Sigh. Here we go again: the tyranny of the mob. Emboldened by numbers and anonymity, the finger-waggers swarm on to Twitter and Facebook, demanding the heads of RadioLive broadcasters Willie Jackson and John Tamihere for asking supposedly inappropriate questions of the friend of an alleged Roast Busters victim. Moral righteousness is never so easy as when there are thousands of you and opinion is never cheaper than when you can join the shrill chorus of condemnation without having to identify yourself.
We have been here before. We saw it with the furore over the late Paul Holmes' throwaway remark - which I suspect was meant ironically, although that point was lost in the moralistic clamour that ensued - about Kofi Annan being a "cheeky darkie". We saw it again when Alasdair Thompson was hounded from his job because he made a perfectly legitimate remark that was deemed offensive to women.
Once again we see timid corporate advertisers being panicked and bullied into boycotting the programme involved, just as happened to Holmes. And once again we see the contrite hosts making the now-ritual apology - and inevitably, then being condemned because it wasn't considered sincere enough. You can't win.
The initiator of the boycott, reportedly, was left-wing blogger Giovanni Tiso, who is understandably bathing in a self-congratulatory glow. Funny how it's almost invariably the Left that wants to shut down opinions it doesn't like, and even odder that capitalist companies should meekly fall into line.
Before I'm accused of indulging in victim-blaming, which is one of those accusations (like "racist", "sexist" and "beneficiary basher") that activists use to intimidate opponents into silence, I should state that there are few things I detest more than sexual abuse. I abhor the misogynist culture that exists within parts of New Zealand society and, like most people, I'm aghast at the reported activities of the so-called Roast Busters - and perhaps even more so at the lackadaisical reaction, at least until this week, of the police.
But the outrage over the Roast Busters has triggered a potentially valuable national conversation about how such attitudes could exist in a supposedly enlightened, civilised society, and everything should be on the table. If we genuinely want to understand what's been going on in West Auckland, a few awkward questions need to be asked. One of those questions is whether the behaviour of the victims may have been a contributory factor, consciously or otherwise. Asking that question doesn't excuse the contemptible behaviour of the perpetrators. Neither does it mean blaming the victim.
If we don't ask those uncomfortable questions, an opportunity will have been lost. And the enemies of free speech and open debate will have triumphed again.