The Truth About Obama's Nobel Prize

Nobel Prize Committee Chair Thorbjørn Jagland is shamelessly seeking the spotlight.

Most of the world, including President Barack Obama, woke up last Friday to quite a surprise. But the real story is that Thorbjørn Jagland, the new committee chair of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, wanted to start his tenure with a splash. He had promised insiders a winner that would gain international recognition.

TV2, the largest private broadcasting network in Norway, called the results during their evening news Thursday. I asked the reporter who had made the call, Gerhard Helskog, why he thought Obama would be the winner.

“Jagland is the new leader of the Committee,” he said. “And Jagland, how should I put this… is a grand thinker.”

But before we look more at Jagland, let’s look at the history of the Peace Prize. Alfred Nobel’s testament assigned the responsibility of the Peace Prize to the Norwegian parliament, which is called the Storting. When Nobel died in 1896, Norway was not yet independent, though there was local self-rule. Thus the Norwegians would be in charge of the Peace Prize because they would be able to keep the Prize untainted from national political concerns.

Norway gained independence in 1905 and gained control over its own foreign policy. The Storting selects the Nobel Committee, but the tradition is to select emeritus members of the political community that are no longer in active politics. This seems to been changing with recent membership choices.

Jagland retired after 16 years in the Storting this month. He served as the president of the assembly for the last four years. His tenure also included one year as the secretary of state under current Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, and nearly one year as an embattled prime minister himself during the late 90’s.

The members of the Council of Europe elected him to be the new general secretary of that organization earlier this month. Some legal experts suggested Jagland should resign from the Nobel Committee. Leading an international organization of 50 nations could lead critics to question the independence of the Nobel Committee, said Eivind Smith, law professor at the University of Oslo.

Friday’s award decision landed as a bombshell in Norway. The announcement brought a surprised gasp from the media that was crammed into the Nobel Institute building and Twitter exploded with acerbic comments from members of Storting, pundits, and reporters.

“Obama? Come on!,” was a comment from Torbjørn Røe Isaksen who is a member of the Storting. “Hu Jia was judged and came in short. He is in jail and is less glamorous of course.”

Most of the comments ridiculed Jagland and suggested the real motivation, his need to make a big splash and get access to an important man.

“The Nobel show needed a superstar this year. The prize went to the biggest star of them all. What great way to promote Norway!” said Kristine Meklenborg Salvesen. She is a research fellow at the University of Oslo and a former reporter.

Author Ida Jackson quipped that the Prize should be renamed “the-prize-you-get-if-you-are-a-politician-Jagland wants-to-dine-with.”

Anders Giæver , the New York City-based correspondent for the largest newspaper in Norway, said he was speechless, but happy that he did not take the bet that Gerhard Helskog had offered him the night before.

Experts commenting in national media were somewhat kinder, but floored by Jagland’s audacity.

“One wonders if the Nobel Committee wanted to achieve the status provided by giving the Prize to the sitting American president,” said Nils Buthenschøn, president of the Human Rights Institute.

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  • ||

    "Yo, Obama, I'm real happy for you, and imma let you finish, but Michelle Obama deserved the Nobel Peace Prize!"

  • Kjetil||

    Jagland, our very own Bush, is known for a couple of other quotes as well:
    "I haven't said this before, but I'll gladly repeat it.

    Three words - nothing wrong!

    I dont usually look so much backwards, and neither so much forwards either.

    Wages are like the period. It comes once a month, and lasts only a week."

  • ||

    "Jagland is the new leader of the Committee," he [Gerhard Helskog] said. "And Jagland, how should I put this... is a grand thinker."

    "Grand Thinker" seems to be the newsspeak for "ass kisser."

  • ||

    I interpreted it in the Grand thinker-outside-the-box way that led Time Magazine to start nominating things like the Spotted Owl for Person of the Year. And we all know where that led.

  • Paul||

    What's 'Time Magazine', and what's this 'person of the year' thing you're talking about?

  • ||

    You're quite right. Let us not speak of it again.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Jagland is looking for a free coattails' ride, but it seems he misjudged which direction the owner is taking those coattails.

  • ||

    "Norway gained independence in 1905 and gained control over its own foreign policy. The Storting selects the Nobel Committee, but the tradition is to select emeritus members of the political community that are no longer in active politics. This seem to been changing with recent membership choices."

    Recent. As in since last week recent? Why was nobody crowing about this before last week? (You know, as in the 100+ year span from 1905 to now.)


  • ||

    People have been crowing about this since Kissinger and Arafat and Gore -- all white males -- won their awards.

  • jasno||

    Kissinger and Arafat are white!?!?

    And Gore is a male???

  • Paul||

    I would classify Killing...erh, Kissinger as white. No way on the question of status for the other two.

  • ||

    If Gore is a male than MSNBC is full of shit.

  • hmm||

    “They should be proud of a leader that shows such a good stance to the world, and who promotes the will of the world community the way he has done,” said Jagland.

    Mr. Jagland can feel free to take President Obama and his promotion of the will of the world community back to Noreway and keep it. While he's at it he can shut the fuck up and just admit he strapped on the knee pads, crawled under the Resolute Desk, and made like Monica Lewinsky. I wonder if there is a bunad with a mess. (it doesn't have the same ring)

  • hmm||

    Damn e ninja snuck into Norway.

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  • Paul||

    Obama opened up world politics the way Brand and Gorbachev opened up east block politics,”

    Wow, I like to make fun of the Nobel process, but the level of synicism here is breathtaking. So, like Gorbachev, Obama is giving "socialism a human face"?

  • MJ||

    "And Jagland, how should I put this… is a grand thinker.”

    That's what the excuse is when you cheapen a hundred plus year old legacy that's been entrusted to you?

    In Norwegian "grand thinker" = "hack".

  • Polyester Mather DD||

    I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than the committee's effrontery

    Apologies are owed Ambassador Egas Moniz, President of the Delegation of Portugal to the Paris Peace Conference , who won his Nobel fair and square,

  • ||

    The Norwegian version of the Onion, Opplysningskontoret

    That is quite simply an awesome name.

  • JGR||

    The question is whether you can pronounce it when you're drunk . . .or maybe, whether you must be drunk to pronounce it!

  • Rich||

    Obviously the next Peace Prize should go to Thorbjørn Jagland, for giving momentum to a set of causes.

  • ||

    That would awesome

  • ||


  • JGR||

    Obama said "I do not feel I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures that have been honoured by this prize, that have inspired me and the entire world in their courageous pursuit of peace."

    There was no argument from any of the truly "transformative figures." Lech Walesa (who lit the cutting torch that Reagan used on the Iron Curtain) pointed out that Obama ". . .has no contribution so far.”

    This award makes it official.

    It is now the "IgNobel Prize for PC" . . .

  • Jb||

    Alt-text should have been: douche.

  • ||

    At least 0's Grammy is for something he, uh, did...Hey, wait a second, did he win that award for reading something other than a teleprompter?

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    "Eastern block"? Really? I know it's just on the interwebs, but there's got to be somebody over at Reason who knows the difference between "block" and "bloc" and can take ten minutes to proof-read articles before they're posted.

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  • Tony||

    I fail to see the downside for the U.S.

    Any list containing the persons who have effected the most positive change in fraternity between nations in the past year would obviously include Obama. And all he had to do was be a normal decent human being and not a sadistic neocon who wants to crap all over the world just to prove we can. We should ask ourselves not what's wrong with Obama receiving the award, but what's wrong with the world that the standards are so low.

  • ||

    Gawd! Leave it to Tony the moron. What a POS.

  • Obey the Fist||

    Is there any way for me to find older articles I've commented on? I need to cite the article, but I can't find it.

  • Vaelyn||

    This just in: President Barack Obama has just won Miss Universe!

  • ||

    Obama is more qualified to win Miss Universe, so I won't begrudge her that title. Also, I would gladly support Margaret Thatcher for Mr Universe, out of political fairness, even though she is more deserving of that title than Obama is of Miss Universe.

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    I had no idea how the Nobel Prize worked, or its history. Thank you for the informational article and for letting me learn something new today.

  • Marj Wyatt||

    Well, it isn't true that you have to be a known politician to receive Nobel recognition. I was a personal friend of Leo Hurwicz, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics Theory in 1997 at Age 90.

    I'm not sure what took them so long. Leo was brilliant and well-deserving of the award.

    As for Obama's award? Maybe there was a little "glad handing" going on there but I have to believe that the criteria used to award the prize to him is no different than any other winner who has accomplished something so great.

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