Journalism Policy & Law Politics

Malpractice

With regard to this week’s miserable performance by the New York Times in its gotcha-til-we-squee, front-page, lead-column scoopfest on Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein’s supposed Trumphunting, I think the whole mess requires something a little more detailed than the generalized contempt I’ve already offered on Twitter.

So here we go:

Dear men and women of the Times. From all that has been printed — and all that has not — I believe your “scoop” is decontextualized, half-thought-upon horseshit. It no more suggests a frantic or discombobulated Rosenstein, or an over-the-top, lurching cabal to get Trump, than any other amalgam of manicured, partisan-leaked facts might suggest.

I believe the fundamental and necessary context is absent from what you used to adorn your front page. I believe that context is this:

First, we are a nation that is at the cusp of a profound Constitutional crisis. That reality had already been made obvious and manifest when Mr. Comey was fired and he informed others in DOJ that judicial independence was at issue in his contacts with the new POTUS. In the wake of that firing, any and every discussion that competent DOJ professionals had about the matter would have engaged with the tactics, fears, frustrations, considerations, pitfalls and risks of proceeding to operate ethically and independent of any executive obstruction of judicial procedure. In short, if they WEREN’T sitting in rooms, stressed, trying to chart their way around an ethical minefield and still do their jobs, it reflects incompetence or, worse, abdication.

Having covered federal law enforcement, I know this much: These are men and women who occupy a unique ethical space in our governance, serving as they do at the pleasure of the U.S. president, but maintaining their fundamental oath and loyalty not to the president, but to the Constitution. There is conflict and nuance baked into that reality in the best of circumstances; the U.S. President overtly demanding loyalty and the intervention in DOJ casework by the FBI director, then firing the man is scarcely the best of circumstances.  For DOJ professionals attempting to continue in their positions after such an event, talking it all out and contemplating every option, risk and scenario is elemental to the job.

Second, what we also know here from the Times reporting thus far is that no one made application to wear a wire on POTUS. We also don’t have any information on anyone attempting to influence Cabinet members in any actual contemplation of the 25A. So, wide-ranging discussions in a room by professionals struggling with the Constitutional conflicts inherent in their role — yes. Overt action on the most provocative shards of that conversationcited in isolation by the Times? No. No fucking follow-up on any of the stuff that occupied the lead columns of the NYT.

As an indicative tell of just how selective the Times has been in manicuring the entire context of those discussions for the most provocative claims — or how selective their sources have been in trimming away context, we also have a notable tell:  Witnesses who contradict those who argue Rosenstein’s serious consideration of taping POTUS wasn’t so serious, that it was raised in the context of sarcasm.  The NYT version, notably, raised and then quickly dismissed that scenario ON THE JUMP from A1, whereas other publications gave it more meaningful and I would argue, fair consideration. Obviously, even if we deem an accounting of the discussions at DOJ in the wake of the Comey to be newsworthy — and such can be well argued —  then more reporting and the reconciling of witnesses and their memories should have been the first order of business. But no. That was not an ambition to which the Times aspired here.

Given all this, I fear a good newspaper, and at times a great newspaper, has in this instance performed disastrously. The newspaper encountered a rational and inevitable process by which professionals, while balanced on a very real ethical precipice, are meeting and spitballing their status and options — as say a bunch of reporters or editors might contemplate all manner of option, express all possible concerns, evaluate all possible risk, and likely employ all forms of sarcasm or wit when addressing their ethical role and a complicated task at hand. And then, given some available shards of information about that process by interested parties — as all sources are interested parties — the Times foolishly made itself party to what amounts to a first-news-cycle justification for an authoritarian administration to fire a torpedo into the very idea that we are a nation of laws. Because this kind of journalistic malpractice isn’t happening in a vacuum: These are perilous times. Much is no longer normal in our governance. The stakes are high.

