The word that stuck after the press conference was not “apologies” or “error of judgment.” It was an ordinary word that kept coming out of the Prime Minister’s mouth: “you”. He sprinkled it almost carelessly. “You asked for reflection. In relation to you: rightly so that you asked for it, wrongly that we did not give it.”
For example, Monday’s Mark Rutte and Hugo de Jonge looked back on last Friday’s Mark Rutte and Hugo de Jonge. Those ‘you’, those were the journalists present. The fact that the rest of the population also watched was apparently secondary. It summarized the media logic of the corona press conferences well: a strange dance by the cabinet, journalist and viewer.
Someday someone will be promoted on the strange relic that the press conferences in corona time have revealed. For the journalist who attended them, I can vouch for them, they actually felt no different than any other press moment. There was news and in a shadowy room under a suspended ceiling you could extract the necessary information and, if possible, collect catchy quotes.
Only: the cabinet had already decided immediately that the press conferences were also the moment when the entire population had to be updated. Everything was broadcast live, for an hour and a half. The result: sky-high viewing figures for a look at the journalistic sausage factory. Strong stomach required.
A press conference that is watched by one or ten million people: that is no longer an information session, that is a political media show. Image then quickly takes precedence over information.
Now it was so thick on top that it was still reverberating on Monday. The cabinet was ‘not only resigned, but also incapable of self-reflection’, Jeroen Wollaars noted in the evening at news hour – followed by the addition ‘that was the much-heard criticism’, as if he didn’t think so too.
The images from Friday were reviewed again, a painful compilation. De Jonge, who snubbed the question whether he could stay on as minister, Rutte, who also afterwards saw no errors in the lightning-fast relaxation that the cabinet had implemented, and moreover, it was much too early for such an evaluation. Regret? Neither of them thought about it.
Now that was different, we knew. Monday’s Rutte and De Jonge were remorseful: they had misjudged the relaxation, their self-reflection was inadequate.
Had they really learned a lesson? There was something ominous in Rutte’s explanation for the lack of reflection: “We were so busy thinking about the measures in those days that we had not prepared it well.”
It was hallucinatory television. As if reflection and policy existed separately. After all, if the government had acknowledged an error of judgment, it would have made a difference to policy. Would it ease off less quickly next time? Would additional measures now be necessary?
Those questions were connected in the corona reality, but not in the press conference reality of this cabinet. It had happened that way last summer too – relaxed too quickly, pulled the reins back too late, I’m sorry – but apparently De Jonge and Rutte had mainly learned that you could continue in the old way if you apologized again later. Effective, but not very sincere – a bit like a fake QR code to get into a nightclub.
It was “spot-on-stain politics that could no longer be justified”, Arjan Noorlander analyzed from The Hague against Wollaars in the Nieuwsuur studio. He assumed that the House of Representatives would be satisfied with this sorry round. He did not say whether he did that as a journalist.