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The 2,700th CyberAlert. Tracking Liberal Media Bias Since 1996
6:25am EDT, Friday August 1, 2008 (Vol. Thirteen; No. 145)
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1. CBS Turns Doubled GDP into 'Disappointing' News, ABC & NBC Silent
Second quarter Gross Domestic Product (GDP) doubled to 1.9 percent, up from 0.9 percent in the first quarter, the Commerce Department announced Thursday morning. Yet the CBS Evening News centered a story around "disappointing" news about the supposedly "struggling economy" (with that on screen) -- while ABC and NBC, which on April 30 led with full stories on the news of a 0.6 percent (since revised to 0.9) first quarter GDP, didn't utter a syllable Thursday night about the big GDP jump. On the last day of April, ABC's Betsy Stark declared the economy had "flat lined" and NBC's Brian Williams warned "it's getting rough out there" as the new GDP number "stops just short of the official declaration of a recession." Thursday night, however, ABC's World News and NBC Nightly News made time for full stories on outrage over ExxonMobil earning "the largest profit ever made by a U.S. company." CBS anchor Katie Couric, picking up on the 4th quarter 2007 GDP revision from 0.6 percent to a minus 0.2, stressed how "the government now says the economy was receding, not growing, in the final quarter of last year" though "it picked up a bit in the first quarter of this year." She then twisted the fresh news of a 1.9 percent jump into a negative: "But look at this: In the second quarter, when all those rebate checks were supposed to stimulate the economy, it grew less than two percent. Jeff Glor has more about the disappointing numbers."

2. Only ABC Runs Full Iraq Status Story After Fewest U.S.Deaths Ever
Not surprisingly given the past pattern, of the broadcast networks evening newscasts on Thursday, only ABC's World News devoted a full story to the fewest Americans killed in Iraq in any month since the war began. CBS and NBC gave the great news a few seconds before pivoting to full stories on the rise of female suicide bombers and the sexual assault problem in the military. ABC anchor Charles Gibson hailed: "[A] statistic out of Iraq today that is remarkable: Six Americans were killed in combat in the entire month of July. That's the lowest number since the war began. That compares to the 66 combat deaths in July of last year." From Iraq, reporter Terry McCarthy proceeded to convey how "U.S. troops on the ground don't follow statistics. They follow their gut. And these days, that tells them things are getting better." McCarthy pointed to how an Army Sergeant, seven months into his second tour, "hasn't fired his weapon once on patrol" and then McCarthy credited the surge: "The turning point was the surge, which began 18 months ago. Three months in, U.S. fatalities peaked at 119. Since then, violence has declined steeply."

3. CBS Scolds McCain for 'Infamous' Ad, Empathizes with Obama
ABC, CBS and NBC all aired stories Thursday night about McCain's Britney Spears/Paris Hilton anti-Obama TV ad as well as John McCain's charge that Barack Obama is playing the race card, but only Katie Couric characterized the McCain spot as "infamous" before Dean Reynolds empathized with Obama by citing his "exasperation" with McCain's ad, based on headlines over liberal newspaper editorials asserted that McCain's "sharper edge" has been "criticized by several newspapers," declared "a voter in Racine called" McCain on his lack of civility, and ended with how, to address McCain's unfair attacks, the Obama campaign created a Web site called the "Low Road Express" -- a page which highlights one of the very New York Times editorials the CBS story displayed.

4. GMA Throws a Fit Over McCain Ad: 'Strange' and 'Nuclear Attack'
The hosts and correspondents on Thursday's Good Morning America did not hold back in expressing their displeasure over a new John McCain ad that depicts Barack Obama as a celebrity and compares him to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. Co-host Diane Sawyer hyperbolically derided the spot as a "political nuclear attack" and asserted that the campaign is taking "a strange new turn." GMA news anchor Chris Cuomo seemed equally flummoxed. He opened the show by asserting: "Some odd campaign news today. There's a round of new campaign commercials that really have us scratching our heads here." A bewildered Sawyer agreed: "What sort of committee meeting do you have where you say, 'Let's use Britney!' 'Let's use Paris!' Yes, that'll be a blow!" In a second segment, former Clinton aide-turned journalist George Stephanopoulos claimed the commercial could be seen as "angry, cranky, too negative" and McCain himself might be viewed as "a bit of a whiner given the fact that most polls that he is behind."

5. CBS's Early Show: McCain 'Drawing First Blood' with Campaign Ad
On Thursday's CBS Early Show, co-host Maggie Rodriguez teased an upcoming segment on John McCain's latest ad criticizing Barack Obama, by declaring: "War of words...The race for the White House gets ugly as John McCain and Barack Obama spar over negative ads." When Rodriguez later introduced the segment, she specified who was "getting ugly": "The race for the White House has officially turned negative with the McCain campaign drawing first blood and Barack Obama responding quickly." On Monday, co-host Russ Mitchell had declared that another McCain ad showed that the "gloves are off" and was a sign of how "nasty" the campaign was getting. Thursday's segment began with a report by correspondent Chip Reid, who decried the negative turn: "You know, it's more than three months before election day and the McCain campaign has already decided to go negative. Recently they've released a series of attack ads and the latest one compares Barack Obama to pop stars Britney Spears and Paris Hilton." Reid then described the Obama response: "The Obama campaign rushed out a response ad," a clip of the ad was played: "John McCain. His attacks on Barack Obama not true, false, baloney, the low road." Reid then proclaimed: "Campaigning in Missouri, Obama took the high road."

6. NBC: McCain Ad 'Much More Personal and Demeaning' Than Hillary's
Like the other network morning shows, NBC's Today on Thursday took exception to John McCain's ad mocking Barack Obama's celebrity, featuring very brief pictures of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. Matt Lauer suggested it was "bizarre" and said it was "a new and some would say very negative ad from John McCain." Meredith Vieira agreed, suggesting it was "over the top" and saying "the ad suggests that Obama is just like these two celebutantes, more style than substance." In an interview with McCain aide Nicolle Wallace and Obama aide Robert Gibbs, Matt Lauer told Wallace the ad was "much more personal and demeaning" than Hillary Clinton's "It's 3 AM" ad, and after Wallace replied, he repeated it was "demeaning." Meredith Vieira began by suggesting McCain was overdoing it: "Good morning, Blonde-Sided. A controversial new John McCain ad compares Barack Obama with Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. Is it over the top? Top advisors for both campaigns square off this morning."


 

CBS Turns Doubled GDP into 'Disappointing'
News, ABC & NBC Silent

     Second quarter Gross Domestic Product (GDP) doubled to 1.9 percent, up from 0.9 percent in the first quarter, the Commerce Department announced Thursday morning as consumer spending rose 1.5 percent in the quarter ending June 30, up from 0.9 percent in the first quarter, and U.S. exports soared 9.2 percent, way up from 5.1 percent in the first three months of 2008.

     Yet the CBS Evening News centered a story around "disappointing" news about the supposedly "struggling economy" (with that on screen) -- while ABC and NBC, which on April 30 led with full stories on the news of a 0.6 percent (since revised to 0.9) first quarter GDP, didn't utter a syllable Thursday night about the big GDP jump. On the last day of April, ABC's Betsy Stark declared the economy had "flat lined" and NBC anchor Brian Williams warned "it's getting rough out there" as the new GDP number "stops just short of the official declaration of a recession." Thursday night, however, ABC's World News and NBC Nightly News made time for full stories on outrage over ExxonMobil earning "the largest profit ever made by a U.S. company." The "oil industry says it is not out of line, but some motorists feel otherwise."

     CBS anchor Katie Couric, picking up on the 4th quarter 2007 GDP revision from 0.6 percent to a minus 0.2, stressed how "the government now says the economy was receding, not growing, in the final quarter of last year" though "it picked up a bit in the first quarter of this year." She then twisted the fresh news of a 1.9 percent jump into a negative: "But look at this: In the second quarter, when all those rebate checks were supposed to stimulate the economy, it grew less than two percent. Jeff Glor has more about the disappointing numbers."

     Preferring an anecdote to factual data analysis, Glor started his story with how "you'll have a hard time convincing Paula Corletto the economy is growing" since "she and her eight-year-old daughter Leandra," both of whom CBS showed shopping for clothes, "now limit their shopping to only one day a week."

     A full screen CBS News chart incorrectly listed first quarter GDP growth at 0.6 percent. In fact, the July 31 press release from the Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis announcing the second quarter number, stated: "In the first quarter, real GDP increased 0.9 percent." See: www.bea.gov

     The initial report on April 30 put first quarter GDP at 0.6 percent, but last month it was revised upward to 0.9 percent.

     So, Couric and CBS News producers/writers highlighted a downward revision for the fourth quarter of 2007, but somehow missed an upward revision.

     [This item, by the MRC's Brent Baker, was posted Thursday night on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org: newsbusters.org ]

     The consumer spending and export numbers above came from a Thursday AP dispatch by Jeannine Aversa, which itself spun the improving economic indicators into bad news. Under the headline of (as posted by Yahoo) "Growth weaker than hoped; economy shrinks in Q4," the Washington, DC-based Aversa began: "The country didn't get the energetic rebound in economic growth hoped for from the government's tax rebates in the second quarter, and the economy jolted into reverse at the end of 2007, raising new recession fears."

     The AP article: news.yahoo.com

     Back on Thursday, April 30, when the Bureau of Economic Analysis pegged second quarter GDP at 0.6 percent (a number, as already noted, since revised to 0.9), ABC and NBC led with the "meager" growth rate:


     # ABC's World News:

     CHARLES GIBSON: Good evening. Seven months, seven-straight interest rate cuts made by the Federal Reserve, trying to head off a recession. And yet, for the seven months, the economy has continued to go from bad to worse. Today was cut number seven, a key interest rate was cut another quarter percent. And today, new number show the economy is limping along, with meager growth, six tenths of a percent for the first three months of the year...
     BETSY STARK: Seven rate cuts in seven months. And as that GDP report makes clear, the U.S. economy has essentially flat lined....


     # NBC Nightly News:

     BRIAN WILLIAMS: Is the United States right now really, officially, in a recession? Well, that depends largely on who you ask. A whole lot of American families are hurting financially right now in ways they haven't in decades. If you go by government numbers, the figure that came out today stops just short of the official declaration of a recession. But the Fed acted again today, bringing interest rates down even further. And there are strong indications tonight this economy has further to go. We begin tonight with Erin Burnett from CNBC. It's getting rough out there.
     ERIN BURNETT: It certainly is, Brian. And when you look at the numbers today, yes, they were weak. In fact, the last time it was worse for this, than this for the US economy was six years ago. It's been years since the Gross Domestic Product, which measures economic growth, has been watched this closely, and even though it grew slightly in the first three months of the year, up .6 percent, many are still very cautious....


     Fast forward three months and on Thursday night ABC and NBC featured full stories on ExxonMobil's profit level:


     # ABC's World News, July 31:

     CHARLES GIBSON: Well, we turn next to big oil and big profits. The ExxonMobil corporation made a profit of almost $12 billion in April, May and June. That is the largest profit ever made by a U.S. company in any three-month period. It equates to $1,500 in profit every second of every day. David Muir tonight on where that money comes from.


     # NBC Nightly News:

     BRIAN WILLIAMS: And perhaps you heard this story this morning, and perhaps it made you think of what you last paid for a tank of gas. ExxonMobil broke its own record for the most profitable quarter by any American company ever, taking in just under $11.7 billion in the second quarter of this year. Bears repeating. That's almost $12 billion in pure profit for just one quarter of the business year. The oil industry says it is not out of line, but some motorists feel otherwise. The story from CNBC's Trish Regan.


     The MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against the video to provide this transcript of the incredible story on the Thursday, July 31 CBS Evening News:

     KATIE COURIC: The biggest issue for voters this year is the economy, of course, and there's news about that tonight. The government now says the economy was receding, not growing, in the final quarter of last year. It picked up a bit in the first quarter of this year, but look at this: In the second quarter, when all those rebate checks were supposed to stimulate the economy, it grew less than two percent. Jeff Glor has more about the disappointing numbers.

