The appeal of wildfires for television news is that they offer spectacular visuals. When a blaze started on the tinder dry island of Catalina in southern California, fire footage combined with the beauty of the romantic resort town of Avalon to qualify as the lead item on CBS and the Story of the Day. NBC led with fires too--the more smoky, less scenic brush fires in northern Florida. ABC chose a warning from the State Department about a possible attack on US interests in Germany.    
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video thumbnailCBSWild forest fires in western statesFirefighters find Catalina Island blaze remoteBill WhitakerCalifornia
video thumbnailNBCWild brush fires in southeastern statesHeavy smoke blankets northern Florida townsDawn FratangeloFlorida
video thumbnailNBCVirginia Tech campus massacre leaves 33 deadGraduation ceremonies include tributes to slainMichelle KosinskiVirginia
video thumbnailNBC2008 Rudolph Giuliani campaignExplains pro-choice position on abortionDavid GregoryWashington DC
video thumbnailCBSIllegal immigration increases, sparks backlashSecret bipartisan talks draft Senate legislationSharyl AttkissonCapitol Hill
video thumbnailABCUSArmy bases in Germany on high security alertState Department warns of anti-US attack plotsBrian RossNew York
video thumbnailNBCGov Jim Gibbons (R-NV) bribery investigatedTied to Pentagon contractor when still in HouseLisa MyersWashington DC
video thumbnailABC
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Puget Sound ferry waiting lines strictly enforcedMotorists fined for cutting in, sent to backNeal KarlinskyWashington State
video thumbnailCBSPalestine children's TV show airs propagandaHamas uses Israel-hating Mickey Mouse lookalikeRichard RothLondon
video thumbnailABC
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Hollywood movies often depict cigarette smokingWill be factor in adults-only R-rating systemDan HarrisNew York
WHERE THERE IS SMOKE… The appeal of wildfires for television news is that they offer spectacular visuals. When a blaze started on the tinder dry island of Catalina in southern California, fire footage combined with the beauty of the romantic resort town of Avalon to qualify as the lead item on CBS and the Story of the Day. NBC led with fires too--the more smoky, less scenic brush fires in northern Florida. ABC chose a warning from the State Department about a possible attack on US interests in Germany.

The Catalina fire was not dramatic because of the damage it caused. Just "one house and several other structures" were burned CBS' Bill Whitaker acknowledged. Instead there was the view: "Daybreak over Catalina Island revealed a burnt orange sun," declaimed NBC's Michael Okwu (at the tail of the Dawn Fratangelo videostream). There was the drama facing the islanders: "Residents and visitors had little place to go except the ferryboats for evacuation," ABC's Brian Rooney reported. And there were the heroic measures required to reach the flames: CBS' Whitaker called it "a logistical nightmare" to transport mainland firefighters to the scene. Their gear was shipped in by Marines from Camp Pendleton on giant hovercrafts.

The Florida fire, too, was hardly harmful enough to justify attention on the national news. It was started by lightning in the dried-out Okefenokee Swamp in southern Georgia and had spread south. Granted they cast a pall over northern Florida: "The smoke just got heavier and heavier. You can feel it in your eyes, your lungs," complained NBC's Fratangelo. It created "a near whiteout" with residents resorting to facemasks. Air quality was harmed as far south as Tampa and Miami. However, the fire was really only local news: "Amazingly the fire has not destroyed a single home," admitted CBS' Kelly Cobiella.

POSTHUMOUS GRADUATES A story that attracted saturation headlines for an entire week--and then disappeared as suddenly as it had erupted--received a follow-up as all three networks sent reporters to the Virginia Tech campus for graduation ceremonies. The nine graduate students slain by their suicidal fellow student Seung-Hui Cho were given honorary degrees; the dead undergraduates will get theirs at the weekend. The theme was bittersweet: "as much silence as laughter, as many tears as smiles," was how NBC's Michelle Kosinski put it; CBS' Sharyn Alfonsi called it "a day of contrasts, somber at one moment, celebratory the next." And ABC's David Kerley (subscription required) heard Pomp & Circumstance "being tempered by painful memories."

LIGHTNING RODS All three networks ended the week with politics. ABC and NBC went on the campaign trail with Rudolph Giuliani. CBS stayed on Capitol Hill, where Sharyl Attkisson claimed on Exclusive on the secret talks over immigration legislation.

Attkisson revealed that "politicians at opposite ends" of the immigration debate have been meeting behind closed doors since March. The three key players are Michael Chertoff, the Secretary of Homeland Security representing the White House; Edward Kennedy, on behalf of Senate Democrats; and Lindsey Graham, for Senate Republicans. The House of Representatives, Attkisson explained, has indicated that it will follow the Senate's lead. The bottom line of the draft is that any immigrant living here illegally could avoid deportation but "would have to wait at least 13 years to become a citizen." To placate those who would criticize such a bill as amnesty, its other provisions include spending on border security, registration-plus-fines for the undocumented, and a pathway to citizenship that rewards professional skills and English speakers. Timing is crucial for such a deal, Attkisson reported: "Once this window of opportunity closes, all sides agree it will be too close to the Presidential election to tackle a subject that is such a lightning rod."

