Dutch Reporters Show How to Keep U.S. Officials Honest

Posted January 14, 2018 8:25 p.m. EST

Normally, the U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands has a harmonious time, with few controversies, in a safe country that is one of America’s oldest allies.

Friendliness has its limits, though, and tenacious Dutch reporters showed Peter Hoekstra, America’s new envoy, that he could be in for a rough ride.

Hoekstra, a Trump nominee and a former nine-term congressman from Michigan, formally took up his post Wednesday. Celebratory smiles turned to grimaces, however, when, at what should have been a pro forma news conference, Hoekstra ran into journalists who wouldn’t take no comment for an answer.

It all began in December, when a Dutch TV reporter asked Hoekstra about comments he made in 2015. “The Islamic movement has now gotten to a point where they have put Europe into chaos,” Hoekstra said at the time. “Chaos in the Netherlands. There are cars being burned. There are politicians that are being burned ... and yes, there are no-go zones in the Netherlands.”

Hoekstra said the reporter’s claim about the statement was “fake news.” The reporter then showed a video clip of the remarks, prompting Hoekstra to deny he had just used the term “fake news.” The exchange went viral.

Last week, Dutch reporters had one question they particularly wanted to press Hoekstra on: Would he admit that his 2015 claims were false, or could he cite an example of a Dutch politician who was burned in recent years?

Looking like a deer in headlights, the ambassador tried to brush off his interrogators. Maybe Hoekstra had watched President Donald Trump spew lies and hate without apology for so long that he thought he could get away with it, too. Not in The Hague, apparently. The journalists came back repeatedly — “This is the Netherlands, you have to answer questions,” one said.

They invoked a quote from John Adams, the first U.S. envoy to the Netherlands, about “honest and wise men.” They were probably being ironic.

The ambassador looked uncomfortable, but it was refreshing to see reporters demanding honesty from an official and not letting up in the face of resistance. It would be good to see that more often on this side of the ocean, especially since the confrontation seemed to have had a salutary effect.

On Friday, Hoekstra apologized in an interview with a Dutch newspaper: “I’m shocked I said it. It was a misstatement. It was simply wrong.” He added, “I got countries mixed up.”

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