White House correspondents who routinely allow the president of the United States to repeat false claims unchallenged should study the footage of how their Dutch counterparts greeted Donald Trump’s new ambassador to the Netherlands on Wednesday.
Dutch reporters simply ignored a plea from the new U.S. ambassador, Pete Hoekstra, to forget all about the fact that there is video of him lying about their country in 2015. In that video, Hoekstra can be seen insisting that parts of the Netherlands have been surrendered to Islamist radicals who supposedly rule over “no-go zones” for non-Muslims — areas where, he said, Dutch politicians have even been set on fire.
After Hoekstra refused to answer one reporter’s direct question — “Are politicians being burned in the Netherlands? … Is that something you believe, yes or no?” — his colleagues immediately followed up.
Today Dutch press welcomed @petehoekstra as new ambassador to the Netherlands. In 2015 Hoekstra said Dutch"politicians are being burned" (not true). The only one who did get burned today is... Hoekstra himself. By refusing to answer our questions. pic.twitter.com/Dv2aalbhDP— Roel (@rgeeraedts) January 10, 2018
“If you are truly an honest and wise man,” another journalist asked, “would you please take back the remark about burned politicians — or name a politician that was burned in the Netherlands?”
When Hoekstra, who was born in the Netherlands but raised in Michigan as a staunch social conservative, called for another question, two reporters asked him, “Why don’t you answer the question?” Another told the former Congressman, “This is the Netherlands; you have to answer questions.”
After Hoekstra had presented his credentials to the Dutch king in the Hague on Wednesday, the new ambassador told reporters that he would be “moving on” from the controversy over his remarks.
But the reporters failed to play along, with one quickly asking, “Will you be visiting our ‘no-go areas?'”
"Meneer de ambassadeur, kunt u een Nederlandse politicus noemen die de afgelopen jaren is verbrand?" Geen antwoord. Nieuwe Amerikaanse ambassadeur Pete Hoekstra had een lastige eerste ontmoeting met de Nederlandse pers. ? https://t.co/8IDcPrVBPE pic.twitter.com/N0TiGaaBzj— NOS (@NOS) January 10, 2018
Hoekstra had spectacularly failed to defuse the crisis in an interview in December, in which he told a reporter from the Dutch state broadcaster NOS that it was “fake news” to claim that he had said exactly what he had been recorded saying in 2015. Later in the same interview, Hoekstra stunned the reporter by claiming that he had not used the term “fake news” minutes earlier.
@Nieuwsuur to new US ambassador: "You mentioned [..] that there are no go-zones in the Netherlands and that cars and politicians are set on fire."— Christiaan Triebert (@trbrtc) December 21, 2017
Pete Hoekstra: "I didn't say that. That's actually an incorrect statement [..] fake news."
Hmm, let's have a look at the footage ? pic.twitter.com/vlstN9vhSK
After that debacle, Hoekstra issued a statement in which he expressed “regret” for lying to the NOS program, Nieuwsuur. But he refused to retract his original comments about the entirely imaginary threat of non-Muslims being banned or attacked in areas of the Netherlands ruled according to Islamic Sharia.
The response of the Dutch press corps to Hoekstra spreading lies about their country contrasts sharply with how American reporters handled a similar false claim from Trump, who insisted during the 2016 campaign that he had watched on television as “thousands and thousands” of Muslims in New Jersey had cheered the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
While American news organizations comprehensively debunked Trump’s false claim — showing that there was no such footage of any mass celebration that day — reporters covering his campaign made only a few gentle attempts to confront him with the facts before they stopped asking about the lie entirely. Trump, let off the hook, assured his supporters that he had been vindicated and even mocked the physical disability of a reporter whose work undermined his account.
Updated: Jan. 11, 2018, 11:14 a.m. EST
This piece was updated to point out how the behavior of the Dutch reporters questioning Ambassador Pete Hoekstra contrasted with American press coverage of Donald Trump’s false claim that there were televised celebrations by Muslims in New Jersey on September 11, 2001, cheering the destruction of the World Trade Center.