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“Fox ‘News’ Proof Of Old P.T. Barnum Adage”: Fox Is A Belief System, Not A News Network

Every once in a while the universe arranges itself to make you look smarter than you are. Lucky me, I am having such a moment now.

Last month, when NBC News anchor Brian Williams’ career imploded as he was caught in a high-profile, self-aggrandizing lie, I suggested in this space that there would be much less angst or fallout if someone from Fox “News” were caught lying.

Enter Bill O’Reilly.

Shortly after I wrote that, the liberal Mother Jones magazine ran a story questioning his claim to have been in the combat zone in the Falkland Islands while covering that war for CBS. From his Fox podium, O’Reilly dismissed Mother Jones as the “bottom rung of journalism in America,” which was gushing praise next to his takedown of reporter David Corn, a “liar,” an “irresponsible guttersnipe,” a “far-left zealot” and “dumb.”

Since then, however, other news organizations have reported other instances of questionable assertions on O’Reilly’s part.

For instance, he has long said he was outside the home of a figure in the John F. Kennedy assassination and heard the shot when the man killed himself. That suicide happened in Palm Beach. Former colleagues say O’Reilly was in Dallas that day.

He has claimed he was “attacked by protesters” while covering the 1992 Los Angeles riots for Inside Edition. Former colleagues say he is exaggerating an incident where an angry man took a piece of rubble to a camera.

O’Reilly has said he witnessed the execution of a group of American nuns in El Salvador. That happened in 1980. O’Reilly apparently did not reach El Salvador until 1981.

For the one falsehood, Williams received a six-month suspension without pay. For a handful of apparent falsehoods, O’Reilly has received unstinting support from his bosses at Fox.

This rather neatly makes the point I sought to make a month ago. Namely, that Fox — the window-dressing presence of a few bona fide reporters notwithstanding — is not a real news-gathering organization but, rather, the propaganda arm of an extreme right wing that grows ever more cult-like and detached from reality as time goes by. Fox is a belief system, not a news network. Exhibit A is the fact that O’Reilly is not now fighting for his professional life.

To anticipate what his believers will say in his defense: Yes, he is a pundit and yes, pundits are entitled to their opinions. But that does not release them from the obligation to be factual.

It is telling that Fox recently responded to sharp questions about all this from MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow by sending her a statement noting that O’Reilly’s ratings are up despite the controversy. To act as if ratings answer, or even address, questions of credibility is to express contempt for the very notion of credibility. It suggests Fox’s full-body embrace of the old saying, often attributed to Barnum, about the birth rate of suckers.

But why shouldn’t Fox be sanguine? People who mistake it for a news outlet will never hold it accountable for failing to be one, because in the final analysis, news is not really what it promises them, nor what they seek. Rather, what it promises and what they seek is an alternate reality wherein birthers make sensible arguments, death panels are real, Trayvon was the thug, Sarah Palin is a misunderstood genius, and all your inchoate fears of the looming Other are given intellectual cover so they no longer look like the scaredy-cat bigotry they are.

It gives its viewers what they need. It tells them what they want to hear.

Because it does and because that’s all they ask, O’Reilly’s troubles will soon very likely blow away. Yes, he is apparently a serial fabulist. And yes, that would disqualify you from most newsrooms.

But this is Fox.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, March 11, 2015

March 14, 2015 Posted by | Bill O'Reilly, Fox News, Journalism | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“O’Reilly’s Trouble Deepens”: A Kennedy Tall Tale That Could Unravel Fox News’ Bully

Writers and advocates on the left have long catalogued the exaggerations, meltdowns and many stumbles of Fox’s Bill O’Reilly, to show that the guy who runs the No-Spin Zone is frequently unfair and relentlessly unbalanced. But now O’Reilly has a different sort of watchdog in CNN media reporter Brian Stelter, host of “Reliable Sources” – and Stelter is attracting more company.

Oh sure, the Fox bully dismisses Stelter — along with his critics at Mother Jones, Media Matters and, for that matter, Salon — as just another left-winger out to get him. But that charge won’t stick. The bright, earnest, hardworking former New York Times reporter isn’t known for his ideological crusading; he goes after MSNBC, not just Fox. But when Stelter finds an important story, he digs in.

The CNN host just spent his second straight Sunday on the O’Reilly mess, this time advancing the story about what has become the most damning and incontestable charge against the Fox host: that he lied about personally hearing the suicide of a mysterious friend of Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, in Palm Beach, Florida, back in 1977, just as congressional investigators were closing in on the source. O’Reilly told the lie in his book “Killing Kennedy” as well as on the air at Fox.

In his book, O’Reilly wrote of tracking George de Mohrenschildt, who’d lived in Minsk and became friends with Oswald and his wife, Marina, in Dallas, after they returned from a stay in the Russian city. Kennedy assassination researchers believe de Mohrenschildt was a CIA asset, and he’s implicated in a lot of theories about the real motive for Kennedy’s murder. O’Reilly doesn’t dig into that story, but he tells a dramatic tale of his search for the Oswald associate:

As the reporter knocked on the door of de Mohrenschildt’s daughter’s home, he heard the shotgun blast that marked the suicide of the Russian, assuring that his relationship with Lee Harvey Oswald would never be fully understood.

By the way, that reporter’s name is Bill O’Reilly.

There’s no evidence O’Reilly was anywhere near the shooting. In fact, two years ago Jefferson Morley obtained a tape of a conversation between O’Reilly and congressional investigator Gaetan Fonzi, which proves he wasn’t there. Morley, a former Washington Post and Salon editor, posted the tape on his site JFKFacts.org, a clearinghouse for assassination news.

But it wasn’t easy to hear. After Media Matters surfaced Morley’s reporting, CNN obtained a much more audible version of the taped conversation from Fonzi’s widow. It proves O’Reilly wasn’t on the scene when de Mohrenschildt died. You can hear Fonzi tell O’Reilly “he committed suicide,” as O’Reilly asks when and how (“they say he shot himself). The Dallas-based reporter wraps the conversation by saying, “I’m comin’ down there tomorrow, I’m comin’ down to Florida,” and as he discusses grabbing a flight, it’s clear he wasn’t anywhere close. “Bill O’Reilly did not hear a gunshot from 1,200 miles away,” Morley told Stelter Sunday morning.

The journalist and JFK assassination investigator took his findings to Fox News two years ago, he said, but got no reply. Since Media Matters revived the Morley story, Fox has referred all questions to O’Reilly’s publisher, which is mildly interesting, since on the other charges Roger Ailes has staunchly stood behind his anchor.

The Kennedy lie is different from the other charges against O’Reilly – although as the number of challenged O’Reilly claims mount, it’s possible to wonder how much more reporters have yet to uncover. Let’s take them in order.

When it comes to reporting on his exaggerations and falsehoods about his time covering the Falklands War and guerrilla uprisings in El Salvador, there is at least some confusion over the real story. Although it’s clear O’Reilly didn’t come close to combat in the Falklands as he claimed, he’s been able to produce enough conflicting accounts about the Buenos Aires riot that he did cover to at least cloud the charges against him. Likewise, he obviously, even ludicrously exaggerated the danger he saw reporting in El Salvador, but you have to sort through different versions of different war scenes to get the truth.

O’Reilly’s claims that he witnessed the murder of nuns in El Salvador – “I saw nuns get shot in the back of the head,” he said more than once – were debunked by Media Matters too. But the Fox host told Mediaite, one of his go-to defenders, that he was referring to seeing photos of the murdered nuns, not the actual murders. “No one could possibly take that segment as reporting on El Salvador,” O’Reilly sputtered. Critics widely mocked him, but he seems to be getting away with that one too.

Then former colleagues came forward in the Guardian to refute O’Reilly’s heroic accounts of his reporting on the 1992 Los Angeles riots. O’Reilly claimed “concrete was raining down on us” and “we were attacked by protesters,” but journalists on the scene with him say they faced no such violence, though a camera was smashed by an angry resident. Jon Swaine reported:

Two of the team said the man was angered specifically by O’Reilly behaving disrespectfully after arriving at the smoking remains of his neighbourhood in a limousine, whose driver at one point began polishing the vehicle. O’Reilly is said to have shouted at the man and asked him: “Don’t you know who I am?”