     JEFF GLOR: You'll have a hard time convincing Paula Corletto the economy is growing.
     PAULA CORLETTO: I just have to watch my spending.
     GLOR: She and her eight-year-old daughter Leandra now limit their shopping to only one day a week.
     CORLETTO: I chose Wednesdays because there's always a sale on Wednesdays.
     GLOR: Consumer anxiety has a lot to do with the job market. Numbers out today show that new unemployment claims are at a five-year high, with nearly 450,000 filing last week.
     DAVID WYSS, STANDARD AND POOR'S: Normally, anything over 400,000 gets you into a recession range.
     GLOR: The slight rise in growth in the U.S. economy in the spring was due mostly to the $100 billion life jacket thrown out by the federal government.
     HENRY PAULSON, TREASURY SECRETARY: The stimulus plan has supported the U.S. economy during this difficult period.
     GLOR: But those stimulus checks are one-time only.
     WYSS: The problem is, I think, once people have spent those rebate checks, we're going to have a problem again.
     GLOR: That's bad news for retailers, hoping to cash in on the upcoming back-to-school season.
     RICHARD GERSTEIN, SEARS: Back-to-school is an important period for us, particularly this year.
     GLOR: A survey finds 71 percent of households will spend less on back-to-school shopping this year, with 48 percent saying they'd spend less than $100. Hoping to generate store traffic, retailers are turning to catchy Internet campaigns, with Sears featuring Vanessa Hudgens, and a J.C. Penney ad aimed at parents nostalgic for the 80s.
     MIKE BOYLSON, J.C. PENNEY: If all you try to compete on is price, it's going to be a very tough game to win for anybody.
     GLOR: But it might take more than music to make Paula Corletto feel good about the future.
     CORLETTO: I'm just saving my money right now.
     GLOR: Tomorrow's July jobs report is expected to show the economy lost even more jobs last month. And it's pretty simple -- when people don't have jobs or feel good about the ones they do have, they don't spend money. Jeff Glor, CBS News, New York.

 

Only ABC Runs Full Iraq Status Story
After Fewest U.S.Deaths Ever

     Not surprisingly given the past pattern, of the broadcast networks evening newscasts on Thursday, only ABC's World News devoted a full story to the fewest Americans killed in Iraq in any month since the war began. CBS and NBC gave the great news a few seconds before pivoting to full stories on the rise of female suicide bombers and the sexual assault problem in the military. ABC anchor Charles Gibson hailed: "[A] statistic out of Iraq today that is remarkable: Six Americans were killed in combat in the entire month of July. That's the lowest number since the war began. That compares to the 66 combat deaths in July of last year."

     From Iraq, reporter Terry McCarthy proceeded to convey how "U.S. troops on the ground don't follow statistics. They follow their gut. And these days, that tells them things are getting better." McCarthy pointed to how an Army Sergeant, seven months into his second tour, "hasn't fired his weapon once on patrol" and then McCarthy credited the surge: "The turning point was the surge, which began 18 months ago. Three months in, U.S. fatalities peaked at 119. Since then, violence has declined steeply."

     CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric on Thursday didn't mention the low number of deaths, but she gave it just under ten seconds on Wednesday evening: "The U.S. death toll this month is nine, and that is the lowest since the invasion in 2003." She quickly set up a full story on another Iraq topic, citing:
     "A new trend: Women strapping themselves with explosives, killing themselves and others in the process. Richard Roth tells us why female suicide bombers are on the rise."

     Brian Williams gave the subject a few more seconds on Thursday night as he reported how "President Bush made an unusual early morning public appearance to talk about progress in Iraq" as "the number of U.S. combat deaths there was five" in July, "the lowest number since the start of the war." Williams then jumped to a full report from Jim Miklaszeski on "new efforts to address sexual assault in the U.S. military."

     [This item, by the MRC's Brent Baker, was posted Thursday night on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org: newsbusters.org ]

     The cited five or six versus nine American deaths in Iraq can be attributed, I'm guessing, to counting only deaths from combat compared to counting those killed by any cause in Iraq, such as accidents, though I can't explain ABC's six versus NBC's five.

     The news choices on Thursday matched the practice of ABC's World News always showing more willingness to highlight improvements in Iraq.

     The MRC's July 21 Media Reality Check, "TV Keeps Pushing Bad News Agenda on Iraq; Study: ABC, CBS & NBC War Coverage Plummets; Reporters Emphasize Casualties Over Surge Success," determined:

A new study by the Media Research Center finds that network evening news coverage of Iraq has fallen 65 percent in the past twelve months " a mere 429 stories so far this year, compared to 1,227 on the ABC, CBS and NBC evening news shows during the first six and a half months of 2007.

     Rich Noyes, author of the study, pointed out:

To its credit, ABC's World News with Charles Gibson provided the most even-handed coverage, with 34 stories focused on positive developments compared to 56 stories emphasizing bad news. On June 21, ABC reporter Miguel Marquez told viewers of big progress in Samarra, where the bombing of the Golden Dome mosque triggered major bloodshed two years ago: "Last year, U.S. forces here were attacked about 80 times a month. Since February, there have been a total of four attacks, a dramatic turnaround." Two days earlier, ABC's Terry McCarthy told a similar story of progress in the southern city of Basra, "a city reborn out of fear."

     For the July 21 Media Reality Check study: www.mrc.org

     The July 9 CyberAlert item, "ABC Sees 'Impressive Gains in Iraq' While CBS Finds Bad Hospitals," recounted:

As was the pattern earlier this year and last, ABC's World News is much more willing -- than its CBS and NBC competitors -- to acknowledge good news in the Iraq war. On Tuesday night, ABC's Martha Raddatz cited "some really impressive gains" as she reported the plummeting number of attacks in Baghdad, falling from 1,278 in June of 2007 to 112 last month. The night before, only anchor Charlie Gibson highlighted the "upbeat assessment of security in Iraq today from Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen."

Neither the CBS Evening News nor NBC Nightly News mentioned Mullen on Monday night while NBC's Jim Miklaszewski only noted less violence in Iraq in contrast to a "record number of Americans killed in Afghanistan last month," so "if there's any bright side here...it's that the level of violence in Iraq has come down enough" to allow the military to move resources to Afghanistan...

