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Alternative fact of the week: Burning politicians in the Netherlands

From this day forward, let the Netherlands be known for tulips, windmills, Rembrandt and burning politicians — but not the kind the Trump administration envisioned. And lest our readers believe we only skewer President Donald J. Trump and his minions in our “Alternative Fact of the Week” space, let it further be known that Dutch journalists just schooled their U.S. counterparts on the subject of alternative facts, demonstrating that when a U.S. politician is caught lying, you don’t let it go until it’s at least acknowledged or better yet retracted.

It all started slightly more than two years ago when a former Michigan congressman, Peter Hoekstra, told a group of conservatives that the Netherlands had “no-go zones” outside the rule of law where politicians and cars were being set on fire by radical Islamists. That wasn’t true, of course, but when he was later called out on the issue by the Dutch media, he called it fake news and, almost immediately after saying it was fake news, denied calling it fake news — only to be later shown the clip of his no-go statement as well as a clip of his claim that it was fake news. Oops. It was all very humiliating, but little did people realize in December 2015 that the European no-go claims would live on despite repeated refutations by reliable fact-checkers about these scary zones of sharia law (an orchestrated fear of which helped vault Mr. Trump into the White House).

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Fast-forward to Wednesday when the same Peter Hoekstra held his first press conference in the Hague as U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands. (Yes, President Trump made the pants-on-fire-about-politicians-on-fire guy our ambassador.) Surely you can see what was coming next. Well, the ambassador apparently didn’t. He was asked repeatedly by that country’s reporters about his claim that Dutch politicians had been burned. He was offered the chance to take back his remark about politicians being burned. He declined. He was asked to name a politician who had been burned. He said nothing. Reporters kept asking variations of the question. They weren’t interested in changing the subject. They wouldn’t let it go no matter how awkward things got. They were only too happy to ask the same question over and over again.

“This is the Netherlands, you have to answer questions,” one reporter insisted.

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This is what it’s come to. The Trump administration now enjoys a worldwide reputation for prevarication and the U.S. media for accepting the lies without sufficient protest. Whether that’s a fair description of the White House press corps or not, it’s not difficult to see daily examples of reporters who challenge the president’s fakery labeled as liberal shills for the opposition. Truth is no longer treated as truth, it’s now Democratic or Republican, liberal or conservative.

Here’s what Dutch journalist Roel Geeraedts of RTL Nieuws told The Washington Post about the confrontation and what it says about the Trump administration and the media: “A lot of Dutch people have seen the press conferences at the White House and seen how some questions are not answered. Everybody knows about ‘alternative facts.’ And this fits that picture.”

Now, does anyone seriously believe President Trump is now upset with Mr. Hoekstra for failing to answer questions truthfully and fully or admit that he was mistaken? How does Secretary of State Hoekstra sound? It’s far more likely that Mr. Trump’s directed someone on his staff to research libel laws in the Netherlands. After all, on the same day all this was happening, the president was fuming about how U.S. libel laws were a “sham” and that he wanted to make it easier for people to sue news organizations in the wake of all the fuss about the Michael Wolff book that paints his first year in the White House as something of a zoo — and a pretty scary one at that.

At one point, Mr. Hoekstra said Wednesday his job as ambassador wasn’t about his personal views but about policies of the United States. But how can anyone believe someone who claims there are no-go zones and burned politicians when such things don’t exist? Good for the Dutch journalists for asking, again and again, until the 64-year-old diplomat finally acknowledges it was all a lie.

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