The substance of what happened after Comey is that DOJ has proceeded to operate its independent investigative function leading to a series of indictments and convictions. The ethical necessity of proceeding with this investigation, so furiously opposed by the executive, is evidenced dramatically by the court filings and successful criminal prosecutions that have ensued. Further, there has not been a reported approach by DOJ personnel to Cabinet officials seeking to engage the 25A. Further, the president was not targeted with electronic surveillance. But now, because of the play of this article, because of the prevailing characterization of open-ended and inevitable post-Comey discussions within DOJ as being an erratic performance by the DAG, and because the top of the NYT account leads with the seeming affronts and challenges to Trump, but absurdly minimizes the fundamental fact that DOJ was already under pressure from the executive to cede its independence in matters of political interest to the president — because of all of this, the necessary prerequisite for Trump firing Rosenstein and then collapsing Mueller’s work is at hand. Witness the immediate response of the president in promising to purge DOJ within the very news cycle of the Times report.

Was the material in the story essential and newsworthy enough to continue reporting until a comprehensive and contextualized account of those discussions could be delivered? Maybe. Depends on what actually occurred, what was given real weight and what was quickly discarded by the participants. For myself, I don’t need the NYT to inform me that there was a fuck-ton of talk among the DOJ professionals after Comey was sacked. I’m sure a lot of shit was said and wondered aloud and mused about by Justice Department professionals who had been suddenly been dragged to the edge of a host of legal and ethical dilemmas and conflicts.  If not, they are all either oblivious incompetents or indifferent morons. But what became of that spitballing and bitching — how and why they actually proceeded and how they did not proceed, and what pressure they were actually under from the executive, empirically — this is the very guts, of what needed to be the reportage here. It wasn’t so in the Times. That kind of overview which would have contextualized the information the newspaper possessed was minimized, buried or wholly absent in a piece written as a gotcha scoop for rubes and partisans. That the paper had facts in a row, I have no doubt. That every paragraph scans and is vetted by those facts, I’m sure. But the totality of what the NYT delivered here is in my opinion malpractice. The tail of what DOJ people SAID in their collective ruminations at a time of great stress and real risk to the republic is now wagging the larger dog of what they actually DID in that moment. As a result, the Times created an undercooked, paper-thin narrative that falsely justifies and services the executive’s continuing assault on the DOJ’s independent investigative authority.  Was that the newspaper’s intent? No. I make no claim as to any motive on the part of the Times other than the scoop itself. But ignoring motive, that is the result.

Having said all this, I can tell you that in my years as a reporter, there are several bylines I regret. A couple, deeply. I learned stuff that was accurate and credible. But in printing it, I ended up laying people out for what they did not do, for what didn’t happen, and in one case, for the targeting of suspects who were, in the end, not suspects. I knew stuff. I had sources, documents. I was accurate. But what it actually meant and what it would mean, once printed? I had no fucking clue. I certainly did no better than the Times in understanding the essential need to wrap all possible context around something as speculative a the handful of facts known to me, or worse, manicured and delivered to me by interested parties. Thank god the stakes were not what national reporters are forced to play for presently.

Looking forward, perhaps some new reportage will show that the DAG or someone else of rank in DOJ either seriously sought to electronically surveil the president or to engage the Cabinet to consider the 25A. At that point, something more fundamental and worthy of the New York Times’ lead columns has arrived. But to this moment, nothing in the coverage thus far convinces me that we are anywhere remotely near such a threshold.

And that is why I invoked the ghost of Judith Miller and malpractices past on the Twitter machine.  The Times is essential in this historical moment. It needs to be smarter. And more deliberate. And careful. And its best editors need to reflect on their role with some greater measure of self-awareness. Or — and I don’t think I am being hyperbolic at this point — they may help us lose our republic.

*       *       *

Also, say hi to Maggie Haberman for me. Give her my absolute best.

37 Comments

  • What’s REALLY SAD is that, here we are, six months later, and the NYT did it again with the Barr Torpedo of the Mueller Report. They took everything Barr said in his 4 pages, none of which have any evidentiary support to them, and wrote it up as The Truth, that Trump is in the clear, when no one has seen the Mueller Report, no one knows what it really says, and what little we do know is that he’s not in the clear. We do know that Barr was hired because of his unsolicited memo last year that the president cannot be investigated and cannot commit obstruction of justice. We also know that back in 1992, no less than William Safire called him “Coverup General” Barr for his advice to G.H.W. Bush to pardon all the Iran-Contra and Iraqgate witnesses who could testify that Poppy was up to his eyeballs in those crimes. As John Dean said, if Barr had been AG in 1974, Nixon would never have left office. Trump got the AG he wanted to do his bidding, and Barr is doing his bidding, and the otherwise-unemployable idiots of the mainstream press are swallowing it like the $5 whores they are. If we have to depend on this bunch of alleged “reporters” to give defend the republic, we are well and truly screwed.

