I was surprised by last night's Newsnight (available here for a while on iPlayer). Not because it delighted (of course it did) in accusing a Conservative politician of the Thatcher era of being a paedophile, but because this was an old story and no new evidence was offered. The BBC knew it couldn't name the accused man for legal reasons (though it never explained that) thus putting under suspicion every male in Mrs Thatcher's government.
Of course, the BBC itself is at the heart of a paedophilia scandal and an associated moral panic but even I would expect better of Auntie than deliberate distraction tactics. I would even have hoped better of it than to use such a non-story to mitigate the effect of two others on the same programme that cast its beloved Labour in a bad light. Sadly the relish with which it repeated "Conservative," "Tory," "Thatcher" was as evident as the care with which it played down all references to Labour in the other stories.
You may say the new story was that an old accuser (many of whose similar allegations have been challenged by the author of a book on the scandal) has demanded a meeting with David Cameron in a predictable response to the Prime Minister's silly "sweeping statement that abused people need to be believed." Those telling the truth need to be believed. The liars, bandwagon-jumpers, mass hysterics and fraudulent compensation-seekers need something else entirely. The difficult task in these cases, just as in those involving less emotive crimes, is to distinguish truth from lies. That task is not helped by emotionalism.
The middle of a moral panic is a dangerous time to make such a point. The witch-hunters are likely to look in your direction and - as you are not joining in their cries of "witch" - cry "witch" at you. Anna Raccoon has been experiencing a fair bit of that. I have never met her in person. For all I know some of the ad hominem attacks on her contain some grains of truth. Or not. Still her evidence on the subject of the alleged child abuse at the facility where she lived at the relevant time should be heard. In fact the more her enemies play the woman not the ball, the more I think what she has to say is important. Rod Liddle had some sensible observations on the subject in The Spectator (h/t Navigator for pointing me to that article).
The fact is that the middle of a moral panic is exactly when such points need to be made. For example, I am sure the North Wales childrens home affair involved real and serious child abuse. I am convinced that there are people who were rightly convicted of terrible crimes. But in the moral panic that attended the investigation into that case, it is possible (and I fear likely) that innocent people working in those childrens homes were wrongly accused and their lives trashed. We now know how stupid the South Ronalsday satanic ritual abuse story was, not to mention its American equivalents. Given that they were literal witch-hunts, it's hard to believe they were given credence in the modern era. Yet they were. And the reason-crushing cry of "think of the children!" went up against anyone trying to discuss them calmly.
One of the books that had the greatest influence on me as a young man was this one. It was on the reading list from my University before I started to study law and I commend it to you. I freely admit to using many of the debating tricks it mentions in my attempts to persuade people away from the current, morally-corrosive political orthodoxy. My role on this blog is advocacy, not academic study. I hope that I fall into few of the fallacies mentioned, however, and that I would be honest enough to acknowledge them if I did.
To say we need to keep our heads in the middle of the Savile affair and evaluate carefully all accusations arising from it is not to side with him. Still less, as the more rabid "moral entrepreneurs" are prone to allege, does it suggest any "agenda" in support of paedophilia. I would love to see the truth told and justice done, in so far as the guilty are in reach. Those taking part in the moral panic may see their ad hominem attacks as weapons in a crusade for justice, but they are dangerously wrong. Those they scream at as they ask them to consider the truth are not Justice's enemies. They are.