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FOX Got Holland All Wrong

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I've been living in the Netherlands for almost a year and like most other people from the States I showed up intrigued by the legendarily liberal policies in this small Northern European country. FOX News back in 2006 was apparently curious too and ran this clip:

Almost nothing about the portrayal of the Netherlands in this clip presents an accurate picture. It is reporting at its worst, ridiculously biased. This does not even count as journalism. Real journalists do not go looking for the answers and portrayals they want. They write stories that reflect the truth and the nuances of living in today's world. This FOX segment utterly fails that test. It is mere radical right propaganda.

Let's break this down.

1) "Where almost anything goes." The Dutch are legendarily lenient and pragmatic. People tend to let others make decisions for themselves. To me, that sounds like the basis of a democracy. Rather than have the government tell you what to think about prostitution, say, isn't it better to regulate an industry that is going to exist no matter what and thereby ensure that it's safer for all concerned? Isn't it better to regulate marijuana, which is no more a drug than alcohol, and to prevent most of the crime and violence associated with drug trade? Whatever we Americans see as permissiveness can often be traced back to pragmatism. And all those coffee shops "crammed with happy stoners"? They're foreigners, not Dutch people. Even university students here only rarely smoke marijuana because to them it isn't so sexy. It's not as attractive when it's safe and legal, because then people only want to use it rarely. Furthermore, prostitution is tolerated but not embraced. Why is it that FOX can't get past the idea that legalizing or decriminalizing something doesn't mean endorsing it? It just means that the government isn't going to make certain moral decisions for you. If your convictions are strong about prostitution, why worry about it so much?

2) Yes, "full-fledged" gay marriage is legal here. But a) the segment treats this topic next to drug use and prostitution and thereby confirms a right-wing bias against it, and b) no, marriages between more than two people are NOT legal and NOT normal here. Where on earth did this reporter get his facts?

3) "Holland used to be a Christian country." Yes, people do not attend church for the most part. But what this segment conveniently forgets to tell you is that the Christian Democrat party is the strongest in the country, currently holding the Prime Minister position and leading the coalition government. A small right-wing Christian Unie party also holds seats in Parliament.

4) When the segment talks about parliament, the video isn't of a parliament building at all. It's the Mauritshuis. In other words, it's an art museum. It happens to be the art museum where the famous Girl With a Pearl Earring is on display (I recommend it). Parliament is next door but I suppose for the sake of entertainment value or sheer incompetence this FOX crew decided to shoot footage of the museum while talking about parliament.

5) "Christian communities" are hit hard in the Netherlands? That's interesting, because the Christian Democrats are the leading party right now. Yeah, they take a mild approach but does that make them "un-Christian"? And who gets to say? FOX News? Since when did FOX get into the theology business? The idea of a beleaguered Christian community is also false. It suggests that there is a natural christian constituency at the same time the segment argues that there are fewer people in these communities than before. The illogic is striking. They are twisting the narrative to suggest that peoples' free decisions not to worship are somehow victimizing another group of people. Give me a break!

6) Yeah, some may look at you funny if you express strong religious belief here, especially among young people. But the notion that the Dutch are "militantly" secular is laughable. This is a country where the government gives money to religious schools on an equal basis with secular ones. Yes, christian schools get money from the government. Things may be moving in a staunchly secular direction but the portrait painted here by FOX is not accurate.

7) Would someone care to explain how "aggressive secularization" comes to pass in a democratic society without the will of at least a sizeable proportion of the population? And, if that's the case, how exactly that is making victims of Christians?

8) Euthanasia and ...INFANTICIDE? Are you KIDDING ME? This is a major news organization? I have hardly ever heard a reporter misuse his power as a view onto the rest of the world as this. Debate the merits and ethics of euthanasia all you want. But reporters shouldn't come to a conclusion before the audience does. Reporters present the facts, different cases for and against. FOX is just feeding its scared viewers with ideological garbage.

9) I have to admit I don't know anything about this "suicide pill."

This segment is schlock. It is deeply misleading for the way it boils everything down to simplified reflections of right-wing America's fears about their own country's future. Real reporting tries to see the world and other countries and cultures on their own terms. Not so here. FOX just took a bunch of Americans' domestic concerns and basically "see! this is where the liberals are taking our country!" This isn't journalism, it's propaganda. Anyone involved in the making of this segment should be ashamed. The funny thing about this segment is the way it makes the Netherlands seem so radically different when within the Netherlands most people are studiously normal--houses vary little in appearance from the outside, most people ride the same beaten up bikes, the civil society works closely with government, ostentation is frowned upon, and people work consistently and diligently rather than trying to stand out.

The Netherlands just like any other country is a dynamic environment. Almost all the controversies this segment mentioned are or have been controversies here too. The Red Light District in Amsterdam has recently been shrunk by half. Many of the coffeeshops that sell marijuana have been shuttered. Yet the segment doesn't explore these nuances, which are absolutely fascinating. A better reporter would have dug into the seeming contradictions between such liberal policies and a strong Christian past. There are lots of angles to take, including the roots of the welfare state--how did it emerge from such a religious past and what does that mean for an increasingly secularized and diverse state, especially with a now large and controversial Muslim minority?

Yet none of these avenues were explored. Instead FOX fell back on tired stereotypes of the Netherlands and a quintessential American Right fear of liberalization. Because, as everyone knows, real freedom of choice is the greatest threat to liberty. But then -- why has reporting become the substance of politics? Because FOX is selling a commodity to an audience who doesn't want to think? I don't know, but as a "news organization" FOX failed in this segment to live up to it's own mantra of being "fair and balanced."