Essays at the intersection of marketing and life.
In the Spring of 2014, I sat in a Dublin café with George Hook talking about how gay men and women come out in the Irish workplace.
The conversation came about because of a study myself and my colleague Dr Elizabeth Nixon had undertaken, published under the auspices of Trinity College and GLEN.
George buttered his toast, splashed out some tea, and fired questions at me. No recording was taking place. This was a pre-briefing, in advance of a live radio interview later that day, involving myself and the global diversity champion of EY, who were sponsors of the study’s publication.
I was grateful that Hook was taking the time to understand what it was that the study had revealed. The findings, in my view, had far-reaching implications for policy, and I wanted his wide audience to hear about them. (In short, that the Irish workplace had made great advances in diversity in urban areas, leaving behind a more rural LGB cohort which continues to experience isolation and repression).
George listened carefully, though he did not take notes. He sought to understand what message the study had for regular Irish people, parsing my words to discover where the news lay.
‘I’m wary of the spin doctors. That’s why I want to talk to the researchers themselves’, he said, with his trademark tone. I smiled at this, mostly because I knew he was right. The truth is sometimes occluded by agendas and, as he chomped down on his thick-sliced toast, this journalist was doing his job. I would discover during the live broadcast that Hook was a quick study, often employing my own words and phrases as he set up and asked questions about the subject at hand.
Leaving the café, we chatted about life as we walked along the Liffey docks, on the way to a photo shoot.
‘I’m interested in how discrimination can be countered’, he remarked. ‘I’m subjected to ageism every day as a broadcaster. People who believe I’m too old to be a legitimate voice on the radio, and who don’t hold back in letting me know. You should see what they say about me’.
It’s been years since I have listened to Irish radio with any regularity. For me, podcasts and internet radio have supplanted the need. I graze the world’s audio on the net, although I do like to drop in on Marian Finucane at weekends, or to Montcrief when I’m on the road.
Hook was never one for me, even when I was a daily radio listener. His tone of bluster, and a tendency to make it all about his own opinion, did not endear me. But that meeting in 2014 allowed me to see another, more serious and more human, side to him. He grew in my appreciation.
It is through this lens that I now look at the current controversy, emanating from Hook’s assertion – on live radio – that a woman raped in the UK after a night’s drinking, was partially to ‘blame’ for her own rape, because she put herself in danger. His comments were directed to young women in general.
On the face of it, these comments are outrageous and plain wrong. When a person is raped, it is wholly the responsibility of the rapist.
On reading the transcripts, it seems to me likely that Hook had a moment of lazy thinking, perhaps brought on by a desire for his trademark bellicosity, or an absence of that diligent research that I had once witnessed.
It seems to me that he confused the genuine desire of parents to keep their daughters safe by preempting danger, with the patronising desire of a Monday Morning Quarterback to deal out blame after the fact. By conflating caution with criminality, his rhetoric seemed to evoke the condescending BS of repressed 1950s Ireland. He was, by all accounts, playing directly into the hands of his ageist critics.
Whatever his thinking, and we cannot know it for sure, the resulting words were an astonishing rebuke of young victims of rape who, in Hook’s view, had partially themselves to blame.
Social media meant that his pillorying would be swift. Hook, within a couple of days, and following an abject apology, was off the air. Suspended.
I do not agree that a broadcaster who fails to think clearly, says the wrong thing and then apologises for it, should be banned for all time.
The process of societal change, at any level, necessitates that someone kicks the process off by expressing blinkered assertions. This is rightfully followed by righteous outrage. It is then followed by reasoned debate. In time, this enables change and course correction.
If I eliminated from my life every person who thought or thinks that my being gay is something of a blight on society, I expect I would halve the people in my acquaintance.
The change process requires not just that we muster passion to push against BS, but that we also muster grace to embrace those who listen, atone and grow. I get things wrong quite a bit, and hope to be treated in this manner too.
I do not know the inner psyche of George Hook. But I got to understand his world a little better during one afternoon in 2014. I was left with the impression of a man of my father’s generation who was trying to understand the lived reality of people unlike him.
Hook has made a mistake. Hook has apologised. I expect Hook has learned. And that is good enough for me.
I may not listen to him, but I say this: give George back his microphone, and let us all progress.