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What It Means to be a Nobel Peace Prize Nominee

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What It Means to be a Nobel Peace Prize Nominee


What It Means to be a Nobel Peace Prize Nominee

What It Means to be a Nobel Peace Prize Nominee

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Recently, two public figures have been identified as nominees for a Nobel Peace Prize: TV host Oprah Winfrey and death row inmate Stanley "Tookie" Williams. But Irwin Abrams, author of The Nobel Peace Prize and the Laureates, argues that being called a Nobel Peace Prize nominee is meaningless.


Over the past week, you may have heard an odd pair of newsmakers described in the same way: Stanley "Tookie" Williams, the former gangster who's seeking clemency on California's death row, and Oprah Winfrey, who granted David Letterman clemency by finally appearing on his late-night TV show. According to various news stories, both of them, like George Bush, Tony Blair, Bono and Mordechai Vanunu, have been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, which made us wonder: Just how exclusive a group is this? We asked Irwin Abrams, who wrote the book "The Nobel Peace Prize and the Laureates." He's professor emeritus of history at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and he says that this year, there were 199 peace prize nominees.

Professor IRWIN ABRAMS (Antioch College; Author, "The Nobel Peace Prize and the Laureates"): This is the highest it's ever been. And I know that when certain things are advertised, somebody's doing something, they say `nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize,' which, of course, doesn't mean anything. They could have asked for a congressperson to nominate them and then be so nominated.

SIEGEL: You're saying that if I could get my congressman to send a letter to Oslo, then I could be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize?

Prof. ABRAMS: That's all it would take.

SIEGEL: And is there somewhere a formal official list of everybody who's been nominated for it each year?

Prof. ABRAMS: Yes, but you gotta wait 50 years for it. They discourage people making public their nomination, but that doesn't keep nominations from being public.

SIEGEL: That still leaves their agents and their fan clubs free to publicize the fact that they have nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize?

Prof. ABRAMS: Yes, indeed. And actually, I make mine known. I nominated a victim of Hiroshima for this present year. I nominated Jimmy Carter a couple of years ago, but a lot of people did, too, and that was public. And I wanted to send a moral word to the world in the year 2002.

SIEGEL: You said that I could be nominated by my congressman. I'm not asking my congressman to do this, but it requires an elected official. But when you nominated the survivor of Hiroshima...

Prof. ABRAMS: No, no, that's just one of the categories.

SIEGEL: Oh, I see.

Prof. ABRAMS: You could also be nominated by me. Professors of history, political science, even theology, which was added last year, law, international law, philosophy. Professors may nominate.

SIEGEL: Assuming that both Oprah Winfrey and Tookie Williams are unlikely laureates, is there some pattern you can discern in the kinds of people who are given the Nobel Peace Prize? Has it changed much over the years?

Prof. ABRAMS: Well, the big change was last year's prize to the environmentalist Wangari Maathai Aquina. They had never given the prize to a person for environmental work before.

SIEGEL: It might have mystified jurors in the 1920s that that would be an activity for which one would receive a peace prize.

Prof. ABRAMS: Well, yes. And the 1920s would have been mystified by the human rights prizes. The chairman of the Nobel Committee in the '80s, I remember now, they were giving a human rights prize, and Chairman Arvik(ph) said that the prize was first established in another day, and we realize today that peace has to be based upon equal rights.

SIEGEL: Well, perhaps in another 30 or 40 years, people will say that peace begins at home; if there's not a good television program on hosted by someone like Oprah Winfrey, that we can't expect peace to radiate throughout the world.

Prof. ABRAMS: I wouldn't count on it, but of course, your program deserves many recommendations, but for other things.

SIEGEL: Yes, we haven't been nominated, to our knowledge, for a Nobel Prize in anything.

Prof. ABRAMS: Not the Nobel Peace Prize.

SIEGEL: Well, Professor Abrams, thank you very much for talking with us about the Nobel Peace Prize and the many, many, many people who can be nominated for it.

Prof. ABRAMS: Thank you very much for having me.

SIEGEL: That's Professor Irwin Abrams. He's the author of the book "The Nobel Peace Prize and the Laureates."

MELISSA BLOCK (Host): This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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