Newstalk presenters uncharacteristically quiet on George Hook

Radio review: A listener who missed the apology might not even know of the controversy

George Hook: his vow of on-air omertà has also apparently been taken by his colleagues. Photograph: Alan Betson

George Hook: his vow of on-air omertà has also apparently been taken by his colleagues. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Contrary to common belief, sorry is not the hardest word, even for someone as unapologetically outspoken as George Hook – who has now been suspended by Newstalk pending the outcome of an “ongoing process”.

On Monday, the title music for High Noon (Newstalk, weekdays) has barely finished before Hook is solemnly intoning “a profound apology” for the “totally inappropriate and unacceptable” comments about rape he made on the previous Friday’s show.

His voice unwavering, he says it was wrong of him to suggest that rape victims might share blame for the sexual violence they have suffered, and acknowledges in doing so he perpetuated the stigma of the crime. In conclusion, he is “truly sorry” for his remarks. 

Apology duly made, Hook moves on. No off-the-cuff editorialising, no pointed views and, notably, no further statements of contrition or reflection. He goes straight to his next item, a discussion about the appointment of a new Garda commissioner with security analyst Declan Power.

True, as the show progresses, the host sounds slightly – slightly – more subdued than usual. But then that might be because he’s talking about the ritual of the Irish wake with writer Kevin Toolis, an interview which largely consists of Hook recalling funerals he’s attended.

By Wednesday, he sounds almost back to his old self. Joshing with Roger Highfield of the Science Museum in London, he describes himself as “a simple guy from Cork”, before joking that he has become accustomed to more luxurious tastes. “As everybody knows, Georgie only does five stars,” he says merrily, referring to his dining habits. It’s typically self-regarding but also seems a tad insensitive. But he carries on regardless: “Champagne George, they call me.” Well, it’s one of the names he’s called.

All in all, it’s a fascinating week across Newstalk. Hook’s apology, welcome as it is, comes across more like a scripted courtroom statement than a spontaneous expression of remorse.

Judicious

But then, with his future being decided by Newstalk management and his show losing sponsors, “Champagne George” has to be judicious in his choice of words, even when saying sorry. But his vow of on-air omertà has also apparently been taken by his colleagues. 

Considering the promiscuity with which Newstalk presenters normally give their two cents on pretty much everything, their reticence on the issue is telling. Were it not for singer Mary Coughlan walking off Ivan Yates’s show The Hard Shoulder – an incident now expunged from Newstalk’s otherwise comprehensively archived website – a listener who missed Hook’s initial apology might not even know he’s in a spot of difficulty.

Such are the quandaries of working for a station where outrageous pronouncements are part of its identity – Hook’s past repertoire includes loudly decrying the perils of immigration as well as forays into erotic fiction – but which retreats into silence when the approach reaches its inevitably sorry denouement. 

Given the kind of O’Fox News demographic that Newstalk courts with self-consciously alpha male figures such as Yates and Hook, one suspects the latter has his share of supporters. Credence for this assumption comes on The Last Word (Today FM, weekdays), when Matt Cooper tackles the issue in forthright fashion. 

Though Cooper eschews any verbose personal pronouncements on the topic, his tone speaks of his distaste for Hook’s sentiments. The presenter draws attention to the social media reaction of some – “almost all men” – who feel that Hook’s right to free speech was being impeded. He adds that “anyone who raised objections was called – I bet you can guess – a snowflake”. 

Cooper’s obvious unease with that particular epithet is an encouraging moment in what is an otherwise dispiriting affair. Along with journalist Lise Hand, he examines the distinction between expressing views contrary to the supposed ubiquity of political correctness and voicing opinions that are actively harmful.

Cooper’s other guest, Orla O’Connor of the National Women’s Council of Ireland, emphasises the destructive effect of Hook’s comments when she notes that the low rate of rape convictions is partly due to victims not reporting the crime due to fears they will be blamed. 

Final verdict

Cooper, typically, doesn’t offer up an explicit opinion of his own – a personal trait that is more attractive by the week – but gives Hand the final verdict on Hook. “If I want to listen to someone I would regard as a pub bore,” she says, “I’ll go to the pub.” It may be time for last orders.

On Wednesday, Cooper revisits the increasingly blurred line between what is fair game and what is unacceptable, especially in these politically fractious times. He interviews Kathy Griffin, the American comedian who caused much offence with a sketch in which she brandished a replica of Donald Trump’s severed head.

In truth, Cooper doesn’t get the chance to do much interviewing, as once Griffin starts talking, she barely stops to draw breath. 

Her verbal barrage is exhaustingly relentless and indeed tasteless. Referring to Kim Kardashian, she uses a derogatory term that rhymes with “door”.  She is also unapologetic for her Trump stunt, noting that it has led to her first worldwide tour, with the unsubtle title of “Laughing your head off”.

Cooper, when he does manage to get a question off, doesn’t press her on her undoubted lapses in decorum. Rather, he focuses on the number of Irish-American men in Trump’s administration, and the number of Irish-American women such as Griffin who vocally oppose the president.

All of which will doubtless have some of the anti-PC brigade in a tizzy about double standards among the liberal media elite. So, it’s okay to mock-decapitate a bullish US president who has boasted of sexually harassing women, but wrong to suggest rape victims share the blame for the crimes against them? If you’re unsure, there may be a station for you.

Radio Moment of the Week: Setting the record straight

Sitting in for Marian Finucane (RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday and Sunday), Brendan O’Connor hosts an item on the revival of vinyl record sales. It’s a joyful discussion, with a few interesting points emerging. Record shop owner Enda Gogarty explodes the myth that record buyers are all middle-aged men, while DJ Aoife Nic Canna says that having stuck with the once-unfashionable format, “I’m milking it at the moment”. But all agree records are both pricey and bulky. It calls to mind the caption to a New Yorker cartoon: “The two things that really drew me to vinyl were the expense and inconvenience.”

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