A Fox spokeswoman told Swaine the Los Angeles stories were “nothing more than an orchestrated campaign by far left advocates.”

That’s a lot of smoke, and O’Reilly critics clearly believe there’s fire. But Fox is able to use the “he said, she said” nature of some of the charges to polish its brand and trash its perfidious left-wing enemies in the media. The Kennedy story isn’t crumbling under that treatment, because we have a tape of Bill O’Reilly contradicting Bill O’Reilly. It’s a “he said, he said” conflict — but the guy on tape is more believable than the guy writing the book.

I’m not going so far as to predict the Kennedy story will endanger O’Reilly’s perch at Fox. But this one might get other editors and reporters to take the story more seriously. It could encourage other former colleagues to bring more evidence about his serial exaggerating, even lies. O’Reilly may well survive this round of challenges to his credibility, but the stories aren’t going away any time soon.

 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, March 2, 2015

March 5, 2015 Posted by | Bill O'Reilly, Fox News | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Tough-Guy, Manly-Man Magical Thinking”: There’s Only One Thing That Could Actually Get Bill O’Reilly In Trouble, And It’s Not Lying

Why is it that when Brian Williams makes up war stories he loses his reputation and six months of his career, but when Bill O’Reilly spouts the same sort of chest-pounding bull, he ends up even tighter with his audience and his network?

It’s not as if O’Reilly’s fabrications were less outrageous than Williams’s. O’Reilly has claimed he was a heroic network correspondent in the “war zone” (meaning Buenos Aires) at the end of the Falklands war while his CBS colleagues were “ hiding” in a hotel. More Zelig-y than Williams, O’Reilly has repeatedly placed himself at the Florida front door of a shady figure in the investigation of JFK’s assassination just in time to hear the self-inflicted gunshot that ended the man’s life (when there’s a cascade of evidence that Bill was in Dallas at the time).

When Media Matters debunked O’Reilly’s claims to have seen four nuns “get shot in the back of the head” in El Salvador in 1981, he slickly skated away, saying he meant he had seen images of that slaughter and that “no one could possibly” misunderstand his sterling intentions. The latest of O’Reilly’s fairytales to fracture is that protesters bombarded him with rocks and bricks during the 1992 LA riots; not so, say colleagues who were there.

Not in spite of, but because of all this, O’Reilly’s TV ratings this week have surged, as fans rally to him and the curious tune in to see if the cable news giant will admit to even one substantial fib. Of course, he won’t. After countering the Falklands charges on Sunday with a misleading clip, he’s been brushing off the other charges as baseless political assaults from “liars,” “far-left zealots,” and “guttersnipes.”

Unlike NBC and the other networks, which at least aspire to fact-based reporting, it’s in Fox’s DNA to re-invent reality by massaging facts and destroying context, because, as Jon Stewart said, all that “matters to the right is discrediting anything that they believe harms their side.” One of the central tenets of Fox News is that conservative white men are under constant attack from the liberal media, and the O’Reilly flap, which was initially kicked off by Greg Grandin in The Nation and then David Corn in Mother Jones, fits that narrative all too well. (As Grandin and others point out, O’Reilly’s personal pufferies are the least of his reportorial sins.)

No matter how accurate the hits on O’Reilly’s false machismo are, they only make him seem more righteous to his audience. Liberal attacks on right-wing manliness—like pointing out the chicken-hawk status of Cheney & company—have no standing with Fox viewers. “O’Reilly has been given an opportunity to wage war against a phalanx of liberal media aggressors,” Gabriel Sherman writes in New York magazine. “This is what his audience expects.”

Is there nothing that could turn their audience away from them? Doesn’t Fox, like the rest of us, have an Achilles Heel?

Actually, they do, and it’s related to that tough-guy, manly-man act. Conservatives can bluster and bully like steroidal hysterics on any topic, but when they turn their scorn on an individual, usually younger, woman, they risk the ire of Christians, Republican women, and anyone with a working creep detector. As Sherman writes:

One indication that O’Reilly is waging a calculated media campaign is to compare his ferocious response to a true scandal with career-ending implications: the 2004 lawsuit by a Fox News producer named Andrea Mackris, who accused O’Reilly of having lurid phone sex. In my biography of Ailes, I reported how Ailes and Rupert Murdoch were furious at O’Reilly for creating the humiliating mess. Ailes instructed O’Reilly that if he spoke out in public, he was in danger of losing his show. Aside from a handful of muted comments, O’Reilly remained silent about the allegations. His ratings held, and O’Reilly hung on to his job.

