Obama’s Nobel Lecture

by Scott London

I’m here in Oslo covering President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. His acceptance speech earlier today at Oslo City Hall was forceful, eloquent, and beautifully crafted. But, as I noted in an interview with NRK (Norwegian Radio and Television) after the lecture, I was dismayed by the address. Here’s a translation of the story:


The American journalist Scott London was disappointed with Obama’s acceptance speech

By Amund Aune Nilsen

American commentators described President Barack Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech earlier today as contemplative and philosophical, Norwegian political leaders said it lacked vision but was grounded and pragmatic, while other opinion leaders here in Norway reacted favorably to the address.

But not everyone responded with the same enthusiasm.

“I’m disappointed,” American journalist Scott London told NRK. London is best known for his work on American public radio and has attended numerous Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies since 2001, as both journalist and invited guest.

“Obama is a great orator,” London said, “and he tends to use his speeches to raise difficult questions, to muster courage, to suggest possibilities. At their best, they challenge our assumptions while at the same time moving and inspiring us.”

London cited Obama’s speeches in Cairo and Prague as examples.

“But that’s not what we got today. Much of today’s speech was given to explaining, perhaps even justifying, why war is sometimes necessary.”

“Why would he do that on the occasion of winning the Nobel Peace Prize? Why would he offer such a sober defense of war? What would bring him to say ‘make no mistake: evil does exist in the world’ — a statement that sounds like something George Bush might have said?”

According to London, the answer is that the lecture was calculated to address Obama’s critics, to lower the public’s expectations, and to assure people that’s he’s a realist — not, like many laureates before him, a mere idealist.

The speech “will help to dispel some of the criticism he’s been getting at home in recent months,” London said. “But it will also disppoint some of his supporters.”

He went on to say that Obama has managed to make the most of his visit to Oslo, in part by avoiding the usual news conferences and public appearances. Obama did not meet the press prior to the award ceremony and has only fielded a couple of questions from journalists while in Oslo, following his meeting with prime minister Jens Stoltenberg.

“Briefings with the media are time-consuming and potentially risky,” London said, “since they allow the questions being asked, rather than the answers given in response, to frame the story.”

“By not giving any interviews, he’s using his Nobel lecture, not comments made to the press, to create the headlines,” he added. “With little else to report on, most news organizations will focus on the content of the speech instead.”

London referred to a news story by the Associated Press’s Ben Feller. Obama decided to stay in Oslo for only about 24 hours and skip the traditional second day of festivities, the article said. “This miffed some in Norway but reflects a White House that sees little value in extra pictures of the president, his poll numbers dropping at home, taking an overseas victory lap while thousands of U.S. troops prepare to go off to war and millions of Americans remain jobless.”

When asked about Norwegians’ handling of the event and whether they have been too uncritical and naive in connection with the award ceremony, London said he had not found that to be true.

His only comment was that the award ceremony was still unnecessarily formal, in spite of the committee’s efforts to bring a little showbiz to the proceedings in recent years. “It’s still embarrassingly stiff and formal,” said the journalist, “and having President Obama here makes that especially obvious.”

Read the article in the original Norwegian: Høres ut som noe Bush kunne ha sagt

I was also interviewed for some other recent stories: