TWO WOMEN: Auletta falls for the second time!

TUESDAY, MAY 20, 2014

Part 2—How to compose a novel: Last night, Chris Hayes—the new, improved Hayes—was sounding off about the Jill Abramson matter.

If you ever watched the old Chris Hayes, you could see the improved body language. Sadly, you could also see the dumbness of the new language.

You could see the new, exciting way of framing a topic. To watch the whole segment, click here:
HAYES (5/19/14): The most brutal PR train wreck in America got even more train wreckier this weekend. What has become a “can’t look away,” acrimonious battle between recently deposed New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson and the person who deposed her, the Times’ publisher and family heir, Arthur “Pinch” Sulzberger. It keeps getting worse.

Other news outlets are furiously reporting on the Times. The Times is reporting on itself and Times employees are expressing support and dissent.

[...]

Joining me now, Emily Bazelon, senior editor at Slate, contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine, who knows Jill Abramson.

Emily, are you astounded at how ugly this entire thing has gotten? I just cannot believe, every day that passes, more leaks, more articles, more facts coming out. Sulzberger himself coming out to basically be like, “She was terrible.” It’s head-spinning. It’s gotten so bad and so public so fast.
Chris was giving us rubes our thrills, presumably as the suits wanted.

For better or worse, the train wreck seemed to get quite a bit less train wreckier during Hayes’ brief discussion with Bazelon.

Hayes was no longer reading from prompter. Soon, he seemed to agree with Bazelon—the astoundingly ugly train wreck has perhaps been overplayed:
HAYES: We have then seen, in the New York Times, David Carr, their media reporter, writing a column saying, “So I like Jill. My reporting, including interviews with senior people in newsroom, some of them women, backs up the conclusion of Sulzberger this was not about pay equity.” How do you make sense of this battle over whether pay equity was the issue?

BAZELON: I think David is right. I think the pay equity story is a sideshow and there was a lot of unrest and division at the New York Times, and discontent with having an editor who was really aggressive, brusque, whatever adjective you want to use.

It is also true that sometimes adjectives like that get used about women in a way that are different from men, but that doesn’t necessarily mean this was a sexist firing.

HAYES: So I think that is a really key point that everything seems over-determined here. It seems to me the possibility this is someone who had a whole lot of sexist expectations put on her and there were sort of sexist ways in which she was interpreted, and also had a manner that rubbed people the wrong way, and those two could actually both be true.

BAZELON: Yes, I think that’s right and to me it’s been important that we have not seen an uprising on the part of women of the New York Times.

HAYES: Yup.

BAZELON: There are a lot of women like me who are grateful to Jill. She was a tremendous promoter of women. But that doesn’t mean that people can’t see some of her weaknesses.

HAYES: Yes, Lydia Polgreen, who’s a deputy international editor, saying there has been no revolt. There have been many searching conversations, but no women’s revolt over Jill Abramson’s firing at the New York Times.
What happened to the can’t-look-away, head-spinning train wreck that Hayes “just cannot believe?” That train wreck seemed to exist on prompter, not in Hayes’ actual head.

At any rate, a funny thing happened during this interview. Bazelon and Hayes moved away from the idea that “pay equity” lay at the heart of this episode, in which “everything seems over-determined,” whatever that lingo means.

For ourselves, we have no idea why Arthur Sulzberger, who hired Abramson three years ago, decided to replace her. We don’t know how much she was being paid, or how her pay compared to that of her predecessor, Bill Keller.

We don’t know what Abramson thought about her level of pay. We don’t know what Sulzberger thought about her negotiations concerning pay.

Like almost everyone who has commented on this matter, we don’t know those things. We do know how the question of “pay equity” came center stage in the discussion of Abramson's plight.

Last night, Hayes and Bazelon moved away from “pay equity” as the reason for this dismissal. Quite plainly, though, this hypothesis came center stage through the error-strewn work of Ken Auletta, a high-status national journalist whose skin always strikes us as an ad for mud-packing Manhattan spas.

Soon after Abramson lost her job, Auletta went to work at The New Yorker’s site explaining the reasons for her dismissal. As is becoming increasingly clear, Auletta’s work on this topic has been extremely bad.

That said, his error-strewn work helps us see something important. It helps us see the way the news gets novelized in high-profile cases like this.

In his original May 14 post, Auletta told a story of a woman who got fired for being perceived as “pushy.”

