CBS dispatched 18 camera crews, 25 producers and 10 correspondents, including Dan Rather, throughout and around New York. Their mission: to search out the deadly drug trade. The order, however, seems to have been loosely interpreted. ”48 Hours on Crack Street” gave us more of the search than it did of the drugs.
Thus we saw, among other things, David Martin on an Air Force airborne warning and control system mission. ”This is the first time a network news camera has been on an Awacs,” he said.
In fact, this was an interesting sequence, even if, as seems likely, the Air Force was not looking for drugs but incoming missiles. Shortly before that, we saw Diane Sawyer in Livingston, N.J., interviewing teen-agers. Miss Sawyer asked, ”Who here is willing to tell me they use?” No one was, although later Miss Sawyer did speak to a former addict and his distressed parents.
”It’s hard to believe,” Miss Sawyer said earnestly. ”Livingston seems too nice.” She meant there was something rotten in New Jersey. Maybe there was, but we couldn’t tell if it had to do with crack, marijuana or beer.
This kind of uncertainty infected other parts of the program as well. Bernard Goldberg stood on 42d Street, watched by a hidden camera. At one point, a derelict accosted him. We were meant to think the derelict was a crack addict; it was just as likely that he was an alcoholic.
Meanwhile, ”48 Hours on Crack Street” did have some visually compelling moments – addicts writhing in an emergency room, police officers battering down a door – but they were moments we had seen before, usually on the 6 o’clock news. The difference was that this time we saw national and not local correspondents, but the novelty did not justify two hours.
The paradox of the much-promoted program – ”Dan Rather and other CBS correspondents live 48 hours on Crack Street,” one announcement said – was that it worked best when it tried least. It was fun to see Mr. Rather with the police when they raided a crack dealer’s apartment (”I’d think anyone would be scared to death to come to a place like this,” Mr. Rather said), but it was better to see him at a therapy session for addicts’ families.
At the crack dealer’s, he was self-conscious; at the therapy session he was concerned. Moreover, the family members had something important to say: Drugs are a disease, and they tear up and waste human lives. The family members were speaking from experience, and Mr. Rather handled them nicely. Otherwise, ”48 Hours on Crack Street” just dribbled along, suggesting that New York was a great open-air drug bazaar and setting back the ”I Love New York” campaign about 10 years.