CBS Wonders: Will Nobel Prize Become Obama’s ‘Poison Chalice’?

Maggie Rodriguez and Bob Schieffer, CBS On Friday’s CBS Early Show, Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer wondered about negative political fallout from President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize win: “one European commentator who said ‘will this become a poison chalice?’ In other words, is this going to hurt the President rather than help him?...is this going to widen the part of partisan divide rather than bring people together?”

Schieffer spoke with Early Show co-host Maggie Rodriguez, who asked: “Clearly a surprise to everyone, including the White House, for the President to be awarded this less than nine months into his term. And already some people are questioning whether he deserves it.” Schieffer expressed that skepticism: “My first reaction was, ‘what?!....It’s almost as if they’re saying ‘we’re giving you the Nobel Peace Prize for winning the election.’...I can’t recall anybody who won this prize for his aspirations. People usually get it for results.”

During 11AM CBS breaking news coverage of the President’s acceptance speech, anchor Jeff Glor got more Scheiffer reaction: “Is this more a commentary on the current administration and the current president or the previous administration, Bob?” Schieffer replied: “It’s almost as if the committee today was giving Barack Obama a prize for not being George Bush.”

Schieffer went on to repeat some of his concerns about the award:
This, I am afraid, is going to widen the political divide in this country, not bring it closer together. And you can already see that. The Republican National Committee has already put out a strong statement saying this will just remind people that the President has not backed up strong rhetoric with any kind of action. And now the Democratic National Committee is responding by saying the Republicans are aligning themselves with the Taliban. Now it begins. And I think this is not going to help the President. It’s not.
Glor went so far as to treat the prize-winning as a scandal in need of damage control: “Bob, how quickly or easily do you think the White House and the President can tamp down the controversy and all the questions we’ll hear this weekend?” Schieffer advised: “ I think what they have to do is just go back to business and get back to doing and    facing all the problems and trying to resolve the problems that are on their plate right now. There’s really not much they can do about this besides what they’ve already done, I think.”

After getting Schieffer’s reaction, Glor turned to White House correspondent Chip Reid: “Chip, any indication when the President’s going to accept this award?” Reid glowingly remarked: “Yeah. He is going to go to Oslo, we believe it’s December 10th, to accept the award. And I think he will do it with the same sense of humility that he just gave us here.”

However, Reid quickly added:
I think he’s got to do that because Bob is absolutely right. You really risk increasing the partisan divide in this town if he goes out and crows about this, because there really is a pretty good argument that this is aspirational, not based on accomplishments at this point. And we all know the – I mean, Ronald Reagan – conservatives have long complained that Ronald Reagan never got a Nobel Peace Prize for helping bring the Cold War to an end, but Jimmy Carter and Al Gore and now Barack Obama have gotten Nobel Peace Prizes. So they believe it’s a very political thing. So, they certainly don’t want to widen the political divide with this.
In contrast to CBS coverage, ABC was far more congratulatory as Good Morning America co-host Diane Sawyer proclaimed that Obama had won: “the Olympic gold of international diplomacy.” During breaking news coverage of the President's speech, World News anchor Charles Gibson declared: “The Nobel Committee feeling that he has inspired a new sense in the world.”

On NBC’s Today, co-host Matt Lauer shared the skepticism of Schieffer: “We’re less than a year into the first term of this president and there are no -- I'm not trying to be, you know, rude here -- no major foreign policy achievements, to date.”

Here is a transcript of Schieffer on the Early Show:

MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: Just one of the questions I’d like to ask our chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer, host of Face the Nation, who joins us this morning. Good morning, Bob.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Good morning, Maggie.

RODRIGUEZ: Clearly a surprise to everyone, including the White House, for the President to be awarded this less than nine months into his term. And already some people are questioning whether he deserves it.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Obama Wins Nobel Peace Prize; Good or Bad for Him Politically?]

