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‘For a journalist, America is a playground’

31 March 2021

When Emile Kossen (29) decided to do the Bachelor’s degree programme in American Studies, he did not have any particular affinity with the United States. He had never even set foot in the country. His ambition was to obtain a Master’s degree in journalism, but he obviously had to have a Bachelor’s degree first.

Text: Ellis Ellenbroek / Source: Broerstraat 5

Things can change. In 2017, two years after graduating, Kossen was asked to be a foreign correspondent in America for the Dutch weekly news magazine, Elsevier. ‘I was working at the Elsevier editorial office in Amsterdam when the position opened up here’, he explains from Washington. ‘I was 25, and didn’t think I would be considered for the job at such a young age, despite my degree. I’m lucky. For a journalist, America is a playground. More than 300 million people live here, and there are so many stories to tell. One day, I’m in Washington talking to a senator and, a few days later, I’m on the road with a cowboy. I once spent a few weeks with an Amish community in Ohio’.

Emile Kossen in front of the Capitol

Where were you on 6 January, when Trump supporters stormed the Capitol?

‘I’m a bit embarrassed about this, but I was actually in the Netherlands, waiting for a new visa. After all, correspondents are supposed to be there at times like that. As a journalist for a weekly magazine, however, I’m less involved with the daily news. There’s a joke going around that the established journalists didn’t see much of the storming either. They were in the Capitol press room and had to rush to the fallout shelter’.

Most Dutch people, especially journalists, are Trump bashers. What’s your take on that?

‘I agree. When it comes to America, Dutch people have always been more sympathetic towards Democrats than towards Republicans. This was already the case before Trump came along, but he intensified the sentiment, because he’s such a prominent figure. For journalists, that shouldn’t make a difference. They are supposed to stay in the middle, as neutral observers. You have to set your own opinions aside, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t criticize Trump.

The Dutch adopt frames from The Washington Post or The New York Times, both of which are anti-Trump. That’s where things go wrong. There are 74 million Trump voters, so it’s important to talk to those people as well. In such pieces, however, journalists shouldn’t write or insinuate that they don’t agree with the opinion of these people.

The danger now is that Biden won’t face any criticism at all – that he’ll be treated with “kid gloves” and won’t be challenged’.

Elsevier has bundled your articles about Trump. In a book written by your colleague Rik Kuethe, who passed away last year, you wrote the chapters on Trump and Biden. A third book is on the way. What will that be about?

‘Once I’ve had the vaccine, I’ll hop on the train in search of hopeful stories about connections. Sometimes, it seems as though everyone in America is angry with each other and in a hostile mind frame because of the allegedly stolen elections. In reality, it’s not that bad’.

How American do you feel now?

‘In a way, I’ve actually become more Dutch. For example, I’m now a huge fan of the NS. You should see how poorly organized public transport is in America! Driving is a lot more relaxed here. You don’t have the narrow roads and small parking spaces that we have in the Netherlands. You can turn on the cruise control for hours at a time when you’re on the eight-lane interstates’.

Last modified:01 April 2021 11.55 a.m.
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