Strange as it seems, brutal bigotry and grave national shame may not make provocative television. That's the unfortunate case with "Wounds From Within," ABC's hour-long examination of rising violence toward minorities airing tomorrow night at 7 on Channel 7.
The case histories are grim enough. A young black girl gunned down last autumn in Youngstown, Ohio, by a 16-year-old white boy cruising in a pickup truck. A California synagogue burned and the congregation's spirit crippled. Armed war games by a Texas Ku Klux Klan group, and their rifle-toting attempts to scare immigrant Vietnamese fishermen out of Galveston Bay. Black families in a comfortable suburb of San Francisco terrorized by shotgun blasts and other assaults -- including a car rammed through one couple's living-room wall.
And the crisis is ominous enough. In the past decade, according to the Justice Department, the incidence of violence against blacks has risen 100 percent. Klan membership, narrator Marshall Frady tells us, has increased 30 percent in the past year to a national total of 12,000. And B'nai B'rith reports a 200 percent increase in attacks on Jewish homes, cemeteries and synagogues in 1980.
But the placid tone of this "ABC News Closeup" undercuts that urgency. Written by Frady and producer/director Richard Gerdau, the program blames "a new general mood of rancor" on white rage at a failing economy. As Tom Metzger, grand dragon of the California KKK puts it, "The only time you can get a white person's attention, a working person, is when things get tight . . . While he's got his beer, got his dune buggy, and everything's going good and he's got a job, he won't listen to you." The backlash is abetted, says Prof. Seymour Lipset of Stanford, by "less opposition to anti-Semitism . . . and anti-black feeling among the leaders of the country."
Incendiary material, certainly. But nearly extinguished by the reliance on "talking head" shots of blandly rational experts or victims whose anger has cooled by the time they are interviewed. And the more potent graphics -- cross burnings, uniformed Klan troops on maneuvers, gritty courtroom footage of a teen-age murderer's trial -- are diluted by lackluster footage of closed factories and suburban streets. (So desperate is Gerdau for images that a shot of two blameless motorcyclists carrying a gasoline can is used to illustrate a menacing voice-over about the climate of violence.)
Nonetheless, sometimes a moving moment breaks through. Fuc Dang, a Galveston fisherman who was threatened at gunpoint, stands in mute defiance on the deck of his boat. He cannot speak English, but his 10-year-old son translates: "He came here because America is freedom and he may live wherever he may choose."