BOB SCHIEFFER: Well, include me in that group that was surprised by this. When your folks rousted me out of bed at 5:00 this morning, which I guess I found out about it before Robert Gibbs told the President about it, when your folks called, I mean, my first reaction was, ‘what?!’ I don’t think anybody expected this. The Nobel Committee, I find interesting, said they awarded this for changing the tone of American politics. It’s almost as if they’re saying ‘we’re giving you the Nobel Peace Prize for winning the election.’ President Bush was very unpopular in Europe and it is almost as if this is more of a comment on the previous administration than it is on the new one. We very seldom have people who – I can’t recall anybody who won this prize for his aspirations. People usually get it for results. I mean, even the President’s most fervent advocates would admit that while he’s launched many initiatives, all of these things are still works in progress. So apparently the reaction in Europe was one of surprise and I think it’s going to be one of surprise here. One thing that interested me, Maggie, was the remark of one European commentator who said ‘will this become a poison chalice?’ In other words, is this going to hurt the President rather than help him? And I must say, when you see the reaction that we got to the United States not getting the Olympics from people on the conservative right, you have to wonder is this going to widen the part of partisan divide rather than bring people together?

RODRIGUEZ: Right. Another interesting question is the point that Bill Plante raised. The President today will be meeting in the war council to decide the number of troops to send or not send to Afghanistan. He’s just won the peace prize. Do you think that will affect the decision on Afghanistan?

SCHIEFFER: I think this will have nothing to do with the President’s decision on what to do about Afghanistan. I think where the impact is going to be is the political reaction in this country from both sides. That’s where I think you’ll see the impact, Maggie.

RODRIGUEZ: Alright, Bob Schieffer in Washington. Thank you.

SCHIEFFER: You bet.

RODRIGUEZ: And of course it will be really interesting it see how the President handles this when he comes out and speaks about it.

SMITH: I have to say, I was in the office this morning and on the computer screen pops up ‘President Awarded Nobel Prize’ and I thought ‘well this is’ – was like some spam or a joke, right.

RODRIGUEZ: I thought the same thing.

SMITH: This is so crazy.

Here is a transcript of Schieffer during CBS breaking news coverage:
JEFF GLOR: So, there he is, President Barack Obama, the surprise winner of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize award. The President said this morning he was surprised and he is humbled, but he will accept the award. He called the Nobel Peace Prize a ‘call to action that all nations must take responsibility for bettering the world’ as he sees it. Bob Schieffer joins us from Washington now. Bob, we’ve been talking about this, this morning. You know this is a stunner on both sides, for both Republicans and Democrats. Is this more a commentary on the current administration and the current president or the previous administration, Bob?

BOB SCHIEFFER: Well, I think what this is, is a reflection of the general dislike for George Bush and the previous administration in Europe. It’s almost as if the committee today was giving Barack Obama a prize for not being George Bush. I think the President had a very difficult assignment this morning out in the Rose Garden. He had to appear humble but at the same time not embarrassed for receiving this award. It reminds me of the old politician’s prayer, ‘Lord, protect me from my friends, I can take care of my enemies myself.’ This, I am afraid, is going to widen the political divide in this country, not bring it closer together. And you can already see that. The Republican National Committee has already put out a strong statement saying this will just remind people that the President has not backed up strong rhetoric with any kind of action. And now the Democratic National Committee is responding by saying the Republicans are aligning themselves with the Taliban. Now it begins. And I think this is not going to help the President. It’s not.

GLOR: Bob, how quickly or easily do you think the White House and the President can tamp down the controversy and all the questions we’ll hear this weekend?

SCHIEFFER: I think what they have to do is just go back to business and get back to doing and    facing all the problems and trying to resolve the problems that are on their plate right now. There’s really not much they can do about this besides what they’ve already done, I think.

GLOR: Alright, Bob Schieffer joining us from Washington. Want to shift back now to Chip Reid, who’s at the White House. Chip, any indication when the President’s going to accept this award?

REID: Yeah. He is going to go to Oslo, we believe it’s December 10th, to accept the award. And I think he will do it with the same sense of humility that he just gave us here, and I think he’s got to do that because Bob is absolutely right. You really risk increasing the partisan divide in this town if he goes out and crows about this, because there really is a pretty good argument that this is aspirational, not based on accomplishments at this point. And we all know the – I mean, Ronald Reagan – conservatives have long complained that Ronald Reagan never got a Nobel Peace Prize for helping bring the Cold War to an end, but Jimmy Carter and Al Gore and now Barack Obama have gotten Nobel Peace Prizes. So they believe it’s a very political thing. So, they certainly don’t want to widen the political divide with this.

GLOR: Alright. Chip Reid joining us from the White House. Chip, we’ll see you again tonight. There will be more about the President winning the Nobel Peace Prize on your local news and on this CBS station and of course on tonight’s CBS Evening News with Katie Couric. For now, I’m Jeff Glor in New York. Have a good day.
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC