Saturday, May 5, 2012

Brian Williams & NBC Nightly News Show Notes--4/28/12 Through 5/4/12 (Revised--Full Week)

This week, Nightly News was all about promoting Wednesday's Rock Center.  And the Supermoon.  Things Nightly News was not about: Sudan, Syria, the Cairo riots or the French Presidential election.  Here's all the great stuff you might have missed:

Sat. April 28--In the lead story about the blind Chinese dissident who escaped to the U.S. embassy, some of the Nightly News footage was doctored to make it appear older.  The producers made the footage grainy and sepia-toned, and they added vertical lines to indicate wear on the film stock.  This is totally unethical for a news organization.  It is their responsibility to show us actual news footage, not footage that has been altered.  And this makes me wonder: What other footage are the producers doctoring and not telling us about?
***In a story about political campaign ads and the killing of Osama bin Laden, some footage of John McCain walking through the Capitol was labeled "Obama Campaign Ad".  Clearly, this wasn't a campaign ad.  Just another example of the Nightly News producers failing to pay attention.
***During a story about the effort to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Ron Allen spent 15 seconds interviewing a man who appeared to be a spokesman for the Governor.  I say "appeared to be" because this man was never identified, either by narration or graphic.
***In a story about the 20th anniversary of the acquittal of the police officers who had beaten Rodney King, current footage of South Central L.A. was doctored to make it appear older.  This is the second time in the broadcast that the producers doctored video footage.  You'd think that after the humiliation of being caught red-handed doctoring the George Zimmerman 911 tapes, the producers would have learned their lesson about altering audio or video tape.  Obviously they haven't.
***Lester Holt took 45 seconds to show us excerpts from one of the commencement speakers who gave an address at Pepperdine University's graduation ceremony.  That speaker's name was...Lester Holt.  And I thought Brian Williams was the only news anchor with an ego big enough to show himself delivering a commencement address.  Welcome to the club, Lester.
***It wouldn't be Nightly News without a story on dolphins, whales or penguins.  So Lester told us all about a dolphin stranded in a California lagoon.  Thanks, Lester.
***The final story of the night was about a new television channel for dogs.  I know you probably think you misread that sentence, so let me repeat it: The final story of the night was about a new television channel for dogs.  That's right--a television channel for dogs.  This is what merits 2:10 of news time on NBC Nightly News.  Meanwhile, the broadcast did not mention Iran, Iraq, Syria, Egypt or Sudan.  It did not mention the presidential race in France, the Anders Breivik trial in Norway or the Charles Taylor trial in The Hague.  The producers ignored dozens of important domestic and international stories so they could tell us about a TV channel for dogs.  Great work, Nightly News producers.  You should be very proud of yourselves.
Sun. April 29--Sorry, but there was no Nightly News this evening because the hockey game went into overtime.  As everyone knows, sports is much more important than news to the NBC weasels because sports programs generate higher ad rates than news programs.
Mon. April 30--The lead story was titled "Inside the Situation Room".  It was about the first anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden.  Fair enough--it's a legitimate news story.  CBS covered it (but only after reporting two stories about the blind Chinese dissident).  However, the Nightly News stories (yes, there was more than one) were not so much about bin Laden's killing as they were about Brian Williams.  He had interviewed Pres. Obama, Secy. Clinton, Adm. Mullen (and others who were in the situation room that day) for a "Rock Center" story scheduled to air on Wednesday.  And we all know that one of Brian's main jobs is to promote NBC's prime time, sports and entertainment programming.  But there's nothing Brian Williams likes promoting as much as Brian Williams.  So he went all out to promote this "Rock Center" story.  That's not surprising--"Rock Center" has had abysmal ratings.  On April 25, "Rock Center" had a .9 rating and a 2 share at 9:00 PM in the all-important 18-49 demographic.  By comparison, "Betty White's Off Their Rockers" (which aired on NBC at 8:00 PM) had a 1.7 rating and a 5 share in the 18-49 demo.  That means that twice as many people in that age group (considered desirable young viewers by the networks) would rather watch 90-year-old Betty White than Brian Williams.  "Rock Center" is regularly the lowest-rated program in its time slot among the four major networks.  Other 9:00 PM shows like "Criminal Minds" and "Modern Family" often get three or four times as many total viewers as "Rock Center" and the difference is even greater in the 18-49 demo.  For example, on April 11, "Rock Center" had 2.62 million total viewers, and a .5 rating/1 share in the 18-49 demo.  The numbers for "Criminal Minds" were 11.81 million total viewers, and 3.0/8 rating/share in the 18-49 demo.  "Modern Family" had 10.35 million total viewers and 4.2/11 for the 18-49 demo.  At 9:30, the premiere of a new show--"Don't Trust the B in Apt. 23"--had 6.91 million total viewers and 2.9/7 in the 18-49 demo.  That night, Betty White's show had 6.06 million total viewers and a 1.6/5 in the 18-49 demo.  (Ratings info courtesy of  So in other words, competing shows are drawing five to ten times as many 18-49 year-old viewers as "Rock Center".  Apparently, people don't like the show, or Brian, very much.  So it's no surprise that Brian desperately and shamefully uses Nightly News to plug "Rock Center".  It's all about his ego.  He can't comprehend why people aren't interested in watching him in prime time, like they do at 6:30 on Nightly News.  I guess he doesn't understand the concept of "big fish in a little pond".  When the other choices are Diane Sawyer or Scott Pelley, Brian does well in the ratings.  It's easy to have the top-rated newscast when most of your "news stories" are about cute animals, celebrities, British royalty, silly space events, JFK, veterans and popular films.  But against entertainment shows, his ratings are crap.  I bet he actually thought that "Rock Center" would win its time slot.  Instead, it's regularly beaten by shows on third-rate cable channels like USA, Discovery or even Univision.
***So on this night, Brian spent three minutes showing excerpts from his "Rock Center" report.  His interview with President Obama was just an opportunity for Brian to be seen with the President and to kiss the President's ass.  At one point, Brian told the President that the Blackhawk helicopter that crash-landed in bin Laden's compound was "superbly piloted".  That was a cringe-worthy moment.  Well, at least Brian didn't bow to the President, like he did in his 2009 "Inside the Obama White House" special.  I'd call that progress.
***At one point during this story, when Brian was interviewing Adm. Mike Mullen (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time of bin Laden's death), the "Rock Center" logo at the bottom right corner of the screen obscured the word "Staff" in Mullen's ID graphic line.  Clearly, nothing is as important as plugging "Rock Center"--not even Mullen's ID.  Naturally, the story ended with a full-screen promo for the "Rock Center" special. 
***The next story was about the Presidential campaign between Obama and Romney.  But it only focused on one campaign issue--the war of words about whether the President is politicizing the killing of bin Laden.  So this story is really just an extension of the massive promotion for the "Rock Center" special on the killing of bin Laden.  The story featured a clip from David Gregory's Sunday "Meet the Press" interview with Romney senior "adviser" Ed Gillespie.  That may not seem notable, but it will become important on Wednesday.
***We then saw another 1:10 excerpt from Brian's interview with Adm. Mullen.  This time, the "Rock Center" logo was in the upper left hand corner of the screen.  So why didn't the genius producers think of that earlier, when the logo obscured part of Mullen's military title?  All together, these three stories--whose major purpose was to promote "Rock Center"-- took up more than six minutes of news time.  Appalling.
***The next story was about the new One World Trade Center going up at Ground Zero.  The story was titled "The Rising".  Why does that sound familiar?  Oh yeah--it's the title of a Springsteen album.  Brian fulfills his teenage-like obsession with Springsteen by frequently putting him on Nightly News.  And when he can't actually put him on the broadcast, he uses Springsteen song or album titles as story titles.  Very professional.  This story was reported by Harry Smith, whose sappy, Hallmark card-like narration has earned him the coveted title of "the New Roger O'Neil".  Example: "A void long thought impossible to fill has a presence now.  We see tomorrow."  Oy vey, is that schmaltzy.
***After that, we saw a 2:15 story on debris hitting the west coast after last year's tsunami in Japan.  Tsunami debris is the new carmageddon, Mary Thornberry and gas prices all rolled into one.  Brian will relentlessly report on this for weeks or months because the NBC News research department has informed him that these stories earn high ratings.  And, of course, that's really all that matters to Brian.
***Brian then spent 35 seconds telling us about delays at Heathrow Airport.  Why is this important?  It isn't.  But it gave Brian an opportunity to mention the London Olympics, and that's what's really important.
***He then spent 40 seconds reporting on the soccer match between Manchester United and Manchester City.  Does this really belong on a Network newscast?  Of course not, but Brian gets to do whatever the hell he wants.
***The broadcast ended with a "Making A Difference" story about a D-Day veteran and his wife who renewed their wedding vows in Normandy.  Another Nightly News story with zero news value.  But it gave Brian a chance to kiss the collective ass of military veterans (one of his favorite activities) and to show lots of American flags (another of his favorite activities).  Another two-and-a-half minutes of wasted airtime.  By the way, the couple were able to return to Normandy thanks to an organization called "Wish of A Lifetime".  This organization was founded by Jeremy Bloom, a former Olympic skier and NFL player.  So this story was an opportunity to plug the Olympics (which will air on NBC) and NFL football (which also airs on NBC).  Veterans, flags, Olympics and the NFL.  I think Brian probably came in his pants.
Tues. May 1--At the beginning of the broadcast, while Brian was again hawking his "Inside the Situation Room" prime time special, the video box over Brian's left shoulder showed a clip of...Brian talking with Pres. Obama.  So Brian was actually on screen twice at the same time--one live shot and one taped shot. Awesome!  Leave it to Brian to figure out a way to have two images of himself on screen at the same time.
***Later, Brian spent another 4:45 promoting his upcoming "Rock Center" special.  Part of this involved an interview with former Obama counterterrorism advisor Michael Leiter.  At the end of the interview, Brian said, "Very happy to have you affiliated with our team these days."  This was not just another one of Brian's fawning, obsequious ass-kissing statements.  Do you see what he's trying to do here?  He's painting NBC News as a "team" just like the people in the situation room photo are a team.  Brian and his cronies are just like Pres. Obama and the National Security team!  So Brian is the Pres. Obama of NBC News!  Of course he is.
***Brian took 20 seconds to announce that Nabisco is changing the name of Fig Newtons to just plain Newtons.  He called it "A big product name change in the news tonight".  Clearly, this is breaking news.  Oh wait--it isn't.  Here's what it is: Brian reading a Nabisco press release verbatim as a way of thanking them (and their parent company Kraft) for all the ad dollars they've spent with NBC Universal networks over the years.  After all, it had been almost two months since Nightly News last gave a shout-out to Nabisco.  (On March 4, Lester Holt reported the important story about the 100th anniversary of Oreo cookies.)  Brian and his producers obviously understand the importance of taking care of their pals at Kraft with gratuitous plugs like this one.  Unless it was just a paid product placement.  That's always a possibility at Nightly News.  Needless to say, photos and video of the cookies (or are they cakes?) were on screen for the entire 20 seconds, including 12 seconds of full-screen shots that also included the Newtons' slogan "One Unique Cookie".  Brian also said this: "Few people know they are named after Newton, Mass, near where they were first produced in the late 1890's."  Few people?  Brian loves showing us how much more he knows about stuff than we do.  By the way, according to Wikipedia, Fig Newtons were first made in 1891, which isn't exactly the "late 1890's".
***The final story of the night was terrific.  How do I know?  Because Brian told me so at the beginning of the broadcast.  Yes, he actually used that word to describe it.  It was a "Making A Difference" piece about a special matinee performance of the Broadway show "Mary Poppins" that was staged for autistic children and their families.  That was a nice thing to do.  But how does this qualify as news?  It doesn't.  The story was reported by the idiotic Anne Thompson, who at one point was shown holding a Starbucks cup for ten seconds.  Clearly, this was an intentional product placement.  Nothing happens by accident on Nightly News.  So how many real news stories could the producers have shown in the 2:20 they took to tell this story?  I guess we'll never know.
Wed. May 2--The lead story was the suicide of former NFL player Junior Seau.  This was ridiculous, but hardly surprising.  While this story deserved to be covered, it was certainly not the most important story of the day.  But Brian always makes a point of giving prime space to NFL-related stories, because Sunday Night Football is NBC's highest-rated program.  There is no doubt whatsoever that Junior Seau's suicide was reported as the lead story solely because it allowed Nightly News to promote the NFL, and by extension, NBC's Sunday Night Football.  This is how Brian and his producers operate.  Stories are given air time based not on their news value, but based on how they can help promote NBC sports and entertainment shows.
***A story about Newt Gingrich suspending his campaign included a clip from "Saturday Night Live".  Did I mention that the main job of Brian and his producers is to promote NBC's sports and entertainment programs?  I think I may have mentioned that.  This story also included a clip from an Obama campaign ad that featured CBS's Bob Schieffer and Norah O'Donnell.  Someone in the production office obviously didn't get the memo informing Nightly News employees that they are never, ever allowed to show people from competing networks.  Especially someone like Norah O'Donnell, who left NBC to join CBS.  I guess she grew sick and tired of working for a news organization that was more interested in ratings and self-promotion than in reporting news.
***Next, it was time for another shameless 2:20 story whose only purpose was to promote that night's "Rock Center" broadcast.  Brian began the story this way: "Tonight here on NBC we will broadcast our exclusive hour-long special edition of 'Rock Center Inside the Situation Room'...."  The first 40 seconds of the story consisted of Brian aggressively hawking his prime time program (the rest of the story consisted of excerpts from the show).  Once again, as Brian was doing this, a box over his left shoulder showed clips of himself talking with Pres. Obama.  So Brian again managed to show two different images of himself on-screen simultaneously.  Not even Donald Trump can get away with that.  But of course, Trump is nowhere near the self-promoting, egocentric huckster that Brian is.  By the way, this "special edition" of "Rock Center" again finished dead last in its time slot among the four major networks.  Each of the other shows it was competing against ("American Idol", "Modern Family" and "Criminal Minds") had 2.5 to 4 times as many viewers as "Rock Center"--both in total viewers and in the coveted 18-49 demographic.  In fact, "Rock Center" was the lowest-rated prime time network show of the night in both categories. 
***Viewers in the New York market were extra lucky on this day because Brian stopped by the local WNBC 5:00 PM newscast and spent five minutes shamelessly hawking his "Rock Center" broadcast.  He told us that, "This is an incredible hour of television."  Incredible?  Really?  Thanks for the unbiased opinion, asshole.  This is truly a man without dignity.  There are no depths he will not stoop to in order to promote himself.
***Finally, after promoting Sunday Night Football, SNL and "Rock Center", Brian got around to reporting on the blind Chinese dissident.  On the CBS Evening News, Scott Pelley reported this story as the lead story of the night.  But then again, Pelley is concerned with reporting news, rather than promoting his network and himself.
***During the story about the Chinese dissident, Tony Blinken was identified in a Nightly News graphic as "Vice President Biden's National Security Advisor".  Two days earlier, Ed Gillespie was identified as a "Senior Adviser to Mitt Romney".  Advisor, Adviser--whatever.  Obviously, the Nightly News production crew was too busy showing "Rock Center" promos to bother worrying about consistency in their spelling.
***Brian spent thirty seconds reporting the death of Earl Rose, who was the Dallas medical examiner at the time of John Kennedy's assassination.  Obviously, there was no chance that Brian would fail to report a story that involves JFK.  Since last September, Nightly News has aired 18 JFK or Jackie-related stories because Brian has a raging JFK obsession.  (I would also guess that JFK stories get high ratings).  Brian clearly fancies himself as a JFK scholar and presidential historian.  So here's something that JFK scholar Brian Williams said about Dr. Rose during this story:  "Days later [after JFK was killed], he performed the autopsy on Jack Ruby."  That would have been some feat, since Jack Ruby wasn't dead yet.  Rose did eventually perform the autopsy on Ruby, but it was in 1967, more than three years after JFK was assassinated.  Perhaps Brian was thinking of Lee Harvey Oswald, whose autopsy Rose actually did perform just days after Kennedy's assassination.  You would think that someone who pretends to be a JFK scholar would know the difference between Jack Ruby and Lee Harvey Oswald.  But I guess Brian was way too busy promoting "Rock Center" to bother with details like these.