  • I attempted several times to try to inform of basic reality, not partisan talking points, based on my assumption, and hope, that you were acting in good faith and cared about the truth. I no longer believe any of that. Virtually everything you say about current events is simply drivel. Where is the Constitutional crisis, where are you stalwart career professionals? Going to prison, that’s where. It is all over. Done. Some of these people are going to be executed. There is simply nothing you can do with Brennan or McCabe. They are traitors and murderers. Let me try one more time. This video is definitive and gives you truths that you will never, ever, find in the mainstream, corrupt, corporate media. You precious Maggie Haberman is a piece of shit and she about to face severe legal sanctions for her perfidy. The entire organization of the Times is corrupt, from its ownership and top management, down to individual reporters and editorial staff, who are either in on the corruption, or are simply pliable, useful idiots who are giving Carlos Slim and Mark Thompson what they want. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2iC5h8wDBDM

      • You are truly hopeless. This is your idea of a constructive dialogue. Why don’t you get your own show on on MSNBC and you can continue with your delusional drivel. How can you be so utterly obtuse? If you were a thoughtful, honest human being you would be interested in the mountains of evidence of how corrupt this country really is. Fact: the CIA is a criminal organization and has been since its inception. Fact: the CIA and the people from whom they get their marching orders, have been engaged in decades of drug trafficking, weapons trafficking, child trafficking, organ harvesting and organ harvesting, all to line their own pockets and to fund all of their unnecessary wars and regime topples. All of these wars have been resource grabs. Fact: the CIA and their minions were the principal progenitors of ISIS. They armed them, they trained them, they equipped them, they paid them, and they provided them with stinger missiles, sarin gas precursors from Khadaffi’s stores, and, it seems, tactical nuclear weapons. Just ask Mike Morell. Or Petraeus. Fact: the Clinton Foundation is the largest charity fraud in the history of the world. It is steadily being dismantled. Fact: this country has been run by criminals. The people that you are defending are the people who killed Kennedy, and with George H. W. Bush’s vice-presidency onward, have been in control up until 2016. Fact: all of these people are going to end up in prison, or be executed. If you’d like I can list some of the people who are incontrovertibly felons who are going to face legal sanction for capital crimes – Brennan, Clapper, Rice, Comey, McCabe, Lynch, Holder. It really doesn’t matter one whit what your opinions are because your little universe of delusion is about to collapse. I imagine when you were a young reporter you had a sincere concern about the ravages that the drug trade has inflicted on this country. Where did that person go? Why are you being a spokesperson for the very people and organizations that are at the center of this horror?Are you really this fucking stupid? Or did you sell out? Everything , everything, that I have stated is the truth and is going to be gradually rolled out for the normies to absorb. It is all over for these subhuman creatures, they did these things and there is no parallel imaginary, exculpatory universe in which they they did not commit these horrendous crimes. If you were a man, you would want to learn more or attempt a point by point refutation. But you’re not. Why not go to page 294 of the Inspector General’s Report. Is that too challenging. What progressive Clinton suck-up spin do you want to put on “crimes against children”? And the FBI evidence inventory form lists 5 computer files of crimes against children. What the fuck is wrong with you, you fucking nitwit?

        • As I am fond of saying when someone sees things in absolute opposition to me and they seem to be straining everything I say and every fact extant through their own preordained view of the world: I would agree with you but then we’d both be wrong. And in your case, we’d both be blowhards.

          You’ve ended by informing me that I am both unmanned and of small wit. I hope that tumbling onto someone’s blog to screech middle-school invective got you off and you can stay sated for a few weeks. Because we are done now. I’m muting your email out for the meltdown.

        • Always nice to have a troll from Wing4erWorld come along and show us what happened to all the white boys who slept through school in the back of the classroom.

  • Hello David,

    I am a big fan of yours. For many many years. I did not know how to reach you directly, so I am posting here in hopes that this is seen by you first and can be taken down if you so desire.

    Why I am writing is that I’ve taken issue with your last few days of tweeting and wanted to write to you because I respect you a lot and I thought it would be better than being blocked by you on twitter.