Likewise, Rush Limbaugh was seen as pretty much invincible until he, too, attacked a younger woman. In 2012, he called the then–Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke a ”slut” for supporting mandated contraceptive insurance coverage. “She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex,” he said. In return, he added, he wanted Fluke to post videos of her having sex “online so we can all watch.” Advertisers began to flee the show, to the point where, according to Media Matters’s Angelo Carusone, “the commercial viability of Rush Limbaugh’s radio program has collapsed and remains that way.”

From O’Reilly and Limbaugh to Todd (“legitimate rape”) Akin and James O’Keefe (the GOP prankster whose plans to lure a CNN reporter onto a boat, and seduce her, in 2010, signaled his serious fade-out), sex and gender snafus appear to be one of the few reliable forms of white male kryptonite. You catch a right-winger making his sexual appetites overly vivid or venting them on an identifiable woman instead of an abstract policy, and boom!

That’s the burden of being “the Daddy Party,” and if it faces a “Mommy Party” headed by Hillary Clinton in 2016, it will be a particularly heavy one. If they launch a sexually aggressive campaign that backfires, they’ll surely feel victimized all over again.

Until then, Bill O’Reilly is safe (contrary, I think, to Maddow’s take). He and his viewers are in this together. They need just a drop of plausible deniability (Bill couldn’t have lied—he showed us a tape!) to go on accepting his nightly rants. Part of Fox’s contract with conservative Americans is the right to think magically and to (as Karl Rove told Ron Suskind) “create our own reality.”

Bill can hear a magic gunshot. He can experience war in an upscale downtown neighborhood. He can get hit by make-believe bricks.

And, for now, he can Houdini himself out of all the traps he’s set for himself.

 

By: Leslie Savan, The Nation, February 27, 2015

February 28, 2015 Posted by | Bill O'Reilly, Brian Williams | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Bill O’Reilly Is Not Going Anywhere, You Far-Left Pinheads”: Making Money, And Advancing The Goals Of The Republican Party

Bill O’Reilly suffers from the same malady as Brian Williams: a tendency to embellish stories of the dangers and horrors he has faced as a journalist (though in O’Reilly’s case, his career as a journalist was brief, before he discovered his true calling). They may have had a slightly different motivation; my interpretation of Williams’ tall-tale-telling is that he wanted to portray himself as heroically journalistic, in the center of the action, bringing people the most important news of the moment. I suspect that for O’Reilly, on the other hand, it’s more of a macho thing—he’s as tough as anyone, and if you doubt it he’ll shout you down like the pinhead you are.

But while Williams was suspended for six months and may never make it back to the anchor chair, nothing of the sort is happening to O’Reilly; Fox News has stood behind him, which won’t change no matter how much evidence emerges showing that he has lied repeatedly about his “war” record. The simple explanation for the difference many believe is that NBC News cares about facts and Fox News doesn’t. Which is true up to a point, but it isn’t the whole story.

To catch you up, last week David Corn and Daniel Schulman of Mother Jones published this article documenting all the times O’Reilly has claimed that he has reported from “war zones” and “combat.” In fact, the closest O’Reilly ever got to combat back when he was a reporter was filing dispatches from Buenos Aires during the Falklands war—1,200 miles from the actual fighting. When confronted with this fact, O’Reilly has claimed that he was in the war zone because he covered a violent protest in Buenos Aires. That would be ridiculous on its own terms, but it turns out that even his account of that protest is likely bogus as well; while the protest was certainly chaotic and violent, no other news report from the time, from CBS News (for whom O’Reilly worked) or any other organization, substantiates his claim of Argentine soldiers “gunning these people down,” and in the days since a number of his former CBS colleagues have challenged his description of the events.

So it’s pretty clear what’s going on here. Desperate to paint himself as a macho globe-trotting journalist who’s seen danger and laughed in its face, O’Reilly has for years been saying that he saw “combat” and served in a “war zone,” when the closest he got was more than a thousand miles away. During the time of the Falklands War. The Falklands. And as Lloyd Grove noted, O’Reilly has been caught lying about his own awesomeness before, as when he claimed falsely to have won two Peabody awards for his work on that paragon of serious journalism, Inside Edition. That didn’t hurt his career, either.

So why not? Let’s look at Williams again. NBC didn’t suspend him because their profound integrity and commitment to the truth demanded it. They suspended him because they were afraid that he had been compromised among his viewers, and if they had left him on the air those viewers would desert the network’s news program. In other words, it was a financial decision. Williams’ success depends on a combination of personality and credibility; viewers want to know they can trust him, but mostly they tune in because they like him. Take away the credibility, and they won’t like him so much anymore.

You could say that O’Reilly depends on the same two factors, personality and credibility. But his credibility comes from an entirely different place, and it’s the reason he not only wouldn’t but couldn’t apologize, or even admit that he had exaggerated his combat derring-do. For O’Reilly, credibility means not that he’s a source of truthful information but that he’s a source of information and opinions his audience finds pleasing. Almost nothing is more important for him than to standing up to liberals, sticking it to ’em, fighting the secularists and the America-haters and the welfare coddlers with his usual brio. O’Reilly’s persona is all anger and defiance; he may be sitting behind a desk, but he wants viewers to believe that he’s ready at any moment to come out from there and punch somebody in the face if they need to be taught a lesson. He’s the person they want to be, channeling their rage and their resentments.

For O’Reilly, a loss of credibility wouldn’t come from being dishonest, it would come from showing weakness, from opposing liberals with anything less than maximal militance. As far as he and his angry old white viewers are concerned (the median age of O’Reilly’s viewers is 72), nothing shows weakness more than apologizing to your enemies. Which is why he has reacted to the charges with a stream of invective (calling David Corn a “far-left zealot” and a “guttersnipe”) and an insistence that he never made a single mistake. And the facts? Well, as Stephen Colbert said, the facts have a well-known liberal bias.

It isn’t just liberals who are O’Reilly’s enemies, it’s also the media—all of it. So when O’Reilly is being criticized, whether it’s from Mother Jones or The New York Times, it just proves how right he is about everything and how much of a threat he is to the craven comsymps of the liberal elite. So when a reporter from The New York Times contacted him about the story, he told her that if he didn’t like what she wrote, “I am coming after you with everything I have. You can take it as a threat.” Just try to imagine Brian Williams, or anyone who wants to maintain a reputation as a journalist of any sort, objective or opinionated, saying such a thing and not losing their job.

An episode like this plays right into the centerpiece of Fox’s ideology, its very raison d’être: the idea that Fox News is not just a brave outpost of truth-telling but the only place to get the real scoop uncontaminated by liberal bias. It tells its viewers that everything they hear from any allegedly non-partisan or objective source is nothing but a steaming pile of lies; the only thing you can trust on the TV dial is Fox. So when O’Reilly comes under fire, the viewers know two things: the substance of the criticism is bogus by definition; and the whole episode just proves what Fox has been saying all along. They are the righteous ones, which is why the forces of darkness are out to get them.

The bottom line for Brian Williams’ bosses at NBC News is money, and journalistic integrity is necessary to keep that money flowing. For Bill O’Reilly’s boss, Roger Ailes, things are just a bit more complicated. Ailes’s genius has always been his ability to make his network simultaneously serve two purposes: making money, and advancing the goals of the Republican Party. An on-air personality could lose his job if he threatened either of those goals, but O’Reilly hasn’t.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, February 24, 2015

February 25, 2015 Posted by | Bill O'Reilly, Fox News, Journalists | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Bill O’Reilly And White Privilege”: Race Hustler, Bathing In Privilege

Is white privilege real? Not according to Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly.

This week O’Reilly debated the issue of white privilege with a fellow host and then returned to the topic the next day with this doozy of a statement:

“Last night on ‘The Factor,’ Megyn Kelly and I debated the concept of white privilege whereby some believe that if you are Caucasian you have inherent advantages in America. ‘Talking Points’ does not, does not believe in white privilege. However, there is no question that African-Americans have a much harder time succeeding in our society than whites do.”

