The tale of Vietam's boat people -- the scores of thousands of men, women and children who continue to flee their homeland out onto the open sea -- is one of the greatest dramas, and potentially one of the greatest tragedies of the decade.

The issues of conscience and humanity that these people and their desperation raise for Americans are as complex as any we have faced since the war's closing days.

But in "CBS Report: The Boat People," which airs tonight at 8 on Channel 9, newsman Ed Bradley captures and conveys the drama that is there while virtually ignoring -- if not condemning -- any reservations that Americans might have about admiting hundreds of thousands of new refugees into the country.

From the opening scenes of the frantic fall of Saigon, when Bradley tell us, "We thought our responsibility was over, or at least we hoped," to the closing segment filed on Ellis Island with the Statue of Liberty in the background beckoning the "huddled masses yearning to breathe free" it is apparent where the program stands on this question. It suggests that the United States is completely reponsible.

The only view to the Contrary that Bradley offers is the stumbling and stiff pronouncement of Undersecretary of State David Newsome that "this present wave of refugees, many of them of ethnic Chinese origin, coming out because of economic changes within Vietnam are an international problem, not an American (one)."

Juxtaposed with scenses of Bradley himself helping drowning refugees out of the water on the Malaysian coast and the constant tears throughout the first half of the program as the refugees literally cry out for the freedom of the Uinted States, Newsome's remark appears as the worst sort of buck-passing.

It may be. The Maganitude of the problem is now so enornous that the United States probably is the only nation on earth capable of coping with it. But Americans, especially with regard to Vietnam, have often proven their limited capacity to be moved by guilt. It will take more balanced presentations than tonight's to end debate over whether all the boat people can -- or should be -- welcomed to the shores of the United States.