On the campaign trail, Giuliani decided not to disavow his longtime pro-choice position on abortion rights. In doing so, he "challenged a longheld Republican Party tradition," noted ABC's Jake Tapper. He quoted a sample criticism by Giuliani's pro-life rival Mike Huckabee: "That is like saying: 'I hate slavery but people can go ahead and practice it.' It is either right or it is wrong." Tapper ticked off a trio of GOP candidates who switched from pro-choice to pro-life--Ronald Reagan, George Bush senior, Mitt Romney--before running for the White House. NBC's David Gregory noted that Giuliani had contributed to Planned Parenthood during the '90s. He mapped out Giuliani's strategy for the primary season: "Deemphasize the early voting states and focus on that megaprimary." In big states like California and New York "his moderate social views may be a strength not a weakness."

ON ALERT For the second time this week ABC assigned Brian Ross to lead its newscast with a so-called terrorist plot. For the second time this week, Ross used "terrorist" terminology inexactly. On Tuesday, Ross (no link) referred to those suspected in the alleged pizza delivery plot to shoot up the USArmy base at Fort Dix as "possible terrorists." This time, Ross called warned of "particular concern" about "aggressive surveillance" of the Patch Barracks in Stuttgart, Germany, the headquarters of the USArmy's European Command: his unnamed sources told Ross that "one suspected terror cell in southwest Germany is under 24-hour surveillance."

To reiterate, "terrorism" refers to politically-motivated violence against civilians. Granted, Ross' report also warned about plots by ethnic Turks and Kurds in Germany against American tourists and airline flights using the hub in Frankfurt. But he used the T-word interchangeably to refer to the threat against military facilities and "so-called soft targets." It is the professional duty of the military to mount adequate defenses against sabotage attacks. If they occur, they are not terroristic; they are par for the course--and usually fail.

CASHING IN HIS CHIPS A feud between a pair of former business partners may spell trouble for Jim Gibbons, the Governor of Nevada. In her NBC News Investigates expose, Lisa Myers sat down with Dennis Montgomery, who is cooperating with an FBI probe. Montgomery told Myers he saw his former partner Warren Trepp bribe Gibbons with "close to $100,000" in casino chips and cash while they were on a Caribbean cruise in 2005. Gibbons, at the time, was a Republican Congressman. Montgomery and Trepp are now in a court fight for control of the firm, eTreppid Technologies, which has received "tens of millions of dollars in federal contracts," according to Myers. Trepp's lawyers claim Montgomery is fabricating the bribery story to win his lawsuit. Gibbons told Myers that he was "not the kind of an individual" ever to pocket a bribe.

WASHINGTON WHEELS ABC anchor Charles Gibson continued his road trip, anchoring again from Seattle. CBS anchor Katie Couric took the day off, with Harry Smith substituting. Smith anchored from New York but, by coincidence, both CBS and ABC filed a feature on the weird motorists of Washington State. CBS' Sandra Hughes told us that the state's drivers are so Blackberry-happy that they try to text-message while behind the wheel. Legislators there "decided it was time to put the brakes on driving-while-texting" after a five-car pile-up caused by a Blackberry. Hughes cited AAA safety statistics: "Anything that takes your eyes off the road for more than two seconds doubles your risk of a crash."

ABC's Neal Karlinsky (subscription required) told us about a second way to get a ticket in Washington: try to cut in line at a Puget Sound ferry terminal. The Granite State is so polite and laid back--Gibson told us the attitude is dubbed "Northwest Nice"--that they do not even jaywalk there. So jumping the queue to get on a boat is downright unWashingtonian. Worse punishment than a fine, cops send cheaters to the back to wait in line all over again. "Sometimes playground rules work best."

OF MICE & SMOKES In their own ways, both ABC and CBS contemplated the destructive power of entertainment from the moving image. CBS had Richard Roth examine the content of the "familiar and comforting" children's fare on Hamas' TV channel in the Gaza Strip, starring a giant Mickey Mouse lookalike who mimes firing imaginary guns. The mouse's co-host is a girl names Sara: she tells her viewers "to drink their milk, pray five times a day and resist what they call the oppressive Zionist occupation," Roth told us.

ABC chose images of cigarette smoking on the silver screen. Dan Harris (subscription required) reported the public health criticism that it is shown as a normal, even glamorous activity, rather than an unhealthy one. Hollywood's MPAA has agreed to add depictions of cigarette use--along with depictions of nudity and violence--as factors in deciding whether to R-rate movies as adults-only fare. For example, "if a studio wanted to make Casablanca today, to keep its G-rating Bogart would have to lose his butts," Harris suggested. Harris could have added that cigarettes were, literally, the death of the actor.

MENTIONED IN PASSING The network newscasts do not assign correspondents to all of the news of the day. If Tyndall Report readers come across videostreamed reports online of stories that were mentioned only in passing, post the link in comments for us to check out.

Today's examples: Vice President Dick Cheney, continuing his trip to the Persian Gulf, warned Iran not to disrupt regional maritime trade…a pair of small planes crashed in midair near Seattle, killing both pilots…post-hurricane, the name Katrina is almost never used by American parents to name newborn girls…the postal rate hike to 41c for first class mail goes into effect.