NRC Handelsblad is arguably the most respected newspaper in the Netherlands. Hans Moll was an editor there for twenty years. He is now retired, and has a few things to say about what he experienced there.
In his new book, Verzwijgen als of het gedrunkt staat, of Hoe de nuance verdween: NRC Handelsblad over Israël, de Islam en het integratiedebat (How the Nuance Vanished: NRC Handelsblad on Israel, Islam, and the Integration Debate), Moll provides a very valuable document of our time: an insider look at the kind of day-to-day reportorial and editorial decision-making, in matters big and small, that leads a newspaper to convey a less than objective view of the world.
Moll’s accounts of his professional experiences do not necessarily apply only to his own former employer. Like many other “newspapers of record” across Europe and in the U.S., NRC Handelsblad leans to the left, and the stories Moll tells about his newspaper provide insight into the mentality of journalists and editors at elite dailies ranging from The New York Times to The Guardian to Le Monde.
Moll began as a freelance editor, and then a full-time editor, for NRC‘s book section. Back then, in the late 1980s, he was proud to work for NRC, which he considered the summit of Dutch journalism. The newspaper once called itself “a whetstone for the spirit “ and prided itself on its objectivity and nuance. But no more. Its coverage, especially of Islam-related issues and of the Middle East conflict, has been increasingly one-sided. It is now distinctly pro-Hamas and anti-Israel. “If you’re seeking news about the misconduct of young Moroccan men,” laments Moll, “you must read something other than the newspaper NRC Handelsblad.”
In the offices of NRC‘s book-review section, Moll tells us, there is a bookcase crowded with recently published titles. Most of them are books that reviewers aren’t interested in writing about, and that therefore can be taken home by anyone who wants them. After 9/11 and the 2004 murder of Theo van Gogh, Moll grew increasingly interested in Islam in the West – and discovered many works on the topic in that bookcase full of discards. He found some of them “very interesting.” But why, he wondered, weren’t these books by people like Hirsi Ali, Ibn Warraq, Sam Harris, Roger Scruton, and Paul Berman not being reviewed? The answer soon became clear enough. These authors, according to his colleagues, were “neocons” – and, therefore, untouchables. When a fellow NRC reporter saw Moll with a copy of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s book My Freedom, he clicked his heels Nazi-style and, rendering the title in German, said, “Good book, huh – Mein Freiheit!”
At the other end of the NRC spectrum from “neocon” Nazis like Hirsi Ali are people like John Esposito, who was interviewed for NRC by its Middle East editor, Carolien Roelants, when his book Who Speaks for Islam? came out. Roelants identified Esposito in her piece as a professor of international affairs and Islamic studies at Georgetown University; what she omitted to mention was that he runs Georgetown’s Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center, named for and funded by a member of the Saudi royal family. Moll notes that some might call Esposito a “’bought” professor; but Roelants appeared to be at pains to stress his supposed “neutrality.” As Moll points out, Esposito’s sanguine message about the future of Islam in the West is hard to reconcile with – among much else – 2009 survey results showing that one-third of British Muslim students consider it legitimate to kill in the name of Islam and that forty percent support sharia law in the U.K. But such information, Moll observes, has yet to make it into in the NRC.
Then there’s Israel. When a new synagogue opened in Amsterdam last year, Israeli Ambassador Harry Kney-Tal gave a speech in which he mentioned Israel’s shabby treatment by the media. He had sent a letter to the NRC about an article in which Israel’s founding was recounted entirely from a Palestinian perspective. Nowhere in the article, complained Kney-Tal, was there “even the slightest reference to the fact that the newborn Israel in 1948 was dealing with a war of extermination.” NRC never ran the letter.
Nor does one ever read on the front page of NRC about “Palestinian dignitaries, politicians and imams calling for the destruction of Israel.” While Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) reports almost daily online about anti-Semitic and anti-Israel “TV broadcasts, radio speeches, textbooks, plays, sermons and historical treatises” in the Palestinian territories – which teach “that the Protocols of Zion are authentic,” that “Israel spreads AIDS,” that “Jews are intrinsically bad,” that “Israel has no right to exist,” that “the Holocaust was an exaggeration,” that “terrorist attacks against women and children are warranted,” and that “children may commit terrorist attacks” – such news is not fit to print on the front page of NRC. Yet while it deep-sixes Muslim Jew-hatred, NRC eagerly declares Geert Wilders to be a hater of foreigners and attributes to Israeli parliamentarian Aryeh Eldad the view (which he has never expressed) that Muslims are not human.
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