     For the entire previous CyberAlert: www.mrc.org

     ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscast coverage of the low death level in Iraq during the month of July:

     # CBS Evening News, July 30:

     KATIE COURIC: Turning to Iraq now and more encouraging news about the drop in violence there. The U.S. death toll this month is nine, and that is the lowest since the invasion in 2003. According to the White House, car bombings in Iraq are on the decline, as is the number of male suicide bombers. But that has led to a new trend: Women strapping themselves with explosives, killing themselves and others in the process. Richard Roth tells us why female suicide bombers are on the rise.


     # NBC Nightly News, July 31:

     BRIAN WILLIAMS: At the White House today, President Bush made an unusual early morning public appearance to talk about progress in Iraq, noting that violence is at its lowest level in more than four years. This month, the number of U.S. combat deaths there was five. That's the lowest number since the start of the war.
     The President also made good on an earlier promise confirming, that starting tomorrow, combat tours for troops heading to Iraq and Afghanistan will be reduced from 15 months back to 12.
     Meanwhile, there is disturbing news tonight about the number of women who are putting their lives on the line for their country and are facing attacks by fellow service members. From the Pentagon, NBC's Jim Miklaszewski tonight on new efforts to address sexual assault in the U.S. military.


     # ABC's World News, July 31, transcript provided by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth:

     CHARLES GIBSON: There has been something of an oil boom in Iraq, where production has reached its highest levels since the war began. From April through June, oil production averaged nearly 2.5 million barrels in Iraq per day, resulting in $33 billion in oil revenues there so far this year.
     There's another statistic out of Iraq today that is remarkable. Six Americans were killed in combat in the entire month of July. That's the lowest number since the war began. That compares to the 66 combat deaths in July of last year. As Terry McCarthy reports from Baghdad, no one is more aware of that number than the troops themselves.

     TERRY MCCARTHY: U.S. troops on the ground don't follow statistics. They follow their gut. And these days, that tells them things are getting better.
     SPECIALIST JOE TYLER, U.S. ARMY: I really don't have to worry about thinking, all right, I'm leaving. Am I going to come back today? It's more, I'm leaving. I'll be back in a couple of hours. I'll be able to talk to my family.
     MCCARTHY: With the improvements in security, President Bush chose today to announce that troop rotations in Iraq will be shortened from 15 to 12 months.
     STAFF SERGEANT VICTOR O'DELL, U.S. ARMY: My wife will be happy. She'll be very happy that the tours are getting shortened.
     MCCARTHY: Sergeant O'Dell is seven months into his second tour. This time around, he told us he hasn't fired his weapon once on patrol.
     O'DELL: Only for the range. That's a good thing, too.
     MCCARTHY: The turning point was the surge, which began 18 months ago. Three months in, U.S. fatalities peaked at 119. Since then, violence has declined steeply, as U.S. troops set up bases in local neighborhoods, handed out reconstruction money, and lured many Sunnis away from the insurgency. Retired General Jack Keane was one of the architects of the surge.
     RETIRED GENERAL JACK KEANE, U.S. ARMY: We knew that a counteroffensive would increase casualties, but we knew the net result of that, if it worked, would be lower casualties. And that is what has happened.
     MCCARTHY: The threat level has certainly gone down. But for soldiers like these, who are preparing to go on patrol tonight, they still can't afford to let their guards down. Iraq may be quieter. It's not yet a country of peace. General David Petraeus is determined not to declare victory early.
     GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS, MULTINATIONAL FORCE IRAQ: As we have repeatedly said, and cautioned against, there will be further attacks.
     MCCARTHY: But if the casualty figures continue to decline, the President and the General both hope to bring home more troops this year. Welcome news for those troops on the ground. Terry McCarthy, ABC News, Baghdad.

 

CBS Scolds McCain for 'Infamous' Ad,
Empathizes with Obama

     ABC, CBS and NBC all aired stories Thursday night about McCain's Britney Spears/Paris Hilton anti-Obama TV ad as well as John McCain's charge that Barack Obama is playing the race card, but only Katie Couric characterized the McCain spot as "infamous" before Dean Reynolds empathized with Obama by citing his "exasperation" with McCain's ad, based on headlines over liberal newspaper editorials asserted that McCain's "sharper edge" has been "criticized by several newspapers," declared "a voter in Racine called" McCain on his lack of civility, and ended with how, to address McCain's unfair attacks, the Obama campaign created a Web site called the "Low Road Express" -- a page which highlights one of the very New York Times editorials the CBS story displayed.

     With images of a St. Petersburg Times and a New York Times editorial on screen -- "From 'straight talk' to smear campaign" and "Low-Road Express," the inspiration for Obama's new site -- Reynolds maintained: "What is striking about McCain's sharper edge, criticized by several newspapers recently, is how it appears to conflict with some of his more high-minded talk of the need for civility on the stump. Today a voter in Racine called him on it." Reynolds continued to see events through Obama's eyes: "Obama said critics were trying to paint him as strange and scary." Presuming Obama is the victim of scurrilous attacks, Reynolds concluded:
     "Today the Obama campaign went so far as to create a new Web site designed to deal with what it considers to be unfair or untruthful tactics by the McCain camp. And it's called the 'Low Road Express.'"

     St. Petersburg Times editorial: www.tampabay.com

     New York Times editorial: www.nytimes.com

     Obama's "Low Road Express" page: my.barackobama.com

     The Oxford University Press dictionary defines "infamous" as: "1: well known for some bad quality or deed. 2: morally bad; shocking." Merriam-Webster's: "1: having a reputation of the worst kind: notoriously evil; 2: causing or bringing infamy: disgraceful." See: www.merriam-webster.com

     After the Reynolds piece aired, Couric turned to Bob Schieffer who denounced the McCain campaign's "weird" tactics:
     "The McCain campaign shows no sign of catching fire. Nothing he says seems to be getting much traction. They almost seem kind of weird over there, trying to compare Obama to Paris Hilton? I think that's a real stretch. I just don't see how that's going to be taken seriously and now you have this charge that Obama's playing the race card. I think what we're hearing here is the kind of thing that turns people off on all sides."

     [This item, by the MRC's Brent Baker, was posted Friday morning on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org: newsbusters.org ]

     The lead story on the Thursday, July 31 CBS Evening News:

     KATIE COURIC: Good evening, everyone. The presidential candidates are taking a detour off the high road. John McCain and Barack Obama went at each other today over the now-infamous McCain ad that likens his Democratic opponent to celebrities like Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. Senator Obama chastised Senator McCain who defended the ad. Dean Reynolds begins our Campaign '08 coverage tonight.

     DEAN REYNOLDS: Facing a more aggressive McCain campaign that now questions Obama's leadership, experience, and even compares him to notorious celebrities, Obama today posed a question himself:
     OBAMA, AT EVENT: All we've been hearing about is Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. Is that the best you can come up with?
     REYNOLDS: That Obama would take on the issue himself is proof of his exasperation with it, but McCain today did not back off.
     McCAIN: All I can say is that we're proud of that commercial.
     REYNOLDS: What is striking about McCain's sharper edge, criticized by several newspapers recently, is how it appears to conflict with some of his more high-minded talk of the need for civility on the stump. Today a voter in Racine called him on it.
     WOMAN: So it seems like to Americans like me and other people, like you may have flip-flopped on what you had said earlier.
     McCAIN: Campaigns are tough, but I'm proud of the campaign that we have run.
     REYNOLDS: The plan appears to be to keep McCain on the high road as much as possible while his campaign aides mud wrestle Obama. Take yesterday in Missouri. Obama said critics were trying to paint him as strange and scary.
     OBAMA, AT CAMPAIGN EVENT: Oh, he's not patriotic enough. He's got a funny name. You know, he doesn't look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills, you know.
     REYNOLDS: But McCain's campaign pounced on that statement. "Obama has played the race card," said an official. And this afternoon, McCain agreed it's a legitimate charge to make.
     McCAIN TO CNN'S JOHN KING: I'm sorry to say that it is. It's legitimate. And we don't, there's no place in this campaign for that.
     REYNOLDS: While Obama's campaign said he'd done no such thing, there might be some political mileage to be gained by McCain in this back-and-forth as he courts white independents. And, according to a new poll, draws closer to Obama in major battled ground states. [Quinnipiac showing Obama at 46, McCain at 44 in Florida and Ohio] Today the Obama campaign went so far as to create a new Web site designed to deal with what it considers to be unfair or untruthful tactics by the McCain camp. And it's called the "Low Road Express." Katie.

 

GMA Throws a Fit Over McCain Ad: 'Strange'
and 'Nuclear Attack'

     The hosts and correspondents on Thursday's Good Morning America did not hold back in expressing their displeasure over a new John McCain ad that depicts Barack Obama as a celebrity and compares him to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. Co-host Diane Sawyer hyperbolically derided the spot as a "political nuclear attack" and asserted that the campaign is taking "a strange new turn."

     GMA news anchor Chris Cuomo seemed equally flummoxed. He opened the show by asserting: "Some odd campaign news today. There's a round of new campaign commercials that really have us scratching our heads here." A bewildered Sawyer agreed: "What sort of committee meeting do you have where you say, 'Let's use Britney!' 'Let's use Paris!' Yes, that'll be a blow!" In a second segment, former Clinton aide-turned journalist George Stephanopoulos claimed the commercial could be seen as "angry, cranky, too negative" and McCain himself might be viewed as "a bit of a whiner given the fact that most polls that he is behind."

     [This item, by the MRC's Scott Whitlock, was posted Thursday afternoon on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org: newsbusters.org ]

     At one point, Sawyer queried, "Will it read as sour grapes and boomerang?" The entire tone of the morning show's coverage seemed desperately out of touch. It seems obvious that McCain was attempting to, in a not-so subtle way, depict the Obama campaign as superficial and not ready for prime time. And since the Arizona Senator must deal with reporters who both fawn and defend the Democrat, how can such attack ads be surprising?

     Of course, other than a few snippets, GMA didn't actually play the McCain ad, which features visuals of Spears and Hilton mixed in with video of Obama's European trip. The rest of the spot hit the Illinois senator for plans to raise taxes and opposition to offshore oil drilling, pretty standard critiques that one politician might make about another during a campaign. Sawyer, however, appeared appalled by the celebrity comparison: "And as we said, that new breed of negative TV ads out this morning that use Britney Spears and Paris Hilton as a kind of political nuclear attack."

     Jake Tapper, during a segment on the commercial, at least tried for balance. Discussing how both sides would spin the spot, he stated that the McCain team believes they will be able to paint Obama as "an arrogant, arugula-eating, Fancy Berry, tea- drinking celebrity." Tapper then asked, "But does the new McCain line of attack bring out a negative caricature of McCain, that he's an angry, bitter old man?"

     A transcript of the first segment, which aired at 7:02am, followed by a partial transcript of Stephanopoulos, follows:

     7am tease:
     DIANE SAWYER: This morning, John McCain trying to use Britney and Paris as weapons against Barack Obama. Will it work? Obama's response this morning as American politics takes a strange new turn.
     CHRIS CUOMO: Some odd campaign news today. There's a round of new campaign commercials that really have us scratching our heads here.
     SAWYER: They do. What sort of committee meeting do you have where you say, "Let's use Britney!" Let's use Paris!" Yes, that'll be a blow. Anyway, we're going to be asking this morning George Stephanopoulos, who will be here, is this savvy strategy by the McCain camp? Will it read as sour grapes and boomerang?

     7:02am:
     SAWYER: But first, let's get right to it. It's the race for '08. And as we said, that new breed of negative TV ads out this morning that use Britney Spears and Paris Hilton as a kind of political nuclear attack. ABC's senior political correspondent Jake Tapper live in Washington with it. Jake?
     JAKE TAPPER: Good morning, Diane. Well, the McCain campaign thinks they have an effective line of attack against Senator Barack Obama. That he is an arrogant, arugula-eating, Fancy Berry, tea-drinking celebrity. But does the new McCain line of attack bring out a negative caricature of McCain, that he's an angry, bitter old man? The new McCain ad depicts Barack Obama as a celebrity, akin to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, pretty, pampered, not up for being president.
     ANNOUNCER FROM AD: Is he ready to lead?
     TAPPER: Framing Obama as a celebrity allows McCain an opportunity to accuse Obama of other flaws, quote, "like most worldwide celebrities," reads this McCain memo, "this status has fueled a certain arrogance." This new Republican Party website, Obama Audacity Watch, catalogs alleged arrogance such as Obama's faux presidential seal. Obama laughs it off.
     SENATOR BARACK OBAMA: They got me in an ad with Paris Hilton. You know, I never met the woman.
     TAPPER: But could the charge stick?
     MICHELLE COTTLE (Senior editor, New Republic): Americans don't like presidents who think they're better than the average guy.
     TAPPER: Some former McCain aides wonder if the McCain brand will be hurt by his new strategy of attack, attack, attack.
     ANNOUNCER FROM MCCAIN AD: Who can you thank for rising prices at the pump?
     DAN SCHNUR (Director, Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, USC): You want to draw contrasts between yourself and your opponent but you want voters to see it as valuable contrasting information rather than simply as name calling.
     TAPPER: John Weaver, McCain's former top political aide who left the campaign last summer tells ABC News that the Britney ad is, quote, "childish." The new negative strategy, Weaver says, quote, "reduces McCain. John is capable of inspiring Americans. It's not the John McCain brand at all. It's like asking Wilt Chamberlain to play point guard." And now Obama is casting McCain, who already has a reputation for having a temper, as negative and angry.
     OBAMA AD: Same old politics.
     TAPPER: With 97 days to go, the caricature crayons are out.
     JOEL STEIN (Columnist, Time magazine): One of them is kind of egotistical and confident, so optimistic. And the other one is kind of tough and gruff. Like, I find that very real and appealing and hope they don't, kind of, tone those things down.
     TAPPER: A third party liberal group is now attacking McCain online saying that he is the out of touch celebrity pointing out he wore expensive Italian loafers to a meeting with the Dalai Lama. So there you have it. Paris, Britney, Ferragamo loafers, the great debates of 2008. Diane?
     SAWYER: [laughs]: As someone said, while Rome burns.

     7:04:
     DIANE SAWYER: Let's get the bottom line on all of this. Chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos here right now. George, is this going to work? Is the McCain camp smart?
     GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, they're certainly confident about this, Diane, and they are now backing off at all. They're saying they're feeling good and I think one of the things they're happy about is we're sitting here right now talking about all this. They wanted to get attention. They are getting attention. I think the question is, will the focus on the tactics overwhelm the actual message that the McCain camp is trying to send? There is a tradition of this kind of ad going all the way back to 1988. Remember when Republicans said that Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis wanted to convince Iowans to grow Belgium endive? That goes with Barack Obama's arugula. Also, they put him in a tank in that ad. They tried to ridicule the idea that he could be commander in chief. Go to 2004. Just four years ago. When John Kerry was running, the Bush campaign wanted to paint him as an elite billionaire who was out of touch, kind of French. They had that famous wind surfing ad to drive home the point that he was a flip flopper and doing sports that, you know, normal Americans don't do. This ad is in that tradition. Right now, the McCain campaign camp is confident that it's going to work. On the other hand, the Obama team says it's just a bridge too far to compare Barack Obama in Berlin to Britney Spears and that people will see it as ridiculous.
     SAWYER: And what about the former campaign aide saying it's childish? Is there a risk that its is a backlash [sic] and that it does make Senator McCain seem angry?
     STEPHANOPOULOS: Yeah. Angry, cranky, too negative, a bit of a whiner given the fact that most polls that he is behind. On the other hand, the Obama campaign has to watch out for the risk that he does appear a bit presumptuous, that he does appear over-confident. Just the other night, David Letterman had a top ten list, "The Top Ten Signs That Barack Obama is over-confident." This is something they have to watch. The Obama campaign is very aware of that. That's why they're trying to keep him in the small town, town setting meetings where he can appear to be in touch with regular people and not appear to be flying high as he was last week in Berlin.

 

CBS's Early Show: McCain 'Drawing First
Blood' with Campaign Ad

     On Thursday's CBS Early Show, co-host Maggie Rodriguez teased an upcoming segment on John McCain's latest ad criticizing Barack Obama, by declaring: "War of words...The race for the White House gets ugly as John McCain and Barack Obama spar over negative ads." When Rodriguez later introduced the segment, she specified who was "getting ugly": "The race for the White House has officially turned negative with the McCain campaign drawing first blood and Barack Obama responding quickly."

     On Monday, co-host Russ Mitchell had declared that another McCain ad showed that the "gloves are off" and was a sign of how "nasty" the campaign was getting. See the July 29 CyberAlert: www.mediaresearch.org

     Thursday's segment began with a report by correspondent Chip Reid, who decried the negative turn: "You know, it's more than three months before election day and the McCain campaign has already decided to go negative. Recently they've released a series of attack ads and the latest one compares Barack Obama to pop stars Britney Spears and Paris Hilton." Reid then described the Obama response: "The Obama campaign rushed out a response ad," a clip of the ad was played: "John McCain. His attacks on Barack Obama not true, false, baloney, the low road." Reid then proclaimed: "Campaigning in Missouri, Obama took the high road."

     [This item, by the MRC's Kyle Drennen, was posted Thursday afternoon on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org: newsbusters.org ]

     Reid then described how the ad would probably backfire on McCain: "Political analyst David Mark says the ad is sure to get a lot of attention as it's replayed again and again on the internet and cable news. But he says it could well turn out to be a mistake." Mark, from politico.com, then commented: "McCain's campaign is predicated on the notions of honor, being upright. This seems a little bit beneath him." Reid concluded his report by wondering: "And one big question for Obama now is how long can he continue to take the high road with McCain increasingly on the attack?"

     Following Reid's report, Rodriguez talked to Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer and asked: "So what do you think about these McCain ads? Is it a sign of desperation or is it normal?" Like Reid, Schieffer felt the ad would backfire: "...will people believe this? I mean this is kind of a stretch, to say Barack Obama has something in common with Paris Hilton, and you have to wonder if people are going to buy that. I tell you, the other part of it is, it's very surprising, this is very unlike John McCain and the kind of campaign he said he was going to run. So maybe they will be able to define Barack Obama in their terms, but on the other hand, I think there's a high possibility that all this could blow up in their face and backfire."

     Rodriguez then asked: "Do you think it's inevitable that Barack Obama will eventually go down the same road? And if so, what is it about John McCain that he would attack?" To his credit, Schieffer mentioned some of the Obama campaign's attacks on McCain: "Well, I mean, they've already tried this, there's no question about that. Look, when Wesley Clark, who was speaking for Obama, tried to marginalize John McCain's military service...So both sides are engaging in this. I don't think the public likes it, but I think we're going to see more of it." While Schieffer condemned negative attacks, on Sunday's Face the Nation he compared President Bush to "the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland."

     Read about Schieffer's fairly tale analogy here: newsbusters.org

     Following the same theme of Rodriguez wondering if the ad was a "sign of desperation" of the McCain campaign, Schieffer observed: "One thing for sure, when you're running ahead you don't normally run negative ads about your opponent. I think this does say that John McCain's people know that he's behind right now."

     Rodriguez concluded the segment by turning to Democratic Party unity: "I want to ask you in the last seconds Bob, about the news that we just got that Hillary Clinton will be speaking on the second night of the Democratic convention with all female senators behind her. That's going to be her night. That's going to be quite a statement." Schieffer agreed: "Well, it certainly is...it'll be quite a night."

     Here is the full transcript of Thursday's segment:

     7:00AM TEASER:
     MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: War of words.
     UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: He's the biggest celebrity in the world. But, is he ready to lead?
     BARACK OBAMA: He doesn't seem to have anything very positive to say about himself, does he? He doesn't -- he seems to only be talking about me. You need to ask John McCain what he's for, not just what he's against.
     RODRIGUEZ: The race for the White House gets ugly as John McCain and Barack Obama spar over negative ads.

     7:01AM SEGMENT:
     MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: But first this morning, nothing happy about some new campaign ads. The race for the White House has officially turned negative with the McCain campaign drawing first blood and Barack Obama responding quickly. CBS News Capitol Hill correspondent Chip Reid is in Washington. Good morning, Chip.

     CHIP REID: Well, good morning, Maggie. You know, it's more than three months before election day and the McCain campaign has already decided to go negative. Recently they've released a series of attack ads and the latest one compares Barack Obama to pop stars Britney Spears and Paris Hilton.
     AD NARRATOR: He's the biggest celebrity in the world. But, is he ready to lead?
     REID: So what exactly are Britney Spears and Paris Hilton doing in a presidential campaign ad? Well, the McCain campaign says it's to suggest that Barack Obama is more interested in building a reputation as an international celebrity than in running a traditional campaign for president. McCain advisers note that Obama's adoring fans follow him everywhere he goes, even in Germany, where more than 200,000 showed up last week to hear him speak.
     RICK DAVIS: The focus on events and activities is much more something you would expect from someone releasing a new movie than running for president.
     REID: The Obama campaign rushed out a response ad.
     UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: John McCain. His attacks on Barack Obama not true, false, baloney, the low road.
     REID: Campaigning in Missouri, Obama took the high road.
     OBAMA: You know, I don't pay attention to John McCain's ads. Although I do notice that he doesn't seem to have anything very positive to say about himself, does he? He doesn't -- he seems to only to be talking about me. You need to ask John McCain what he's for, not just what he's against.
     REID: Political analyst David Mark says the ad is sure to get a lot of attention as it's replayed again and again on the internet and cable news. But he says it could well turn out to be a mistake.
     DAVID MARK: I think this has a big potential to backfire. McCain's campaign is predicated on the notions of honor, being upright. This seems a little bit beneath him.
     REID: And one big question for Obama now is how long can he continue to take the high road with McCain increasingly on the attack? Maggie.

     RODRIGUEZ: CBS's Chip Reid, thank you Chip. Joining us now, CBS News chief Washington correspondent and host of 'Face the Nation,' our friend Bob Schieffer. Good morning Bob.
     BOB SCHIEFFER: Morning, Maggie.
     RODRIGUEZ: So what do you think about these McCain ads? Is it a sign of desperation or is it normal?
     SCHIEFFER: Well, it's certainly a sign that they've changed strategy. They brought aboard a new strategist, Steve Schmidt, about a month ago. He was from the old Bush campaign team and he's bringing in some of the techniques that the Bush people used against John Kerry. They have concluded that while Barack Obama is famous, that a lot of people really don't know him. So what they're trying to do is define him and tell people who he is in their version. Now, the question is, is this going to work? They're trying to picture him as an elitist, as someone's who's aloof, who's sort of divorced from regular life. They're aiming this at those white, blue collar Democrats who voted for Hillary Clinton didn't vote for Barack Obama in the primaries. They're saying 'this is really not your kind of guy.' The question, though, Maggie, is will people believe this? I mean this is kind of a stretch, to say Barack Obama has something in common with Paris Hilton, and you have to wonder if people are going to buy that. I tell you, the other part of it is, it's very surprising, this is very unlike John McCain and the kind of campaign he said he was going to run. So maybe they will be able to define Barack Obama in their terms, but on the other hand, I think there's a high possibility that all this could blow up in their face and backfire.
     RODRIGUEZ: Do you think it's inevitable that Barack Obama will eventually go down the same road? And if so, what is it about John McCain that he would attack?
     SCHIEFFER: Well, I mean, they've already tried this, there's no question about that. Look, when Wesley Clark, who was speaking for Obama, tried to marginalize John McCain's military service, and said -- I asked him on 'Face the Nation,' why, you know, that he thought McCain shouldn't consider, you know, his military service shouldn't be considered as something that was a plus for somebody running for president. And he said, 'well, you know, just being shot down over Hanoi does not qualify you for being president.' So both sides are engaging in this. I don't think the public likes it, but I think we're going to see more of it. One thing for sure, when you're running ahead you don't normally run negative ads about your opponent. I think this does say that John McCain's people know that he's behind right now.
     RODRIGUEZ: I want to ask you in the last seconds Bob, about the news that we just got that Hillary Clinton will be speaking on the second night of the Democratic convention with all female senators behind her. That's going to be her night. That's going to be quite a statement.
     SCHIEFFER: Well, it certainly is. And I guess that this also tells you, Maggie, that she is not going to be on the ticket with Barack Obama, because if she were she would speak the night after that, when the running mate traditionally runs. So it'll be quite a night. But I think this tells you what a lot of people have been saying that she is not the one that Barack Obama's going to pick to be on the ticket with her.
     RODRIGUEZ: Bob Schieffer, thank you so much Bob.
     SCHIEFFER: You bet.

