A zealous denunciation of a bizarre child-abuse "witch hunt'' that's undermined by the authors' determination to spin some equally strange conspiracy theories of their own.
The McMartin Preschool, for 18 years a popular fixture in the affluent L.A. suburb of Manhattan Beach, rocketed to notoriety following a complaint lodged by an arguably unstable parent whose charges, in addition to sexual abuse, included the beheading of infants and the drinking of their blood. An inflammatory letter sent to parents by local police; interviews with hundreds of children by unlicensed therapists using unproven, possibly manipulative, methods; strategic leaks to the press--all created a frenzy leading to seven years of litigation in which none of the original seven defendants--who lost their assets, reputations, and livelihoods--were found guilty of anything. Trying to pin down what went wrong, the Eberles (Pity the Little Children, 1986) prove to be convincing, if one-sided, defenders of the accused--at least when they stick to court transcripts. But their analysis--ranging from petty cracks about the hairstyles of lawyers to ominous hints of government plots ("an agenda to compel mindless conformity and blind obedience'')--repeatedly tips from outrageous and undocumented to what some might consider, at best, transparently alarmist. Important themes--such as the dangers arising from the use of jailhouse informants and from the political considerations of elected law-enforcement officials--are lost in a scattershot barrage of unexplored red herrings (e.g., three sightings of a mysterious "fat man with a moustache'') and dark musings ("persons at the highest levels of power'' must have guided CBS-TV's decision to show two films on child abuse prior to jury deliberations).
The McMartin defendants, evidently treated unfairly by their accusers, have been ill-served once again.