A fire in the Sofa Super Store, a furniture showroom and warehouse in a Charleston SC strip mall, caused the roof to collapse, killing nine firefighters inside. All three networks unveiled computer graphics to depict the blaze. The largest death toll for American firefighters from a single incident since the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, led all three newscasts and was the Story of the Day.    
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video thumbnailNBCCharleston SC furniture showroom fire kills nineFirefighters fatally trapped by roof collapseRon MottSouth Carolina
video thumbnailABCCharleston SC furniture showroom fire kills nineLack of sprinkler systems causes fatalitiesJim AvilaNew York
video thumbnailABC
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Iraq: US-led invasion forces' combat continuesUS military launches massive sweep on BaqubahJohn HendrenBaghdad
video thumbnailCBSIraq: sectarian Sunni vs Shiite violence escalatesTruckbomb kills 78 at Shiite mosque in BaghdadLara LoganBaghdad
video thumbnailCBSICE relaxes travel passport laws for AmericasSenate hearings into State Dept document backlogNancy CordesWashington DC
video thumbnailABCChildren's toy imports from China safety worriesCPSC underfunded to check for toxins, play risksDan HarrisNew York
video thumbnailCBSHistoric monument stonework faces atmospheric decayClimatic changes will erode carvings, masonryMark PhillipsLondon
video thumbnailABCAndes wilderness in Chile preserved as parkAmerican millionaire buys land, blocks localsJeffrey KofmanChile
video thumbnailNBCTexas plans privately-built transportation turnpikeTruck-train Tex-Mex corridor will bypass citiesDon TeagueTexas
video thumbnailNBCHighway safety: global guidelines for driversVatican publishes religious rules of the roadMark PotterLondon
NO SPRINKLERS IN SOFA STORE A fire in the Sofa Super Store, a furniture showroom and warehouse in a Charleston SC strip mall, caused the roof to collapse, killing nine firefighters inside. All three networks unveiled computer graphics to depict the blaze. The largest death toll for American firefighters from a single incident since the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, led all three newscasts and was the Story of the Day.

The details of the blaze were vivid--but hardly had enough national implication to warrant leading the network news. CBS' Kelly Cobiella told of "fire crews smashing in windows when the glass began to blow out on its own from the intense heat and pressure." She reported that there was "no warning" that the roof was about to come crashing down. ABC's Steve Osunsami (subscription required) disagreed: firefighters told him that metal roof supports "started to glow a hot red" before the collapse. NBC's Ron Mott quoted firefighting expert Vincent Dunn: "It is the nightmare of all firefighters--being buried alive underneath a burning roof."

ABC and CBS offered follow-ups to provide the national angle. CBS' John Blackstone noted that "what is burning these days adds to the challenge" of fighting fires. A previous generation of firefighters had to douse flames from cotton, fabric and wood; contemporary petroleum-based products produce twice the energy. ABC's Jim Avila was persuaded by the National Sprinkler Association that a failure to retrofit the sofa store was at fault. He cited statistics that "fire in a sprinkler building has never killed more than one person." After a string of hotel fires in the decade of the eighties, most states required existing buildings to retrofit: "Today hotel fires rarely kill." CBS' Cobiella found Charleston's Fire Chief Rusty Thomas less definitive than Avila: he said "sprinklers would have helped slow the fire but when asked if they could have saved lives he would not answer.

UPDATE: either the study cited by Avila is misleading or Avila misreported its findings. Surely the World Trade Center had a sprinkler system and hundreds must have died from the fire on September 11th, 2001, before the twin towers collapsed. Next day, CBS' Bob Orr reported on the engineering study by Purdue University, complete with computer animation, that showed how the aviation fuel fire brought the towers down.

TORCH AND RIPPER All three networks filed from Iraq, each choosing a separate angle. CBS' Lara Logan stayed in Baghdad to cover a truckbomb attack "just days after a citywide curfew was lifted" on the city's oldest Shiite mosque. Almost 80 were killed and 200 hospitalized: "The injuries were massive with some victims suffering 100% burns, their clothes literally blown off their bodies."

ABC and NBC concentrated on US military actions elsewhere in Iraq. NBC's Jim Maceda told us about Operation Marne Torch, a 4,000-troop sweep in the southern Baghdad suburb of Arab Jabur, suspected of being "a center for carbomb and suicide bomb factories." ABC's John Hendren (subscription required) followed the 10,000-strong Operation Arrowhead Ripper, a helicopter-led attack on Baqubah in Diyala Province, northeast of the capital. Hendren pointed out that the Pentagon's so-called surge of troops "was meant to secure Baghdad--but with today's operations to the north and south nearly half of all US forces are outside the capital."

