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 CyberAlert. Tracking Media Bias Since 1996
Monday October 29, 2001 (Vol. Six; No. 168)

Printer Friendly Version

Pentagon a Legitimate Target?; "More Inclined" to Believe U.S. Than Iraq; Diversity Before Accuracy; Wash Post Labeling Disparity

1) Cokie Roberts blamed the Pentagon's denial of access to Afghanistan for allowing images of kids hurt by U.S. bombs to replace memories of the World Trade Center. She asked Donald Rumsfeld: "Why not allow more press access so that the United States press can show pictures that fight the Arab press?" But ABC's record of focusing on U.S.-caused atrocities where they have access hardly supports her contention.

2) ABC News President David Westin refused to say the Pentagon was not a "legitimate target." At a Columbia University event last week he demurred: "I actually don't have an opinion on that." He argued: "For me to take a position this was right or wrong, I mean, that's perhaps for me in my private life...perhaps it's for my minister at church. But as a journalist I feel strongly that's something that I should not be taking a position on." [Web Update: Westin: "I Was Wrong"]

3) CBS's Lesley Stahl decided she's "more inclined to believe my government" than the Iraqi regime.

4) Diversity and quotas before accuracy? Guidelines issued by the Society of Professional Journalists urged that "when writing about terrorism, remember to include white supremacist, radical anti-abortionists and other groups with a history of such activity" and to "ask men and women from within targeted communities to review your coverage and make suggestions."

5) Last week in front page profiles of the Virginia gubernatorial candidates the Washington Post used various conservative tags 18 times, including "social conservative," "religious conservative," "religious right" and "Christian right" to describe Republican Mark Early and his supporters, but only employed four liberal labels in the story on Democrat Mark Warner.

6) Insult of the weekend. Jack Germond on Inside Washington: "I think the real cruel and unusual punishment is the terrorists have to be locked up in a closed room for twelve hours with John Ashcroft."


Stop us before we spread more Taliban propaganda. ABC News regularly runs Al-Jazeera video of supposedly U.S.-caused civilian casualties in Afghanistan, airing it more often by my observation than either CBS or NBC, but it's not their fault Cokie Roberts suggested on Sunday. She blamed the spreading of the video images, which so help the Taliban cause, on the lack of access U.S. journalists are allowed by the Pentagon.

     ABC's This Week opened on October 28 with Al-Jazeera video of injured Afghan kids as Sam Donaldson passed along how the Taliban claims ten civilians were killed in the particular U.S. bombing. A few minutes later, wrapping up an interview with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Roberts argued:
     "There's some sense that we're losing the propaganda war and those pictures we saw of those children at the beginning of the program have taken the place in our minds of the picture of the World Trade Center being blown up. Why not allow more press access so that the United States press can show pictures that fight the Arab press?"

     Rumsfeld maintained the U.S. military has been "enormously forthcoming" with the media but that it's not practical or safe to have reporters parachuting into Afghanistan.

     But, in contrast to Roberts's thesis, ABC reporters have hardly contradicted Taliban propaganda when they had free access to an area to report what they wanted, such as in Pakistan. Recall this dispatch from ABC's Dan Harris in Pakistan which aired on the October 23 World News Tonight, picking up after he showed Al-Jazeera video of where 93 were supposedly killed by the U.S. in Afghanistan:
     "Across the border in the Pakistani town of Quetta, five people arrived today at a hospital with injuries they say they suffered in another U.S. attack, this one about 75 miles north of Kandahar. They say 29 people died when their village was hit Monday night. This boy is one of the injured. His uncle says he had heard American radio broadcasts promising civilians wouldn't be targeted, but he says his village was nowhere near any Taliban positions. Abdul Jabar is the doctor in charge. How do you feel when you see these kids?"
     Jabar: "I feel very sad."
     Harris: "Angry?"
     Jabar: "Yes. My sympathies are with the Afghanis."
     Harris: "Angry at the United States?"
     Jabar: "Yes."
     Harris: "Everyone we spoke with at this tiny hospital said the ongoing raids have made the population here and across the border angry at the U.S. and supportive of the Taliban."
     Man: "One hundred percent of the people are against America."
     Harris: "Twenty-five-old Sammy Ullah (sp?), who lost three sons Monday night, says as soon as he recovers, he'll go home and fight. Dan Harris, ABC News, Quetta."

     Do you really think if Harris were given open access to Afghanistan we'd get reporting all that much different?


David Westin, Cokie Roberts's boss, doesn't think the World Trade Center was a legitimate military target but refused to say the same about the terrorist targeting of the Pentagon building, headquarters of the Department of Defense. Appearing at a Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism event last Tuesday shown on C-SPAN over the weekend, the President of ABC News demurred: "The Pentagon as a legitimate target? I actually don't have an opinion on that." [See Web Update below]

     Westin maintained that "our job is to determine what is, not what ought to be." He elaborated: "I can say the Pentagon got hit, I can say this is what their position is, this is what our position is, but for me to take a position this was right or wrong, I mean, that's perhaps for me in my private life, perhaps it's for me dealing with my loved one, perhaps it's for my minister at church. But as a journalist I feel strongly that's something that I should not be taking a position on."

     Westin was responding to a questioner in the audience who, picking up on Westin's observation in his address to the group that thousands of innocent civilians were killed in the attack on the World Trade Center, inquired: "Do you believe the Pentagon was a legitimate military target, even if the missile was not?"

     (I believe by "missile" the questioner meant the planes hitting the World Trade Center.)

     Westin replied at the October 23 event which C-SPAN played on Saturday night, October 27: "The Pentagon as a legitimate target? I actually don't have an opinion on that and it's important I not have an opinion on that as I sit here in my capacity right now. The way I conceive my job running a news organization, and the way I would like all the journalists at ABC News to perceive it, is there is a big difference between a normative position and a positive position. Our job is to determine what is, not what ought to be and when we get into the job of what ought to be I think we're not doing a service to the American people. I can say the Pentagon got hit, I can say this is what their position is, this is what our position is, but for me to take a position this was right or wrong, I mean, that's perhaps for me in my private life, perhaps it's for me dealing with my loved ones, perhaps it's for my minister at church. But as a journalist I feel strongly that's something that I should not be taking a position on. I'm supposed to figure out what is and what is not, not what ought to be."

     Another item to file under "journalist first, American second."

     And Cokie Roberts wants Donald Rumsfeld, who was in the Pentagon at the time of the attack, to give ABC News more access to the battleground? Why would anyone trust them if their boss considers Pentagon staffers the legitimate target of a sneak attack?

     [Web Update: -- On October 31 ABC News e-mailed to the MRC this statement from ABC News President David Westin:
     "Like all Americans, I was horrified at the loss of life at the Pentagon, as well as in New York and Pennsylvania on September 11. When asked at an interview session at the Columbia Journalism School whether I believed that the Pentagon was a legitimate target for terrorists I responded that, as a journalist, I did not have an opinion. I was wrong. I gave an answer to journalism students to illustrate the broad, academic principle that all journalists should draw a firm line between what they know and what their personal opinion might be. Upon reflection, I realized that my answer did not address the specifics of September 11. Under any interpretation, the attack on the Pentagon was criminal and entirely without justification. I apologize for any harm that my misstatement may have caused."]


A small concession from CBS's Lesley Stahl who has decided she's "more inclined" to believe the U.S. government than the Iraqi regime.

     Friday's Access Hollywood, a program carried by NBC-owned stations and syndicated in other markets, featured a preview of Stahl's then-upcoming October 28 60 Minutes interview with Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz about Iraq's role in terrorism. Access Hollywood played a clip of Aziz denying that Iraq provided the anthrax as he called the idea "ridiculous." To the Access Hollywood reporter Stahl then commented:
     "You're sitting interviewing someone and you're listening to him. He's plausible, he's making sense. But you know that they've lied in the past. I'm more inclined to believe my government."

     File that under American first, reporter second -- but just barely.


Diversity and quotas in reporting, and above all nothing which would offend a Muslim, before accuracy? Guidelines issued a few weeks ago by the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), recommended to journalists that "when writing about terrorism, remember to include white supremacist, radical anti-abortionists and other groups with a history of such activity" and to "ask men and women from within targeted communities to review your coverage and make suggestions."

     The Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes dissected the new guidelines for an online "Daily Standard" article posted on Friday which was plugged by James Taranto's "Best of the Web" column for OpinionJournal.com.

     An excerpt from the October 26 piece by Hayes:

Imagine the Outcry if a newspaper editor permitted a Catholic priest to revise -- before publication -- a reporter's story about a pro-life rally. Or if a columnist called in a tobacco executive to edit an article about the hazards of smoking. Or if a publisher gave an advertiser the opportunity to rework a piece about his industry.

Spontaneous panel discussions would break out across the country in response to these outrages. Mass Communications professors and retired reporters would gravely fret about the future of journalism. A loud chorus of media critics would condemn the miscreants. The journalist would almost certainly be fired.

But such a transgression occurred shortly after last month's terrorist attacks, and because it was done in the name of "diversity," the editor was celebrated by his colleagues. Richard Luna, managing editor of the Salem, Oregon, Statesman Journal, invited Salem-area Muslims to edit the pages of his newspaper for any offensive content. No one criticized Luna, but if anyone had, he could have pointed to guidelines issued by the Society of Professional Journalists in his defense.

Earlier this month, the group published guidelines for journalists who hope to avoid racial profiling and stereotyping in their reporting.

The SPJ guidelines are absurd. They come perilously close to calling for racial and religious quotas in both news photography and composition, and they focus so obsessively on avoiding "offensive" words and phrases that truth and accuracy seem like secondary concerns. And if the guidelines read like a public relations project from the American Muslim Council -- a Washington, D.C., lobbying group that works "toward the political empowerment of Muslims in America" -- there's a good reason: The group helped develop the new diversity standards.

SPJ guidelines instruct photographers to "seek out people from a variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds when photographing Americans mourning," and "seek out people from a variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds when photographing rescue and other public service workers and military personnel." What's more, they should use visual images to "demystify veils, turbans and other cultural articles and customs."

According to the guidelines, now is the time for journalists to "make an extra effort to include olive-complexioned and darker men and women, Sikhs, Muslims and devout religious people of all types in arts, business, society columns and all other news and feature coverage, not just stories about the crisis."

The same goes for analysts. "Seek out experts on military strategies, public safety, diplomacy, economics and other pertinent topics who run the spectrum of race, class, gender and geography."

The guidelines also warn against using misleading qualifiers. "Avoid using word combinations such as 'Islamic terrorist' or 'Muslim extremist' that are misleading because they link whole religions to criminal activity. Be specific: Alternate choices, depending on context, include 'Al Qaeda terrorists' or, to describe the broad range of groups involved in Islamic politics, 'political Islamists.' Do not use religious characterizations as shorthand when geographic, political, socioeconomic or other distinctions might be more accurate."

But these concerns about qualifiers must be, well, qualified. "When writing about terrorism, remember to include white supremacist, radical anti-abortionists and other groups with a history of such activity."

The guidelines also instruct journalists to "use spellings preferred by the American Muslim Council (AMC), including 'Muhammad,' 'Quran,' and 'Makkah,' not 'Mecca.'"

No doubt, the most disturbing item on the SPJ list is guideline #12, the directive that gives cover to editors like Salem's Richard Luna. "Ask men and women from within targeted communities to review your coverage and make suggestions."...

The best thing that can be said about the SPJ guidelines is that they will likely be ignored. They should be, because they raise more questions than they answer. Do we need a Muslim or "olive-complexioned" quote on this Iditarod story? Can we run this photo even though we can't determine the "religious backgrounds" of the people in it? Is it acceptable to use "radical anti-abortionist" in this story about "political Islamists?" If the hijackers claim to have died in the name of Allah, can we omit their religion? Does anyone know of a lower-middle-class white female with expertise on troop movements in Mazar-e Sharif?....

     END Excerpt

     To read the Hayes article in full, go to: http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/000/408vsxdt.asp

     The guidelines were issued on October 12 to match resolutions passed at the SPJ's convention a week earlier. An excerpt from the press release about them, "SPJ Offers Guidelines for Coverage to Counter Ethnic and Religious Profiling":

...."Journalists need to cover all aspects of a complicated and emotional situation in a fair and accurate way," said Sally Lehrman, a medical technology writer and chair of the committee. "The repetition of certain images and wording can unintentionally lead to racial profiling and the hate crimes that come with it."

The guidelines elaborate on two resolutions adopted Oct. 6 by the delegates to the SPJ National Convention that urge journalists to strive for ethical and informative coverage of all the communities throughout the United States and the world....

"The resolutions and the guidelines reflect the first principle of the SPJ Code of Ethics, 'Seek truth and report it'," said SPJ President Al Cross, a political columnist for The (Louisville) Courier-Journal. "Some of the pertinent points covered by that principle say that we should not stereotype, misrepresent, oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context, and that we should give voice to the voiceless, avoid imposing our own cultural values on others, and tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience boldly, even when it is unpopular to do so."...

The SPJ Ethics Code encourages journalists to tell the story of the diversity of the human experience boldly even when it is unpopular to do so....

     For the press release in full, go to: go to: http://www.spj.org/news.asp?ref=39

     For the full text of all the guidelines, go to: http://www.spj.org/diversity_profiling.asp

     [Web Update. Steven A. Smith, the Editor of the Salem Statesman Journal, sent this letter to Weekly Standard Pubisher Terry Eastland. Rich Luna, the paper's Managing Editor, requested that the MRC post this as his response to the Weekly Standard article cited above:

     "Mr. Eastland:
     "I am writing in reference to two recent columns by Stephen F. Hayes dealing with the Society of Professional Journalists ethical standards and, specifically, alleged actions of the Statesman Journal, the daily newspaper in Salem, OR.
     "Mr. Hayes, in his zeal to take on SPJ, has smeared -- there is no other word for it -- a fine daily newspaper with an impeccable record in defense of long-standing and fundamental journalistic principles and ethics.
     "In his columns, Mr. Hayes continues to present as fact an assertion that members of the Salem Islamic community were invited into the Statesman Journal newsroom on Sept. 12 to "edit" our newspaper for potentially inflammatory language, stories, etc.
     "He bases this assertion on a student report of a panel discussion at the recent SPJ convention in Seattle which included our managing editor, Rich Luna. The student reporter insists Mr. Luna acknowledged the editing arrangement in both the panel and in a post-panel interview. This is false. Rich made no such statement during the panel. And he was not interviewed by the student reporter following the panel. I respect the right of the student reporter to stand by his story. But he's standing by a report of statements that were not made and an interview that was not conducted.
     "In any event, even allowing for misinterpretation of Rich's comments, the fact is the alleged incidents did not occur. Let me make this as clear as possible. No members of the Islamic community or any other interest group were in the Statesman Journal newsroom, on Sept. 12 or any other day before or after the Sept. 11 incidents, editing our newspaper, talking with our journalists, buying gum from the candy machine or using the restroom. The newsroom was, in fact, locked down to everyone, including people in other newspaper departments.
     "There is no Islamic community, to speak of, in Salem. The closest mosque is in Corvallis, 45 minutes south of here and outside our circulation area. But even if we had a mosque next door, the Statesman Journal would not allow non-journalists of any stripe, ethnicity, special interest group to edit our newspaper in any way. We do not provide content to special interest groups in advance, as Hayes implies. And the assertion we would involve special interests in editing our terrorism coverage is absurd and a slander to journalists who worked 24 hours a day for days on end to serve their community in a time of crisis.
     "Mr. Hayes made one attempt to contact me, hours before his deadline for his most recent column. He left a voice mail asking for an immediate call back. I called within two hours and left a voice mail for him. There was no follow-up call, no call to clarify or discuss. In my voice mail reply, I stated as clearly as I have stated here that the alleged editing incident simply did not happen. My assertion is absent from his follow-up column. Instead, he chooses to repeat my statement that readers are invited into our newsroom to comment on our coverage. Absolutely true. This is common industry practice. Readers attend our morning meetings during our daily critique session and may participate as they choose. I -- we -- also take phone calls from readers, letters, e-mails and even comment forms collected by subscriber services. This is how we learn how our journalism is being received in our community. It's called feedback and it comes after the fact of publication.
     "As journalists, we may act on that feedback or reject it based on our values, our experiences and our professional practices. By alluding to this process in his column, but deliberately ignoring my flat-out, confirmable denial of the editing allegation, Mr. Hayes violates, in ways we never have, the basic ethical tenants of our profession. Shame on him...."