    I don’t know a lot about David Sirota (he’s popped up in my feed from time to time because I am a Bernie fan – I like to call myself a Rawlsian Socialist… no, I do not know what this means).

    I wasn’t going to engage re: your Sirota rant because it seemed personal to you and I respect a good, frustrated rant like the next person.

    But then you retweeted Jonathan Capehart and he’s a reporter I remember well from 2016. I remember him because he openly lied about Bernie Sanders (https://twitter.com/capehartj/status/698190063016906752?lang=en, https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2016/02/the-jonathan-capehart-saga-or-why-progressives-hav.html) and, it just so happens, is married to his own conflict of interest, Nick Schmit (https://www.earnthenecklace.com/nick-schmit-jonathan-capehart-husband/).

    Look, the whole political journalism biz feels incestuous to me. So I’m not sure why Sirota is the last straw for you. Seriously, as far as I can tell, Sirota pointed to facts about other candidates AND, sure, he was a giant, gyrating prick about it. From what I can see, he is a Bernie supporter, has been his supporter for years, worked for him in Vermont, and never lied about it.

    There seems to be no evidence that he was on Bernie’s payroll when he was attacking other candidates, that the journalist who broke the story about him in the Atlantic was altering screenshots and adjusting timelines to fit his narrative (that Sirota was this uniquely corrupt attack dog) and lots of people swallowed it whole. Yes, Sirota went after other candidates aggressively, that’s true (probably because he personally knows and likes Bernie, not because he was being paid by him… Occam’s Razor). What bothers me about this framing is that it smears Bernie by implication. Making Bernie this shifty operator who secretly hires reporters to be his hit men. This is objectively false.

    What Sirota did may be unethical, but it is not unheard of and you, today, retweeted a reporter who, ethically, IMO, has committed a graver sin – fabrication.

    Capehart actually lied about a candidate for the Washington Post, doubled down on that lie, and that article (and tweet) are still up. Like Sirota after him, it was probably because he had a personal connection to the other candidate in the race, because his husband was employed by that candidate… Occam’s Razor). Meaning, Clinton didn’t order him or pay him to be her attack dog, to lie, or to smear Bernie. Capehart did that on his own. Because he knew her personally.

    My big question is: Why is Sirota the problem with journalism and not Capehart?

    Look, I have no issue if you want to pretend that the people you’re retweeting don’t have some ideological agenda (or, are sometimes, ethically compromised). But the problem with call outs is that they ARE ALWAYS rife with hypocrisy. Within one or two days, you’re publicly gutting Sirota on twitter because Bernie endorsed his wife’s political run, and then retweeting a guy who notably lied about Bernie in 2016 and is married to someone who worked for years, at a high level, personally with Hillary Clinton). Maybe you’re not aware of this, or you somehow over looked this, or maybe you don’t give a fuck. Fair enough.

    I don’t agree with Sirota’s methods. I prefer to support ideas and the candidates that embody them. I want to promote positive ideas and change that acknowledges that we’re all in this together. Peace. Love. Butterflies. But to pretend that Sirota is somehow unique in this system when he’s not, it grates. All journalists are walking an ethical tight rope. Some are pricks for their candidates, some are lying for their candidates. I believe one of the best seasons of THE WIRE dealt with this exact ethical tight rope.

    You’re attacking one player, promoting another, when they’re both playing the exact same, dirty, unethical, fucked up game.

    And that’s your prerogative.

    But I’m not so interested in destroying the players anymore, I’m much more interested in changing the game.

    Your fan,

    S

    • You are simply wrong about the complete abdication of basic ethics by David Sirota. The case against him is prima facie — from his allowing his wife to accept a favor and the assistance of a candidate he is covering, something no honorable journalist would do and no ethical news organization would allow; to him then after receiving that assistant, promptly attacking the rest of the Democratic field, often with ridiculous, decontextualized claims (Clinton Foundation “quid pro quo,” O’Rourke’s “oil money”); to then working furtively with the Sanders campaign while never publicly eschewing the mantle of independent reporter, to then upon being confronted by this fact, deleting 20,000 texts and his history as a less-than-independent provocateur. Indeed, Sirota enters the public consciousness as a political operative caught doing something so unethical and disgusting in a Congressional race that it is a wonder that news organizations ever let him represent a news report on the strength of that initial showing alone. I hold him in the lowest regard. Many of the best journalists I know do as well.

