace on earth and goodwill toward all men. His is the style of leadership that challenges the status quo on behalf of widows and the fatherless. His words can eventually bring peace to warring factions. Obama brings an aura and spirit of peace that makes satanic forces be still and inquiring minds want to know more. In these dangerous times, we can’t afford not to encourage, honor, award, and reward any positive, influential leader to walk on courageously by faith, albeit he walks alone. We should be as wise as those Nobel officials who realize when mighty men like President Obama speak peace, evil men plan war.

Victoria Ryan-Bailey
4333 W Belle Place
St. Louis, Mo. 63108



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