***After that, Brian read a story about the best and worst airports.  Brian also has an obsession with stories about airplanes and air travel, so he never misses a chance to talk about those subjects.  In fact, Brian reported virtually the exact same story about best and worst airports on 1/18/12 and again on 2/14/12.  I guess he figures his viewers are too stupid to remember the previous stories.  In this "new" story, we were shown an NBC News graphic animation of an airport arrival/departure board.  On the board was a list of randomly-chosen cities like Phoenix, Oakland, Atlanta and Seattle.  Anchorage was also on the board--and it was spelled correctly!  That's amazing!  I say that because in the three previous times that the Nightly News producers used that same animated flight board (1/14/12, 1/18/12 and 2/14/12), they misspelled Anchorage as "Ankorage".  Yes, on three separate occasions, they misspelled Anchorage.  In fact, the Nightly News producers really seem to have a problem with Alaska.  On the 12/25/10 broadcast, they spelled the capital, Juneau, as "Juno" (you know--like the Ellen Page movie).  And on two separate occasions (4/26/11 and 4/23/10) the producers abbreviated Arkansas as AK, which is actually the abbreviation for Alaska.  So the fact that they spelled Anchorage correctly represents great progress for the Nightly News producers.
***The broadcast ended with a story about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  An NFL team.  They drafted Eric LeGrand, who was paralyzed while playing football for Rutgers.  That was a nice gesture by the Tampa Bay organization.  But it isn't news.  Here's what it was: Another opportunity for Brian and his producers to use their broadcast to promote NBC's football coverage.  So when this two-minute story is added to the 2:45 Junior Seau story that began the broadcast, that means that Nightly News spent almost five minutes reporting football stories in order to promote Sunday Night Football on NBC.
***On this day, 20 people were killed during protests in Cairo, there was a debate between French presidential candidates Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande and the conflict between Sudan and South Sudan intensified.  Brian Williams didn't report any of those stories, because he was too busy promoting NFL football and "Rock Center".  Great job, Brian.  You should be very proud of yourself.
Thurs. May 3--Brian spent three minutes recapping his "Rock Center" broadcast from the previous night.  Unbelievable.  He even promotes his show after it's already aired.  During this story, John Brennan was identified as a "White House Counterterrorism Adviser".  So on Monday, it was spelled "adviser", on Wednesday it was "advisor" and on Thursday it was back to "adviser".  I guess next time they use the word, it will be "advisor" again.  Unless it isn't.  Whatever.
***Hey--great news!  Brian told us that MSNBC is re-airing the "Rock Center Inside the Situation Room Special" later tonight!  So that's why he's still promoting it--the rating for the MSNBC airing can be added onto the original NBC rating to artificially boost the show's total rating.
***Did you know that some senior citizens are having a hard time selling their homes in this depressed real estate market?  Well, now there are organizations to help them sell their homes.  And this is considered important news to Brian and his producers.  They spent two-and-a-half minutes telling us all about it.  During this story, a woman by the name of Sharon Grambow was identified in a Nightly News graphic as the "Sun Health Chief Operating Office".  She's the "Chief Operating Office"?  Is that anything like the chief operating officer?  Could be.  But then again, maybe not.
***Next, Brian spent 30 seconds on a story about a lion pawing at a toddler from behind reinforced glass at a Portland, Oregon zoo.  For a moment, I thought I was watching "America's Funniest Home Videos".  This is the third lion-paws-at-kid-from-behind-glass story Nightly News has done in the past year (6/17/11 and 1/11/12 were the other dates).  I think it's safe to say that Nightly News has these lion stories completely covered.  Now, if only someone could convince them to cover actual news.
***SUPERMOON!!!  SUPERMOON!!!  We're getting a SUPERMOON!!!  And Brian spent 37 seconds telling us all about it.  So if you add the Supermoon story to the lion story, that's more than a minute of news time that Brian wasted.  Oh well--just add that to the other few hundred minutes of news time he wastes every year.
***The final story was a "Making A Difference" report about young high school mothers who are being mentored by older, more experienced mothers.  That's nice.  But why is this news?  It isn't.  Add it to the pile of wasted news time.
***In Sudan, the government is bombing its own people.  In Ukraine, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko is being mistreated in prison.  Brian didn't mention these stories, nor did he mention the 20 protesters who were killed in Cairo on Wednesday.  But at least we know all about the lion who pawed at the toddler and the Supermoon.  Yay.
Fri. May 4--Nightly News spent 2 minutes showing excerpts from a Colombian radio station's interview with the prostitute at the center of the Secret Service scandal.  The producers made sure to include three different photos of her in bikinis.  This certainly wasn't a tough call on the part of the producers.  Prostitutes equal ratings.  End of discussion.
***A story about the blind Chinese dissident was titled "Coming To America?"  Brian and his producers always like to give their stories titles that are names of movies or songs because the recognition factor keeps viewers tuned in.
***A story about thunderstorms in the upper midwest quickly transformed (after several seconds) into a 25-second promo for Saturday's Kentucky Derby, which, not surprisingly, will be televised on NBC.
***A 25-second story on Junior Seau's suicide led into a two-minute story about the damage to athletes from repeated hits to the head.  These stories were chock full of NFL images and logos.  That's hardly surprising, since the whole purpose of these stories was to once again promote NFL Sunday Night Football on NBC.
***Brian spent 35 seconds reading an obituary for blues and soul guitarist Charles Pitts, who is best known for playing guitar on the song "Shaft".  No disrespect to Mr. Pitts or his family, but this is not someone who merits an obituary on a network news broadcast.
***Here's how Brian began the next story: "The folks at NATO have put out a beautiful video about Chicago in preparation for the upcoming NATO summit there--and while it's a terrific tribute to a great city, there are some problems."  After that, we were shown some excerpts from the video along with a female narrator's voice telling us that Chicago is "the capital of Illinois..."  At that point, a big red circle with a line through it (courtesy of the Nightly News producers) appeared on screen, followed by the word "Springfield" below it.  Oh I get it--the producers are correcting the video's errors.  The narrator continued: "The decision was made by the American President Barack Obama--he wanted this event to take place in the city he grew up in."  At which point the big red circle appeared again, followed by the word "Hawaii".  So Hawaii was the city that Barack Obama grew up in?  I don't think so.  News flash for Brian and his producers: Hawaii isn't a city, it's a state.  The correct answer is that Pres. Obama grew up in the city of Honolulu (he also spent four years in Jakarta).  The Nightly News producers didn't seem to know this.  So Brian's snarky attempt to show how many inaccuracies there are in the NATO video only reinforced how little he and his producers care about paying attention to details.  After the excerpt from the NATO video, Brian continued, "Okay--a few facts wrong--but there are other errors in it as well and in all fairness, how many Americans know where NATO is headquartered?  Answer: Brussels.  And the Secretary General of NATO's name?  Answer: That would be Anders Fogh Rasmussen.  NATO is said to be correcting their narration."  Oh my God--did he really just do that?  Did Brian Williams just try to show off by proving to us that he knows facts about NATO?  That's really sad.  And the only thing it actually proves is that he knows how to use Google.  It reminded me of the episode of "The Office" (British version) where David Brent is engaged in a conversation about Dostoyevsky with an employee who obviously knows much more about the author than he does.  So Brent keeps disappearing into his office and coming out with new Dostoyevsky facts that he obviously got directly from Google.  Yes ladies and gentlemen, Brian Williams is David Brent.  And does anyone else see the irony here?  Nightly News is constantly making spelling, math, grammar and factual errors.  So Brian Williams pointing out mistakes in a NATO video is the epitome of the pot calling the kettle black.  It's so ludicrous that it's funny.  Or it would be if it wasn't so pathetic.
***SUPERMOON ALERT!!!  SUPERMOON ALERT!!!  Time for another Supermoon story.  This one was titled "Moonstruck" because, as I noted earlier, Brian likes to give his stories titles that come from movies or songs.  Well guess what--he did it again!
***The broadcast ended with what was essentially a two-and-a-half minute commercial for the new "Avengers" movie.  It contained 75 seconds of clips from the movie, including a 32-second continuous clip.  It also contained clips from other super-hero movies like "Spiderman", "Batman", "Catwoman" and even contained a clip from the 1970's "Wonder Woman" TV show.  That's not a news story, it's a movie trailer.  It's obvious what's going on here.  NBC ran this story as a big "thank you" to Marvel Entertainment for all the ad dollars they've spent with NBC Universal over the years.  Or maybe not.  Maybe this was a paid product placement that Marvel arranged and paid for through the NBC sales and marketing department.  Is there anybody out there who would actually say that NBC is too ethical to charge a movie studio for a fake news story about their new summer blockbuster?  I didn't think so.

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