I picked up my accreditation at a local hotel—people dressed-up as the President and first lady posed for pictures with Japanese journalists. It was clear most journalists were staying at this hotel, where the Norwegian government had put up the White House press corps, and logistics. I opted for my own hotel choice on the other side of town, with free coffee, internet, and a better rating on hotel Web sites.
Helicopters circled over Oslo ahead of and during President Obama’s visit
A policewoman suggested I arrive at the City Hall by 930a on the morning of the Peace Prize ceremony—if I wanted to get it. For the 800 accredited journalists only 200 would be permitted inside, and that may or may not have included the White House press corps. Regardless I arrived at the City Hall at 9a to be safe and took my place behind the 50 people already there.
My press badge was checked by a group of 4 Norwegian police officers at the first gate. They compared it with my passport, and let me move to the second station—a small, wooden shack with bomb-sniffing dogs inside. 4 journalists at a time left their bags inside the shack as dogs sniffed, and police fingered through our equipment. 3 minutes later we moved to station 3…a traditional metal detector and x-ray for equipment.
Journalists had to choose indoors or outdoors for covering—some photographers wanted to capture arrivals or departures from outside the city hall. I chose indoors, because I wanted to see the ceremony, and experience the event for myself.
Before the ceremony in Oslo City Hall
As the VIPs and the President arrived the press gallery was a hive of activity. Photographers, in my experience are sometimes violently aggressive to get positioning, so I stayed by my equipment and stayed on the photogs’ good side. Food service workers, support staff, and everyone else scrambled to take a blurry picture of the President.
Mr. Obama looked tired. Reports said he worked through the night to finish his speech. I thought, for a president who based his campaign on the intangible—hope–this speech was realistic and raw. Sometimes diplomacy alone can’t solve conflicts. He suggested Hitler’s army would not have been brought down by non-violent resistance.
As the ceremony ended, many journalists stood grazing—not working, not moving. I noticed the NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea and said hello. Gonyea was rushing out with the White House press corps to make it back to the hotel with the motorcade. In walking and talking with him I ended up on the ground floor of the city hall, standing near Toby Keith, and the exiting guests. I walked outside and saw White House adviser David Axelrod. Will and Jada Pinkett Smith walked just in front of me with their tired daughter, and got into their mini-van.
President Obama delivers his acceptance speech
But with a solo walk back to my hotel, that was it. The ceremony was over. Westdeutscher Rundfunk interviewed me via phone to hear my impressions of the day, as a journalist and as an American. I thought his speech was honest, I told the radio host. The essence of his speech was uncomfortable but true, and Americans are waiting to see what happens next. I added, I don’t think many in the world are convinced Mr. Obama deserved the award, but they are all watching to see if his endeavors are successful or not.
So in drinking my apple juice on the streets of Oslo, I concluded this was a successful trip. Politically I have no real opinion, believe it or not. But just as a journalist observing, I saw a tired President with limited political capital trying to stay honest while accepting an award he didn’t want, nor perhaps deserve.
Just as the rest of the world, I am eager to see whether his optimism during the campaign materializes into any real lasting change. But if the productivity of Congress is acting as government’s canary, this mineshaft is in need of fresh air.