Monday 24 September 2018

Comment: By George, he's done it again...

The broadcaster's blunt talk has won him many admirers, but has he become hooked by the sound of his own voice? After the latest controversy, our reporter wonders if his position is still tenable

Stirring up trouble: George Hook
Stirring up trouble: George Hook
George with his wife Ingrid
Colette Fitzpatrick
Kim Bielenberg

Kim Bielenberg

To his critics he is the epitome of the boorish rugby club alickadoo, but unlike other rugby club bores he is given a daily platform for his chauvinistic views on radio.

His admirers, and there must be many among a radio audience of 100,000, take a different view and defend him for his blunt speaking. Judging by conversations at the watercooler yesterday, his outlook on the world is by no means uncommon.

George Hook is the master of marmite radio - a significant number of listeners love his salty brand of banter, but many others are repulsed. And for those in the latter camp his dyspeptic tones have them moving the dial at noon at electrifying speed.

But even Hook had to admit yesterday that he had crossed the line with his comments on rape. His remarks arose from a recent rape trial in the UK. It was alleged that a young woman, who had sex with one member of the UK swim team after meeting him in a bar, was later raped by another man in the same hotel room. The man has since been acquitted of rape.

George with his wife Ingrid
George with his wife Ingrid

On his High Noon show on Newstalk last Friday, Hook asked a question that smacked of victim-shaming: "Is there no blame now to the person who puts themselves in danger?"

Amid the uproar, the presenter's apology yesterday was carefully worded and uncharacteristically contrite, suggesting that Hook had been closely advised on the script.

"It was wrong of me to suggest that any blame could be attributed to those victims or that they bear any responsibility in the crimes committed against them.

"By doing that I played a part in perpetuating the stigma and I unreservedly apologise for doing so."

That just did not seem like the no-holds-barred Hook we know.

Those who have followed the broadcaster's career closely would not have been surprised by his comments on rape last week.

In 2015, a woman who was raped by her boyfriend in her sleep criticised Hook for his "insensitive" remarks while discussing her case on air.

Niamh Nic Dhomhnaill, a 28-year-old former teacher, had been assaulted by her former boyfriend, 25-year-old Magnus Meyer Hustveit.

At the Central Criminal Court, the Norwegian pleaded guilty to one count of rape and one count of sexual assault, and was given a seven-year suspended sentence.

On his show, Hook discussed the issue of sexual assault with Trinity College law professor Ivana Bacik.

Hook told listeners: "You go into a relationship with somebody - be it marriage or be it you're living with somebody. So now you're sharing a bed with somebody, yes? And obviously sexual congress takes place on a regular basis because you're living with somebody. Now is there not an implied consent, therefore, that you consent to sexual congress?" he asked.

Prof Bacik said she was appalled. "George that's an outrageous suggestion. Really? Honestly? I'm surprised at you," she said.

The victim Ms Nic Dhomhnaill said she was shocked by his comments about "implied consent".

She described his remarks as "crass, outdated and insulting". The broadcaster sought to clarify his words on that case, stating he "would never say" that sexual consent is implied.

Hook gave explicit insights into his views of women in his 2005 autobiography, Time Added On, and some of the passages about his early attempts at seduction would make Ross O'Carroll Kelly blush: "When I pull up to collect her I notice that she's wearing black eye-shadow. We go into the bar and she asks for a gin and tonic. Where I come from, the only women who drink gin and tonics and wear eye-shadow are fallen ones. I'm thinking I've struck gold. It's the Klondike: fill your boots!

"I'm afraid to have a gin and tonic myself because I can't hold my drink. So I order tonic water for myself while pushing the G&Ts into her.

"…My red blood cells are bubbling like lava in a volcano. We drive to her house. There isn't time for coffee, because the second she closes the front door, I launch myself at her." Even bringing a rugby metaphor into this episode, he later suggests that he has gone to the trouble of seduction, but "fails to take the kick at goal".

One radio reviewer perhaps hit the nail on the head when he said that the presenter was "the King of Too Much Information". That accounts for a large part of his appeal, but it probably turns off as many listeners as it attracts.

Hook likes to refer to some of the younger generation as "snowflakes", as they complain about crimes against political correctness. But Hook can be sensitive about probing questions himself.

2017-09-12_lif_34522530_I3.JPG
Colette Fitzpatrick

Three years ago he claimed that he was "set up" after a live interview with Colette Fitzpatrick (pictured) on TV3 became exceptionally heated.

The two became engaged in a hot and heavy discussion about women's rights and a number of other issues when she questioned him about his reputation for making controversial remarks "just for the sake of it". Hook accused her of calling him a "liar" and a "fake", and said the suggestion was outrageous.

The drivetime Newstalk presenter then threatened to walk off the show.

"I was asked to come on the show to talk about the Rugby World Cup and to talk about the abusive letter I got last March. I wasn't asked to come on the show about my attitude to women or my attitude to rape or anything else, so I was set up," he said.

A spokesperson for TV3 denied his claims, saying: "To say he was invited on the show under false pretences is completely untrue. Hook was informed what was going to be discussed before appearing on the show."

There is no doubt that Hook made his name as a controversialist when he became the pantomime villain of the international rugby TV panel at the age of 56. It was inevitable that when the Women's Rugby World Cup was held here Hook would express his disapproval of women playing.

"I don't think rugby is a good sport for women, but I would die to defend their right to play it, if they want to play it as long as they are aware of the inherent danger," he said.

And almost inevitably, he has weighed into the controversy over the HPV vaccine, which protects girls from developing cervical cancer when they are adults, according to scientific evidence. He said: "I refuse to be labelled a scaremonger because I dare ask questions about the safety of HPV vaccine."

Referring to Hook, one commentator said he was adept at performing his version of a famous trick in showbiz: arrive on stage and then fall over.

Listeners find George Hook infuriating and occasionally offensive. Sometimes he falls over. But chances are despite the controversy, he will get up again and in broadcasting terms live to fight another day.

Irish Independent

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