Radio review: George Hook turns off-colour at JFK’s graveside
The Newstalk broadcaster had too much of an eye on the bottom line at a ceremony to remember the US president
Memorial: John F Kennedy’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery, just outside Washington DC. Photograph: Jonathan Newton/Washington Post via Getty
It was a transatlantic trip that, though brief, was saturated with symbolism and rhetoric about the strong bonds between Ireland and the US, punctuated by ceremonial appearances and political encounters. Yes, George Hook was in verbose mood as he travelled through the US last week, broadcasting The Right Hook (Newstalk, weekdays) from New York and Washington DC by way of tribute to the US president’s momentous visit.
It might seem strange for Hook to decamp across the ocean just as the Obama show arrived in Ireland, but then the presenter was much more interested in the presidential trip that took place 50 years ago, when John F Kennedy journeyed to his ancestral homeland. On Tuesday, in advance of today’s half-centennial celebrations of the visit in New Ross, Hook sounded as if he would choke up as he described how a lone Irish Army piper had played during the day’s flame-lighting ceremony at JFK’s grave, in Arlington National Cemetery. “That got to me, like,” he tearily recounted.
Hook had assembled an impressive cast of guests to testify to the importance of JFK’s 1963 trip, from clan members such as Kathleen Kennedy Townsend – an engaging, intelligent presence – to Enda Kenny. The Taoiseach characterised the visit as “the last great joyous occasion before his unfortunate assassination”, a description that if nothing else speaks of a certain flair for understatement.
But with the misty-eyed rhapsodies came the hard sell. Hook, whose trip was sponsored by Tourism Ireland, constantly reiterated that the New Ross festivities were not only a commemoration but also a showcase for the country’s tourism industry. While talking to the Government Chief Whip, Paul Kehoe, the presenter posited that the occasion in Arlington had also raised US awareness of the Gathering, the often-criticised tourism initiative.
“We pulled off a massive coup,” Hook purred before launching a broadside at “cynics” sceptical about the Gathering’s mission to attract Irish-American visitors. “Every time you bring in a thousand Americans it brings in a million bucks,” he said. “Anyone who thinks this isn’t a good idea just doesn’t get it.”
It was a vintage performance by Hook, who was typically unalloyed in his patriotism, unabashed in his emotion and questionable in his arguments.
One doesn’t have to be a cynic to think that to view a landmark anniversary through the prism of monetary gain is to debase its resonance and meaning. It was a depressingly reductive assessment from Hook, who is otherwise an avowed fan of the US; maybe this was one of those moments when his perpetually ornery persona got in the way of his better judgment.