There may be those at CBS News who believe the best way to make a great problem go away is to make it so boring that people won't want to hear about it. That's the apparent philosophy behind a one-hour CBS Reports broadcast, "The High Cost of Everything," at 8 tonight on Channel 9.
At least during the Depression they had Shirley Temple movies. People may not have been better informed, but they were darn well diverted with a sprightlier brand of sham.
Inflation has to be the most pervasive of all current national vexations, yet it remains a tough story for television to cover. One can contemplate just so many pretty graphic charts hanging over Walter Cronkite's left shoulder before the figures become deadeningly meaningless. The producers of tonight's report sought to dramatize inflation - projected to hit 10 percent, according to administration economists - by interviewing its victims, and so they trot out a veritable panoply of living Does, both Johns and Janes, to gripe and groan about prices.
These people apparently are supposed to comprise a cross-section of America. They may be plenty cross, but they don't seem widely representative. The program is only interested in how inflation affects the white middle class; it says, Lord have mercy, we've reached such a state in this country that even affluent white people are feeling the pinch. "High Cost" also addresses itself to a white middle class audience, interchangeably referring to the inflation-stricken as "they," "we" and "you."
The only minority-group member prominently visible during the entire report is CBS News correspondent Ed Bradley, the weekend anchorman who here does his usual top-notch job of no-frills communicatiom.
Roughly the first third of the program is about Americans in hock to their credit cards. The middle portion concerns Scottsdale, Ariz., a rich community getting richer by tapping every federal vein it can find. And the third segment moseys among ways people have found to jab back at the inflation monster, or at least arm themselves with a defense. Unfortunately most such ploys make just getting by look like a full-time job.
The very best part of the hour finds Bradley elbow to elbow with a passel of good ol' boys at Mag's Ham Bun on the main drag in Scottsdale. The chaps sit around trying to rationalize condemning that meddlesome Big Brother, Uncle Sam. on the one hand and opening wide for every available federal bequest on the other. These are probably the same people who think welfare to individuals is an insidious leech on the American way of life.
But the sequence is edited abruptly, and most of the people on the program are prevented from saying more than two sentences in succession, as is the custom now in the network news biz. One can't help thinking of all the work it took setting up the camera, lights and sound equipment in a church just to record seven measley words which establish that the man speaking them is a minister - one who has a second job at a processing plant, as it happens.
In a progam about saving money, and with rumors rampant of a recession just waiting in the proverbial wings, what this edition of CBS Reports really represents is waste.