I was extremely troubled by the way Gavin Esler handled his exchange with Craig Murray and Joan Smith over the Assange affair on Newsnight last night. I've no idea what the exact legal position is in relation to protecting the anonymity of an alleged rape victim in extradition cases. But given that a) Assange has not as of yet been charged with rape, b) if he is charged it will not be in this country, and c) the woman's identity has already been revealed umpteen times by several major media outlets, it's surely not immediately obvious that Murray did anything outrageous in mentioning her name. So unless he had been specifically warned off from doing so prior to the interview, Esler's sanctimonious reaction - effectively colluding with Smith to paint Murray as the Big Bad Wolf - seemed thoroughly disproportionate. And given the abuse that Smith then started to hurl at Murray, from which Esler did nothing to protect him, it was hardly unreasonable that he would want to take a moment to defend himself against the serious charge that he does not care about the rights of rape victims. Yet Murray had barely managed to complete his explanation that his own wife was a rape victim before Esler tried to turn even that against him. "You may have permission from your wife to mention that" (implication : it's rather distasteful even if you do) "but you don't have permission from this alleged victim. If you want to make a point about her, then do it anonymously, so what exactly is your point?" Esler's tone of voice when asking that question reminded me of a young mother I sat next to the other day, who sarcastically said to her wailing child over and over again "tell me why you're crying", ie. I know you're crying for nothing, I know you don't have a point at all.
But of course Murray did have a point - namely that the woman's actions after the alleged assault didn't seem consistent with her story. Yet even though Murray had done exactly what Esler asked him to, and made his point without mentioning the woman's name, even this was evidently Not Acceptable, and he was shouted down again. It's not as if Esler's attitude problem can be explained wholly by his moral outrage over the breach of anonymity, because even before that he had been less than even-handed, interrupting Murray with an air of exasperation when he tried to explain the credible reasons for entertaining the idea that Assange may have been set up.
Some people may very well think that it's inappropriate or illegitimate to cast any doubt whatsoever on the credibility of an alleged rape victim's story - but the difficulty here is that without doing so it's impossible to defend Julian Assange's position at all. That being the case, what is the point of having both a pro-extradition and an anti-extradition interviewee, if only the pro-extradition case is deemed to be within the bounds of civilised discourse? Esler might just as well have had a cosy chat with Smith only, and told his viewers "this is what you're allowed to know, this is what you're allowed to think".
If anyone had any remaining doubts about how morally indefensible it is to extend anonymity to an alleged rape victim but not to the alleged perpetrator, a few moments pondering the double-standards exposed by this interview ought to remove them.