US Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa Scott Brown says cultural differences prompted an investigation into comments he made that caused “offense” at an event in Samoa — and that politics might have played a part as well.
Brown confirmed that he is the subject of a State Department inquiry after complaints were made after he told participants at a celebration in the Samoan capital of Apia that they were “beautiful” and could make “hundreds of dollars” in the services industry.
“Even though we all speak English, sometimes, you know, when we say one thing, it means the complete different whether it’s here in New Zealand or it’s in Samoa or other countries,” Brown said at an event, video of which was posted online on a New Zealand news site Wednesday. “So noted and that’s it,” the former Massachusetts senator said.
Brown, one of President Donald Trump’s early supporters who was seen at one point as a possible running mate, added that, “politics is a bloodsport back home and at this event there were a lot of people that didn’t like the President. Sadly it’s politics and it is what it is.”
The State Department did not respond to a request for comment.
Complaints about two comments
The issue came up in one of Brown’s earliest interviews after his arrival in New Zealand, in which he gave an extended defense of what his interviewer called Trump’s “basic attitude of misogyny.” Brown told the interviewer that Trump had apologized for his remarks about grabbing women and that female voters in the US were more concerned with “pocketbook issues.”
In the video posted to a New Zealand news site, the ambassador and his wife Gail Huff described the July visit to Samoa to present his diplomatic credentials and participate in a 50th anniversary celebration of the Peace Corps.
Brown described a receiving line at the Peace Corps event and said, “I remember we saw these kids prior to, and they were all like dirty and kind of grungy, but we walked in and everyone was dressed to the nines. They all looked great, Gail looked great, I was dressed up.”
“And Gail and I both walked in and we both said, ‘boy, you guys look really beautiful, you look really handsome, sir. You know, you guys look great,'” Brown recounted. “And apparently somebody took offense to that. Fine. I did say it, Gail and I both said that, absolutely.”
A request for comment from the Peace Corps has yet to be returned.
The second comment that sparked a complaint came later, Brown said, during a celebratory meal for about 250 people that was preceded by ceremonial dances. Brown and Huff were seated next to the Samoan king, his wife, along with the deputy prime minister.
“Little tables, I mean, it’s close quarters,” Brown says in the video. “There were people serving food and when someone came over and served food, I said, ‘You know what, you can make hundreds of dollars in the services industry, waitress, bartenders, sales. You guys are doing a great job.’ And somebody took offense to that as well.”
Brown said that embassy staff offered him some advice after the compliant.
“I was told by my people, listen, you’re not Scott Brown from … New Hampshire anymore, you’re an ambassador and you always have to be aware, culturally aware, of different cultures, different sensitivities.”
“I’m always welcoming that kind of good advice,” Brown added.
Huff offered her own thoughts. “I think the most important take away for both of us is that we’re just going to be very, very careful about what we say and how it’s perceived.”