 

NBC: McCain Ad 'Much More Personal and
Demeaning' Than Hillary's

     Like the other network morning shows, NBC's Today on Thursday took exception to John McCain's ad mocking Barack Obama's celebrity, featuring very brief pictures of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. Matt Lauer suggested it was "bizarre" and said it was "a new and some would say very negative ad from John McCain." Meredith Vieira agreed, suggesting it was "over the top" and saying "the ad suggests that Obama is just like these two celebutantes, more style than substance." In an interview with McCain aide Nicolle Wallace and Obama aide Robert Gibbs, Matt Lauer told Wallace the ad was "much more personal and demeaning" than Hillary Clinton's "It's 3 AM" ad, and after Wallace replied, he repeated it was "demeaning."

     But Lauer asked Gibbs about whether it could become a negative that Obama draws adoring crowds: "So this issue of celebrity, what we're saying is there's all this raw excitement. There's this screaming and cheering. Hundreds of thousands of people turning out at these events and maybe they're trying to touch on this. Is there a possibility and a fear on your part that celebrity starts to overwhelm the message, or become the message itself?"

     [This item, by the MRC's Tim Graham, was posted Thursday night on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org: newsbusters.org ]

     Meredith Vieira began Thursday's Today by suggesting McCain was overdoing it: "Good morning, Blonde-Sided. A controversial new John McCain ad compares Barack Obama with Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. Is it over the top? Top advisors for both campaigns square off this morning."

     In the opening chatter, Lauer was puzzled and amazed:

     MATT LAUER: Now I'm trying to think, even in the rough and tumble and somewhat bizarre world of politics, did anyone ever imagine that they would be seeing Britney Spears and Paris Hilton featured in a presidential campaign ad? Guess what, they are in a new and some would say very negative ad from John McCain.
     VIEIRA: Yeah, the ad suggests that Obama is just like these two celebutantes, more style than substance. And now the Obama campaign is fighting back. Top advisors for both campaigns will weigh in in just a few minutes.

     First, NBC ran a story summarizing the controversy by reporter Savannah Guthrie. The story was pretty balanced, running clips that underlined what could be Obama's arrogance, with the candidate boasting: "We are the ones we've been waiting for" and "the odds of winning are very good." GOP analyst Vin Weber was paired with Democrat analyst Tad Devine and Sen. Claire McCaskill. Guthrie concluded: "McCain's advisors were asked if they were portraying him as frivolous and irresponsible, the way many see Britney Spears or Paris Hilton. Their response, yes. Analysts say it's a concerted effort by the McCain campaign to define Obama for voters."

     Skeptical viewers might wonder exactly how that Q&A went and how strongly McCain's advisers suggested he was a Britney/Paris carbon copy.

     Then came the interview with Wallace and Gibbs. Lauer began by assailing the Republicans as too negative:

     LAUER: Nicole, let me start with you. I mean, experience is going to be a key in this election and clearly it was questioned by Hillary Clinton for Barack Obama with the famous "It's 3AM" ads. But this ad does go to a different direction. It's much more personal and it is demeaning, isn't it?
     WALLACE: Well, look. This ad is in some ways a celebration of his celebrity. I mean, I don't think there's much to debate this morning about whether he or is not a celebrity. The ad though, if you watch the whole thing and I hope you will show it in its entirety because it makes a very serious and sober point. There are two big roadblocks on our way to economic recovery. And they include our dependence on Mideast oil and a move by the Obama campaign to raise taxes on just about every American.
     LAUER: Well, then Nicole, if that's the importance of the ad, why bury the lead? Why is it that the first thing we see are these images of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears? And as Savannah mentioned in her report, these are not -- I have nothing against either one them, but they're not known for their gravitas. And in some ways they have become the punch line of jokes. That's demeaning.
     WALLACE: Well, we've never made jokes about Paris Hilton in this campaign and, look, I don't think we're making a joke of Senator Obama and neither were the 200,000 Germans who there to celebrate his celebrity...

     NBC would not run the ad in its entirety. Lauer then turned to Gibbs for the talk of Obama's adoration by massive crowds:

     LAUER: Robert, let me bring you in here. So this issue of celebrity, what we're saying is there's all this raw excitement. There's this screaming and cheering. Hundreds of thousands of people turning out at these events and maybe they're trying to touch on this. Is there a possibility and a fear on your part that celebrity starts to overwhelm the message or become the message itself?
     GIBBS: I think what you see is people that are excited about the possibility of change in this country. You know, John McCain is an honorable man, Matt, who's running an increasingly dishonorable campaign, as the independent observers say are false and baseless. The McCain campaign has very clearly decided that the only way to win thie election is to become very personal and very negative.

     It's about here in the interview where you can see how closely the NBC view and the Obama view of McCain's ad line up together. Lauer then turned back to Wallace to suggest that about the only tactic Republicans can use is try to turn Obama's adoring fans into a negative: "Nicole, I was reading something where they said, basically, here's the stance on the McCain campaign. They cannot match the excitement, the crowds, the yelling, the cheering of the Obama campaign. So what they've decided to do is make those things, crowds, cheering, excitement, a negative."

     Wallace responded that you would see cheering crowds anywhere you went with McCain. "They may not be 200,000 strong and they're certainly not European, but they are cheering and enthusiastic for John McCain's leadership." Lauer then asked Gibbs about whether the Republicans might sink his hero with "dangerous buzzwords" in the fall:

     LAUER: Robert, let me ask you about this memo that was released by the McCain campaign where it says that apparently he has taken on some sort of an air of arrogance. And I'm wondering if you think that, that is a buzzword and a dangerous buzzword at all?
     GIBBS: Look, Barack Obama is one of the most down to earth people that I have ever met. He's not arrogant...

     Gibbs repeated that McCain was "very personal and very negative." Lauer concluded by asking Gibbs: "However, real quickly Robert, and I'm running out of time. You did respond with a negative ad. So at what point is it a slippery slope? And do you risk having any claim to a higher ground?"

     But when it comes to Obama assertions that their campaign runs on a higher ground, they certainly can depend on networks like NBC to suggest that Republican ad makers are uniquely "demeaning."

-- Brent Baker

 


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