      This criticism stands independent of my views on Sanders himself. I am capable of separating my fundamental regard for the necessary standards of honorable journalism from my personal preferences or political leanings. That so many in the Sanders camp cannot do this and feel that the affront to ethical reporting can be mitigated because it is to their candidate’s advantage is embarrassing.

      All you have to know is that on the basis of ANY ETHICAL REPORTER having his wife’s campaign receive the very real and fundamental advantage of the open support and campaign appearance of any political figure that was being covered by said reporter, that would be a deep and indefensible affront. The reporter would be removed from the beat poste haste. That Sirota then went on to attack the Democratic field other than Sanders — and to often do it with grievously misrepresented and decontextualized claims — cements the ethical collapse.

      Do not bring your regard for this man to me. I respect the craft and ethic of professional reporting to much to take you or your opinions seriously. Again, the case against Sirota is prima facie and at his own hand. He’s a sack of shit. He may be a fine political operative — the title he now holds. He should never be allowed to again claim the mantle of journalist.

      • This reminds me of the maxim imparted to us by reporter Paul Jablow in one of our j-school classes: you can’t cover the circus if you are fucking one of the elephants in the circus,

  • I know, right? It’s jarring to read interpretations in the news section. I keep cancelling my subscription. I signed up again yesterday. You know what also gets me, besides the yellow journalism? That everyone is talking about the problems.
    Where are reports on what to do? Every complaint is a request.
    And I know what to do. No! I didn’t invent it! haha. I’m an associative thinker – I saw it, it works.
    Let’s ignite a peer based volunteer driven prosocial macrolevel resiliency building movement thru our coffee shops.
    What the fuck am I talking about? Group development. Turning the lil wave into a tsunami. Generating a sense of belonging, building critical thinking skills and broadening world views thru story telling over lattes by applying the 3 components of accomplishment: systems, competency and commitment.
    There is a reservoir of college grads coming out of the public university with the most diverse first generation students from immigrant families, aka Jose Antonio Vargas’ alma mater. San Francisco State. Since 1984, this quiet innovator of education with it’s mission statement of multicultural diversity has used community service learning programs wrapped around a story telling style critical reflection practice that embodies the recipe for healthy human development.
    Imagine stumbling into your coffee house and finding 5 to 10 folks practicing objectively observing their subjective experience over lattes. Imagine folks coming together, talking about what is actually happening instead of what they think, feel and believe.
    Einstein said it best. You can not solve a problem at the same level of consciousness that creates it. Physics says it’s time to create a new fractal pattern to counter the moral panics and other antisocial attacks on our culture.
    If this is such a great idea, how come it isn’t happening yet? Indifference is what Elie Weisel points to. Dweck at Stanford has some insight into the fixed mindset that is pervasive in our country. Brown’s research on shame and perfectionism supports this assertion. Grant’s work on organizational development says this will help weed out the greed. Kahneman’s nailed the description of the lazy controller and more with his Nobel winning work on causal versus deliberate thinking, Stein’s collection of essays from Jung on Evil identifies the anger and sense of betrayal the German’s felt after WWI, creating an opportunity for a psychopath to throw people and divide them even more. And of course Trump is a psychopath. I mean, go ahead and get an fMRI, but also understand that just like a chicken sexer can tell a male from a female baby chick better than the untrained eye can, some of us have the same knack for spotting the predators. That’s from Foer’s book on memory. And Malcolm Gladwell’s piece on ketchup will explain the barrier to igniting this movement.

  • Excellent as usual. I wanted to take those NYT reporters out and kill them for sucking up The Enemy’s bullshit.

    Oh, By the way, thanks for sticking up for my fellow writer who Kicks Wingnut Ass, Chuck Wendig. I’ve been telling him for a couple years that yes, you can love Star Wars, but now that those fucking scum at Disney have purchased Lucasfilm, it’s all been “Disneyfied,” and I do not use that term as a compliment. As a good friend once said “I’ll have no trouble writing a dystopian s-f novel about living under a (not so) benign dictatorship – I’ve worked for Disney.” Unca Walt would have been far happier to have Micky and Minnie and the gang as nose art on a Luftwaffe He-111 than a Boeing B-17.

      • You’re right and I’m wrong on that. If the edit function was still functional, it would be edited. Having watched the NYT get everything wrong in 2016 and what that got us leaves me frequently banned from the living room when the result of all that is on the TV. It doesn’t help that the “reporters” who got this Rosenstein story completely wrong are also the Guilty Parties on the Hillary E-Mails fakakte. At a minimum, they ought to take their “talent” and go sell soap or something else less harmful.

  • Good article, a bit wordy (as usual) though. I bet you could trim 15 percent and still say the same thing. Kill your darlings Mr. Simon.

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  • Rosenstein did NOT offer his resignation. He has made it clear he will only go when Trump personally fires him. That is important. If he resigns, Trump can use the Vacancies Act to put some toadstool who was previously approved by the Senate into the position. If he’s fired, Trump has to start over, and it’s a whole new fight over getting his toadstool approved.

  • Exactly. It seems that the reputation of journalists and the New York Times is more important than worrying about democracy and the rule of law. In these days, the latter is much more transcendent. I have canceled my subscription to the newspaper.

    • Shame on you ! One error does not constitute a complete fall from grace nor does it justify canceling the subscription to one of the last walls standing between us ( US ) and a complete fall into abject totalitarian rule verging on neo- fascism . So get a grip , dig deep into your maturity reserves and re-up your subscription : but more importantly vote D this November . Because if you don’t do either and things do fall into that endless almost inescapable abyss looming on the horizon you’ll have nobody to blame but yourself .

  • Love you, David, and I’d love to say so on Twitter, but they banned me for life for calling Herr Dotard Drumpf a “mongoloid.” Apparently I used “hate speech against a protected class of people.” I didn’t realize a septuagenarian white POTUS was a protected class, but hey, live and learn. Oh, and Jack Dorsey still needs to die of boils. ?

  • I’d like to share my bat-s*** crazy conspiracy perspective. Opinion: The NYT wouldn’t publish such accusations against fellow deep-state ally Rosenstein without good reason. For the NYT, this kind of anonymously sourced accusatory reporting is their version of a SCUD missile allowing pointed attacks of various political and ideological targets. So why the friendly fire?
    Could it be to force the hand of the President? I don’t think the President will take the bait. Besides, the President has a SC nominee to get confirmed.
    There is a good possibility RR is actually one behind the leak to the NYT. I can’t think of any other reason why the NYT would publish such an article of Rosenstein. There are more questions than answers here, but I’m curious if RR is actually going to resign or demand to be fired.

    • This Rosenstein piece is another right wing hit piece delivered by Michael S. Schmidt and Matt Apuzzo of the NYT.

      These are the same two guys who broke the Hillary email scandal, while falsely claiming that the email investigation was a “criminal referral” (it wasn’t) and that State Department rules forbade Clinton from using a private server (they didn’t while Clinton was in office).

      Schmidt also got it wrong when he claimed the San Bernadino shooters were posting extremist material on social media and there fore law enforcement should have detected them in advance. It turns out the terrorist couple never posted such material publicly.

      Absolutely incredible Schmidt was awarded the Pulitzer Prize after such a record of shoddy reporting.

  • Exactly right. The over-educated/under-intelligent fools at the Times got played by professionals using Putin’s playbook like $5 fiddles.

  • 10th graph.You say “is evidenced” twice in a row. Not trying to be a dick. There are so many long — but wonderful and informative — sentences in here that take time for middle-aged brain to process and evaluate. So an extra phrase stands out. Thanks for putting this all together and giving voice to what i was thinking but couldn’t quite form into anything coherent.

  • Outstanding. And the reason I don’t subscribe to the Times is that they do this stuff on critically important stories ALL THE TIME and never learn from their mistakes. Dean Baquet was an outstanding reporter for the Chicago Tribune back in the day, but he has been a disaster as executive editor of the Times.

  • As a reporter at The Tennessean in he mid 1980s, I once did this, resulting in the firing of a federal official after 30 years of service. I burned the source and the US Attorney (who later worked for Ken Starr), charged him. I still feel terrible about it 30 years later. Question is: Are reporters responsible for the result of their reporting if damages the subjects of the story? I used to say it doesn’t matter. But you have me thinking.

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