130306OberschallMarch 6, 2013

Anthony “Tony” Oberschall, professor (now emeritus) of sociology at UNC Chapel Hill, wrote extensively – if not prominently – about the insanity of the Little Rascals case. How was Oberschall able to resist the storyline that seduced so many others?

“Before retiring from UNC in 2005,” he recalls, “I taught in universities for 40 years. One of my fields of writing and research concerned collective behavior – collective myths, false beliefs, rumors, how they originate and why they are believed.

“As the Little Rascals prosecution unfolded right before my eyes (actually, as reported in the News & Observer), it became obvious to me that this was but one more instance of moral panic, false beliefs and miscarriage of justice….”

Oberschall likens the prosecution narrative to “the widely believed Iraqi WMD story disseminated by the Bush administration in 2002. Unthinking acceptance of what the authorities are asserting, alas, happens all too often.”

In early 1993, Oberschall sent the N&O both an op-ed column and a response to a Dennis Rogers column, but neither appeared nor drew a response from the paper. (They have now been posted on the Bookshelf of Case Materials on this site.)

“At that point,” he says, “having been stonewalled, I decided to research Little Rascals in depth and wrote several times about it in scholarly publications in subsequent years.”

More about Oberschall’s research in Thursday’s post.