CBS' Logan also followed up on her Exclusive yesterday about the sordid conditions at a Baghdad boys' orphanage, which was "a big story on Arab TV channels, with excerpts of our report shown over and over." She obtained an interview with Inspector General adel-Abdullah Muhsin of Iraq's Health Ministry: "All sin, we believe, is forgiven--except to harm the orphans. The orphans are something holy." Logan observed: "He was clearly stunned by what he saw."

FOGGY BOTTOM How do you find a Passport Office? CBS' Nancy Cordes made a joke out of the backlog of 500,000 applications for travel documents: "Just look for the line." New rules from the Department of Homeland Security requiring passports for travel to Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean--since relaxed--prompted a surge in applications. The State Department "hired hundreds of extra workers to process them but it was not enough." How do bureaucrats know they have a real problem on their hands? When they are called to explain the snafu at hearings on Capitol Hill. "Angry constituents are flooding Congressional offices with calls," noted NBC's Pete Williams, as officials admitted to senators they "miscalculated."

CHILD’S PLAY Thomas the Tank Engine was recalled last week because the toy contained lead paint. Now ABC assigned Dan Harris to take A Closer Look into whether the Chinese-made brand was part of a trend, given that at least 70% of all toys sold nationwide are made in China. Harris noted that David Barboza, a reporter from The New York Times was detained by Chinese authorities when he visited the plant where the toxic toys were made. There have been 24 safety recalls of toys so far this year--the Hasbro Easy-Bake Oven, for example, can trap children's fingers and burn them--and "every single one" was made in China. As for federal regulation, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, like The New York Times, "has no authority to carry out inspections in China."

HERITAGE SITES Global warming has long been undercovered by the network news as the environment beat has taken a back seat. So any attempt to impart a fresh angle to the topic is usually welcome.

Usually, but not always. Mark Phillips' contribution for CBS' Saving the World feature was just tepid. First, substitute anchor Russ Mitchell confusingly contrasted a report by "US scientists" that warned of a ten-foot rise in sea levels from global warming with the United Nations' estimate of 16 inches. Yet Mitchell cited the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society and assigned London-based Phillips to the story, who called it an "international study."

In his eagerness to add visual appeal to his story, Phillips offered a tourist travelogue--the Grand Canal in Venice, the Coliseum in Rome, the Parthenon in Athens, the Tower of London--to warn us about "the destruction of some of the world's most treasured buildings and heritage sites," not from rising sea levels but from higher temperatures, humidity and "moist salty air." Phillips concluded with this instruction: "See them now. Within 50 or 100 years treasures that have lasted for centuries may look very different or not be there at all." Frankly, there are greater obstacles to our global tourism plans for 2107 than climate change. Like death.

PRIVATIZE ABC's Jeffrey Kofman showed us the southern Andes where "mountains plunge from their snowy summits into the ocean." There, Doug Tompkins, the American millionaire founder of the Patagonia and North Face sportswear brands, has purchased an 800,000 acre expanse of wilderness to create the Pumalin National Park as a gift to the nation of Chile. Construction is prohibited on the preserve. "Pumalin cuts this narrow country in half," Kofman observed. "Chileans who live in the south have to take a long ferry ride to reach the center or drive through neighboring Argentina" because Tompkins refuses to allow a road.

By contrast, NBC's Don Teague showed us plans for the 4,000-mile Trans-Texas Corridor, a privately-constructed, privately-operated network of turnpikes "designed to move much of the traffic off of Interstates." A 1,200-foot-wide transportation ribbon would bypass major cities, combining freight railroads, passenger bullet trains, truck highways and toll roads for cars to speed traffic from Mexican border crossings at Laredo and McAllen "with few on and off ramps" past Waco to Gainesville. The corridor will "plow across farmland, gobbling up more than half a million acres."

RULES OF THE ROAD The Vatican offered irresistible raw material for a closer for both ABC and NBC with its so-called Driver's Ten Commandments. Apart from advice that seems sensible and secular--"condemnations of drunk driving, drugs and falling asleep at the wheel"--NBC's Mark Potter quoted Rule #5: "Cars shall not be for you an expression of power and domination and an occasion of sin" which he construed as a "damper on backseat love and showing off in fancy cars." ABC's David Wright (subscription required) summed up the Guidelines for Pastoral Care on the Roads thus: "Love thy neighbor even when he cuts you off."

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 pair of examples: the Space Shuttle Atlantis has begun its return flight to Earth…President George Bush held White House talks on the political crisis in Palestine with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel.