The Washington Post

Oprah gets another award: The Presidential Medal of Freedom

Oprah Winfrey attends a photocall for "The Butler" at the Corinthia Hotel London on November 14, 2013 in London, England. (Photo by Dave M. Benett/WireImage) Oprah Winfrey  (Dave M. Benett/WireImage)

Oprah’s getting another award.

Now, this is a big one – she’ll be at the White House Wednesday to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor the president can bestow. But let’s face it: This woman has so many trophies we don’t know where she keeps them all.

Although some celebrities receive these medals, honorees are more likely to be politicians, civil rights leaders, athletes, scientists and other “individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”

So Bill Clinton (who President Obama joked should be named “Secretary of Explaining Stuff”) was a lock for this year’s list, along with feminist icon Gloria Steinem and famed Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee.

And Oprah? Harder to pin down exactly why she landed on the list, but that’s the story of her career. The woman known by one name is famous for. . .well, being a talk show host. She’s so much more, of course, but doesn’t fit easily into categories, which is why she mostly gets lifetime achievement awards.

To wit: The Academy Awards gave her the 2011 Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. She got a Kennedy Center Honor in 2010, received both prime-time and daytime Emmys for humanitarian efforts, and a spot in the NAACP’s Hall of Fame. The New York Public Library honored her for turning her adoring viewers into adoring readers. Then there’s the eight times on Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World and too many People’s Choice Awards to count.

She’s getting the Medal of Freedom as “one of the world’s most successful broadcast journalists” and philanthropists. When her name was announced in August, the tweet-happy superstar kept a discreet silence. She joins a short list of other celebrities who’ve been recently honored: Doris Day, Charlton Heston, Fred Rogers, Bill Cosby,  Carol Burnett, Andy Griffith, Rita Moreno and Sidney Poitier.

(Mike Windle/Getty Images for TWC) (Mike Windle/Getty Images for TWC)

The annual selections are kept close to the vest; individuals can be nominated and the White House winnows it down to about a dozen. We got a peek inside the process when Aram Bakshian, who served in the Reagan administration and compiled a list of possible nominees, gave an interview in 2002 to the Miller Center at the University of Virginia.

There were, he said, many honorees worthy of recognition – and a few not so much. “I’m not going to name any names – but one or two people, who had spent a lot of money and been humanitarians but not all that distinguished, but also had spent a lot of money contributing to candidacies, finally got in,” he said. “These were people I’d managed to fend off while I was there, but then they crept through. Also people who had had some accomplishments but I didn’t think were quite up to the Medal of Freedom but who later on got in.” Of course, the president always gets the final say.

This year’s other honorees include baseball player Ernie Banks; late senator Daniel Inouye; country singer Loretta Lynn and North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith.

More Reliable Source:
John Edwards and daughter Cate start new law firm
Hey, isn’t that. . . ?: Omar Epps, Gabrielle Union
Jay Z’s charity: A closer look at the Shawn Carter Foundation
Jewelry, golf clubs, Liza Minnelli poster: Bidders shell out at Gerald and Betty Ford estate auction
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema conquers Ironman race, shares how she found time to train



Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
Making family dinnertime happen
Deaf banjo player teaches thousands
New limbs for Pakistani soldiers
Play Videos
A veteran finds healing on a dog sled
Learn to make this twice-baked cookie
How to prevent 'e-barrassment'
Play Videos
Syrian refugee: 'I’m committed to the power of music'
The art of tortilla-making
Michael Bolton's cinematic serenade to Detroit
Play Videos
Circus nuns: These sisters are no act
5 ways to raise girls to be leaders
Cool off with sno-balls, a New Orleans treat
Next Story
Emily Yahr · November 19, 2013

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.