It is difficult to believe that those three sentences came in that order from the same mouth. Why would it be harder for blacks to succeed? Could interpersonal and, more important, systemic bias play a role? And, once one acknowledges the presence of bias as an impediment, one must by extension concede that being allowed to navigate the world without such biases is a form of privilege.

That privilege can be gendered, sexual identity based, religious and, yes, racial.

When one has the luxury of not being forced to compensate for societal oppression based on basic identity, one is in fact privileged in that society.

O’Reilly even trotted out the Asian “model minority” trope to buttress his argument, citing low unemployment rates and high levels of income and educational attainment for Asians compared not only to blacks but to whites.

Whenever people use racial differences as an argument to downplay racial discrimination, context is always called for.

What O’Reilly — like many others who use this line of logic — fails to mention (out of either ignorance or rhetorical sleight of hand) is the extent to which immigration policy has informed those statistics and the extent to which many Asian-Americans resent the stereotype as an oversimplification of the diversity of the Asian experience.

A 2012 Pew Research report entitled “The Rise of Asian Americans” found:

“Large-scale immigration from Asia did not take off until the passage of the landmark Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. Over the decades, this modern wave of immigrants from Asia has increasingly become more skilled and educated. Today, recent arrivals from Asia are nearly twice as likely as those who came three decades ago to have a college degree, and many go into high-paying fields such as science, engineering, medicine and finance. This evolution has been spurred by changes in U.S. immigration policies and labor markets; by political liberalization and economic growth in the sending countries; and by the forces of globalization in an ever-more digitally interconnected world.”

Following the publication of the Pew report, the news site Colorlines spoke with Dan Ichinose, director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center’s Demographic Research Project, who was critical of some parts of the Pew report, but seemed to echo the role immigration had played. Colorlines put his response this way:

“The more complex and far less exciting explanation for Asian Americans’ relatively high rates of education has more to do with immigration policy, which has driven selectivity about who gets to come to the U.S. and who doesn’t, said Ichinose.”

Much of the African-American immigration policy came in the form of centuries of bondage, dehumanization and unimaginable savagery visited on their bodies. And that legacy is long and the scars deep.

O’Reilly mentions this in his rant, as a caveat:

“One caveat, the Asian-American experience historically has not been nearly as tough as the African-American experience. Slavery is unique and it has harmed black Americans to a degree that is still being felt today, but in order to succeed in our competitive society, every American has to overcome the obstacles they face.”

But this whole juxtaposition, the pitting of one minority group against another, is just a way of distracting from the central question: Is white privilege real?

In arguing that it isn’t, O’Reilly goes on to raise the seemingly obligatory “respectability” point, saying:

“American children must learn not only academics but also civil behavior, right from wrong, as well as how to speak properly and how to act respectfully in public.”

Then he falls back on the crux of his argument:

“Instead of preaching a cultural revolution, the leadership provides excuses for failure. The race hustlers blame white privilege, an unfair society, a terrible country. So the message is, it’s not your fault if you abandon your children, if you become a substance abuser, if you are a criminal. No, it’s not your fault; it’s society’s fault. That is the big lie that is keeping some African-Americans from reaching their full potential. Until personal responsibility and a cultural change takes place, millions of African-Americans will struggle.”

No, Mr. O’Reilly, it is statements like this one that make you the race hustler. The underlying logic is that blacks are possessed of some form of racial pathology or self-destructive racial impulses, that personal responsibility and systemic inequity are separate issues and not intersecting ones.

This is the false dichotomy that chokes to death any real accountability and honesty. Systemic anti-black bias doesn’t dictate personal behavior, but it can certainly influence and inform it. And personal behavior can reinforce people’s belief that their biases are justified. So goes the cycle.

But at the root of it, we can’t expect equality of outcome while acknowledging inequality of environments.

Only a man bathing in privilege would be blind to that.

 

By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, August 27, 2014

August 31, 2014 Posted by | Bill O'Reilly, Racism, White Privilege | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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