     In response, the Weekly Standard's Steve Hayes drafted this reply to Eastland:

     "See Candace Heckman's email to me below. She was the editor present for the SPJ diversity panel and Curt's first editor on the piece. Her email is self-explanatory.
     "You're welcome to forward this to Mr. Smith. The point of my second column was not, of course, to demonstrate that such a meeting has taken place. Rather, to point out that SPJ's own report and several SPJ reporters/advisers/editors indicate that Mr. Luna claimed that such a meeting took place.
     "Mr. Smith did call me back, made a three minute statement 'for the record' -- his words -- and accused me of "smearing" his paper. I did include his claim that no one other than the paper's editors change content.
     "It's also worth noting that according to SPJ adviser Paul Kostyu, SPJ President Al Cross sent personal emails of apology to the reporter and adviser who worked on the story.
     "If the meeting didn't take place, as Mr. Smith insists, it seems odd that several people have reported that Mr. Luna claimed -- at least on this diversity panel -- that it did. Maybe Mr. Smith's next email should be to Mr. Luna."
     The above-cited e-mail to Hayes from Candace Heckman, a reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: 

     "Steve: I, too, attended the diversity panel during which Richard Luna said he let people into his newsroom to check staffers' work. As he spoke, some people, I included, wrinkled their foreheads, while others in the audience were quiet, attentive and passive in facial expression, as to say, 'hmm, that's a way to do it.' I was so disturbed, I told Curt to go back and talk to him about it to make sure we understood him correctly."]


Both major party candidates for Governor of Virginia are trying to portray themselves as moderates, but only one has the assistance of the Washington Post in his quest. Last week in front page profiles of Republican Mark Early and Democrat Mark Warner, the Post employed various conservative tags 16 times, including "social conservative," "religious conservative," "religious right" and "Christian right" to describe Republican Early and his supporters, but only applied four liberal labels for Democrat Warner.

     The count of 16 for Early does not even include another two labels in the headline. And two of those liberal tags on Warner were attributed to claims of his Republican opponents, the third was a reference to an era, not to him, and the fourth came in a quote from a friend: "Mark never was ultra-liberal. He exhibited pragmatic social consciousness."

     Though the Post managed to squeeze in four times as many labels for Republican Early as Democrat Warner, both profiles were nearly identical in length at just under 3,000 words.

     Below are excerpts from both articles to show the labeling, with all the labels in ALL CAPS so they stand out. Since the article contained so few labels on Warner, who unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate as a liberal a few years ago, we'll start with reporter Carol Morello's October 26 front page story, headlined: "Warner Blurs Political Labels." The subhead: "Candidate Addresses Issues, Including Taxes, His Way."

     The labels:

-- Wilder, who later endorsed Warner, said after the debate that the exchange revealed a core Warner vulnerability: In his attempt to shake the tag that he's just another LIBERAL taxer, he may come off as standing for nothing in particular.

-- The Earley campaign mocks Warner's image on a Web site, www.whichwarner.com. It reads, in part, "Once again, the voters of Virginia should ask themselves 'Which Warner' they are voting for -- the truck-racing, bluegrass-listening, gun-shooting good ole' boy Warner or the Warner who is just another LIBERAL politician that will do or say anything to win."

-- "He had an interest in politics and a desire to serve," said Keith Frederick, his freshman roommate at George Washington. "There was a lot of discussion at the time whether the Great Society had failed or succeeded. There was a backlash, given the Nixon era, against limousine LIBERALS. Mark never was ultra-LIBERAL. He exhibited pragmatic social consciousness. The discussion was, 'How do we do this right?'"

     END Excerpts

     To read the profile in full, go to: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/metro/va/elections/A53115-2001Oct25.html

     Now for many more excerpts from the Post's October 25 front page profile of Early by Michael Leahy. "CONSERVATIVE Earley Employs More Moderate Tone," announced the headline. The subhead: "Campaign Less Focused on RELIGIOUS RIGHT."

-- Beneath the photo appeared an exhortation meant to represent the fetus's thoughts -- "I can't vote but you can" -- followed by an excoriation of the senator, who hadn't been tough enough for SOCIAL CONSERVATIVES and evangelical Christians on the abortion issues of parental notification and consent. The brochure featured an endorsement of Earley, authored and distributed with the candidate's blessing by the antiabortion organization on whose board of directors he served...

-- The fervid antiabortion messages of his early political days, less distinct now as he courts moderate voters in the governor's race, have led Democratic opponents to charge that he is a stealth candidate flying under political radar, trying to avoid close identification with the RELIGIOUS RIGHT.

-- "Mark's always under control and pretty reasonable," says a longtime foe, state Del. Jay W. DeBoer (D-Petersburg), who can't remember ever seeing Earley angry. "It's a different image than a lot of [RELIGIOUS CONSERVATIVEs] have....He has a nice look, you know?"

-- Earley's style benefited from having watched a string of quixotic losers among Virginia's RELIGIOUS CONSERVATIVES: He has learned what not to do in a campaign.

-- His campaign is a contrast to that of his fellow RELIGIOUS CONSERVATIVE Oliver North, who reveled in being incendiary during his 1994 U.S. Senate bid and, in the end, self-immolated.

-- Abortion, the issue that as much as any other sparked his political birth in Chesapeake, has accounted since for the fierce loyalty he enjoys from Christian Coalition leader Pat Robertson and cadres of CONSERVATIVE evangelicals.

-- The importance of RELIGIOUS CONSERVATIVES in his ascendancy was never clearer than in 1997, when he won the Republican nomination for attorney general in a primary that drew only 8 percent of registered voters. The mobilized CHRISTIAN RIGHT proved a decisive bloc for Earley -- or, as Robertson puts it, "With a turnout that small, we had a disproportionate influence for Mark."

-- His advisers dismiss as irrelevant his long bond to Robertson while acknowledging its possible cost, particularly in a close statewide general election where CHRISTIAN CONSERVATIVES' influence will necessarily be dampened by a larger pool of centrist voters.

-- With Earley's assent and Driscoll and her husband, Frank, at the reins, the society sent out the 1987 campaign brochure displaying the fetus photo. It was part of a well-orchestrated campaign by RELIGIOUS CONSERVATIVES that included door-to-door volunteers, bent on taking down Democrat William Parker.

-- His subtle charms were never more evident than in an audience with Virginia's AFL-CIO leaders. "Mark said he supported the key points of our [agenda] at that time," recalls Daniel LeBlanc, nowadays the president of the Virginia State AFL-CIO. "And so, even though he was a Republican CONSERVATIVE, we took a risk and supported him."

-- Some of Earley's alliances were short-lived. As a state senator under fire from CONSERVATIVES, he reversed his positions on major labor issues. After first co-sponsoring a bill that would have permitted unions to collect an "agency fee" from nonunion members, he next renounced it, explaining his change this way: "I didn't understand fully what the bill did."

-- He has abandoned, too, the CONSERVATIVE cause of school vouchers. But on the issues dearest to the Christian RIGHT, he has been steadfast, pushing successfully, among other things, for a moment of silence in the public schools and parental notification before minors' abortions. It was his deft persistence on the parental notification bill that drew Kincaid to him.

-- Kincaid, a co-founder of the SOCIALLY CONSERVATIVE Family Foundation, saw Earley as the rare ideological purist who could win. "I was attracted to someone with brainpower and oratorical persuasiveness who could build a consensus on issues that normally polarize," Kincaid recalls.

-- Along the way, he played a key role in shepherding the welfare reform and juvenile justice bills of then-Gov. George Allen, earning a reputation as a CHRISTIAN CONSERVATIVE who could play the legislative game, deftly so.

-- He says this ever so courteously, as if a listener could be pardoned for not seeing what he does. The eyelids droop. The blue eyes settle on a tree. He is a portrait of ease; it is what has brought him this far, closer to the prize than any RELIGIOUS CONSERVATIVE.

     END Excerpts

     For the profile in full, go to:


Insult of the weekend. Liberal columnist Jack Germond on Inside Washington: "I think the real cruel and unusual punishment is the terrorists have to be locked up in a closed room for twelve hours with John Ashcroft. Now that's really mean."

     Just when you thought we were all in this together. --  Brent Baker

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