WASHINGTON – Editor's note: This is the second in a two-part series on celebrity involvement in political and global issues.
Not every celebrity has a Nobel Peace Prize fan club. But admirers of Oprah Winfrey, television talk show host extraordinaire, thought she needed one.
"She truly deserves the Nobel Peace Prize," reads the Oprah4PeacePrize Web site. "We intend to be celebrating an Oprah victory next December 2006 in Oslo, Norway."
The annual prize, awarded since 1901, recognizes individuals and organizations for their humanitarian work, peace movements, human rights efforts, mediation of international conflicts, arms control and disarmament.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee, which has five secret members selected by the Norwegian Parliament, reviews nominations to choose winners. The committee announces its decision each October and posts the winners on the prize's Web site. Laureates then receive their awards on Dec. 10, the anniversary of inventor Alfred Nobel's death.
More and more, celebrities appear to be paying more attention, lending their support and getting more publicity for big causes. Actor George Clooney has promoted efforts to help Darfur, Sudan, Angelina Jolie’s global travels aid underprivileged children worldwide and Eva Longoria has a long held interest in aiding Hispanic immigrants to gain more labor rights and access to health care.
But Winfrey and others who are winning critical recognition for their commitment go the extra mile. Jolie, a U.N. goodwill ambassador, and U2 singer Bono both have traveled the world to raise AIDS awareness, and Bono is a nearly a one-man crusade for Third World debt forgiveness. Bono was nominated for the prize last year but didn’t make the final cut.
Bono is an example of someone who is a celebrity that can make legitimate contributions to big causes, said Peter Schweizer, author of Do As I Say, (Not As I Do), Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy.
As for Winfrey, she comes across as a celebrity who craves more than fame in the entertainment business, Schweizer said.
“I think it’s another example of celebrities trying to gain a legitimacy in other realms of public life. They’re not content to just make money and have people watch them on the big screen," Schweizer said.
Winfrey has used her wealth and fame to help with the homeless, poverty, hunger, racial discrimination, crime, AIDS and children's welfare. She promotes her causes by going on international philanthropic trips and distributing assistance through her charity, the Oprah Winfrey Foundation. The untiring effort has developed Winfrey quite a repertoire of causes for Nobel Peace Prize judges to consider, say supporters.
Rocky Twyman, founder of Oprah for Nobel Peace Prize movement, said he first met Winfrey at a fundraiser and after admiring her goodwill, believes the concept to recognize her came from God.
Twyman's Web site is seeking to garner 100,000 signatures to draw attention to the committee judging the nominees. The site calls Winfrey a "human angel of light who has revolutionized the entire world."
“She is just so beloved all over the world,” Twyman said. “What we’re trying to do is hopefully influence the Nobel committee."
But Winfrey's fan club faces challenges. The Nobel committee reviews hundreds of nominations and narrows the list down to a few finalists. Professors, governments, previous prize winners and committee members are all allowed to nominate someone for the award.
The group will need to get a Nobel laureate or other appropriate source to nominate Winfrey for consideration of the prize.
Supporters have sought to enlist former President Jimmy Carter, who was awarded the peace prize in 2002. Winfrey and Carter shared a bond with Mattie Stepanek, a young poet and Muscular Dystrophy Association goodwill ambassador who died in 2004 and was eulogized by both.
“We’re going to present some of our petitions to him about the effort and why we think it is significant,” said Lillian Huff, a former delegate to Democratic National Convention for Washington, D.C., who was among the delegation lobbying Carter.
Another setback to Oprah’s possible nomination is that the committee generally looks to award someone involved in the key issue of the year, said Marilyn McMorrow, a professor at Georgetown University and an expert on the Nobel Peace Prize.
“They are trying to figure out who’s the right person for this moment,” McMorrow said. “I think there would have to be something that Oprah was doing that is so significant right now.”
Last year's award went to the International Atomic Energy Agency and Director General Mohamed ElBaradei. The committee cited the agency and ElBaradei's efforts to promote nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and not military uses.
But even those with measurable accomplishments don't always win. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was nominated for his election and the transition from an authoritarian dictatorship to representative electoral democracy in the world's largest Muslim nation.
McMorrow said Winfrey's philanthropy, or that of other moguls like Ted Turner and Bill Gates, could be awarded a prize as a group in recognition of their collective efforts to give back some of their good fortune.
Winfrey's supporters say they recognize the barriers, but hope to garner enough popular support to increase Winfrey's chances of obtaining the prize.
“There could be challenges. If so, we’ll just have to try to deal with it,” Huff said.
But just because Winfrey has a fan club and a record supporting her accomplishments, she may not be able to jump the hurdles posed by a difficult nomination process, McMorrow cautioned. She added that people or supporters who have campaigned for the Nobel prize in the past are frequently overlooked.
“I think it is an extremely long shot,” McMorrow said. “If you want to make sure someone won’t get it, do a campaign."