In a strikingly slippery way, he put the magic word “pushy” in quotes, although he never said who was supposed to have uttered the word in this case. See our previous post.

The magic word “pushy” jumped directly to Salon’s headlines. It was featured in a much-publicized post by Abramson’s daughter.

Judged by journalistic norms, Auletta’s promotion of the word “pushy” was remarkably slippery. He also made a factual error in that May 14 post, as we will note below.

Then, in a May 15 post, Auletta offered this account of the way Abramson was getting underpaid. At this point, “pay equity” went through the roof—and a second factual error occurred:
AULETTA (5/15/14): Let’s look at some numbers I’ve been given: As executive editor, Abramson’s starting salary in 2011 was $475,000, compared to Keller’s salary that year, $559,000. Her salary was raised to $503,000, and—only after she protested—was raised again to $525,000. She learned that her salary as managing editor, $398,000, was less than that of the male managing editor for news operations, John Geddes. She also learned that her salary as Washington bureau chief, from 2000 to 2003, was a hundred thousand dollars less than that of her predecessor in that position, Phil Taubman.
That is terrible journalism, in a wide array of ways (see below). But as we noted yesterday, that highlighted passage contained an outright mistake:

Whatever his pay may or may not have been, Taubman was Abramson’s successor as Washington bureau chief, not her predecessor. This error tipped the scales in the direction of the emerging novel, in which Abramson had been massively underpaid as compared to relevant men.

As it turns out, Auletta had made an outright mistake about Geddes too. As the Washington Post’s Eric Wemple noted yesterday, this is what Auletta had written in his May 14 post:
AULETTA (5/14/14): As with any such upheaval, there’s a history behind it. Several weeks ago, I’m told, Abramson discovered that her pay and her pension benefits as both executive editor and, before that, as managing editor were considerably less than the pay and pension benefits of Bill Keller, the male editor whom she replaced in both jobs. “She confronted the top brass,” one close associate said, and this may have fed into the management’s narrative that she was “pushy,” a characterization that, for many, has an inescapably gendered aspect. Sulzberger is known to believe that the Times, as a financially beleaguered newspaper, needed to retreat on some of its generous pay and pension benefits; Abramson had also been at the Times for far fewer years than Keller, having spent much of her career at the Wall Street Journal, accounting for some of the pension disparity. Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Times, said that Jill Abramson’s total compensation as executive editor “was directly comparable to Bill Keller’s”—though it was not actually the same. I was also told by another friend of Abramson’s that the pay gap with Keller was only closed after she complained. But, to women at an institution that was once sued by its female employees for discriminatory practices, the question brings up ugly memories. Whether Abramson was right or wrong, both sides were left unhappy. A third associate told me, “She found out that a former deputy managing editor”—a man—“made more money than she did” while she was managing editor. “She had a lawyer make polite inquiries about the pay and pension disparities, which set them off.”
As Auletta has noted in his latest correction, that highlighted passage on May 14 referred to Geddes. Like the May 15 passage concerning Taubman, it was factually wrong. As noted above, Geddes was actually managing editor for news operations at the time in question, not a deputy managing editor.

That highlighted passage described a great injustice: Abramson, while a managing editor, was being paid less than a deputy managing editor!

Alas! In that May 14 post, Auletta was wrong about that. On May 15, he was wrong about Taubman too.

Question: Where does Auletta get all his misinformation? Why did he play such a slippery game concerning the magic word “pushy?” We can’t answer those questions, but anyone can see what was happening in his posts. A pleasing novel was being created, in which Abramson was name-called in a distinctive way and grossly underpaid as compared to males.

Whatever the actual truth may be, this was terrible journalism, of a familiar type. As a final note, let’s consider the hapless passage from Auletta’s May 15 post:
AULETTA (5/15/14): Let’s look at some numbers I’ve been given: As executive editor, Abramson’s starting salary in 2011 was $475,000, compared to Keller’s salary that year, $559,000. Her salary was raised to $503,000, and—only after she protested—was raised again to $525,000. She learned that her salary as managing editor, $398,000, was less than that of the male managing editor for news operations, John Geddes. She also learned that her salary as Washington bureau chief, from 2000 to 2003, was a hundred thousand dollars less than that of her successor in that position, Phil Taubman.

Murphy cautioned that one shouldn’t look at salary but, rather, at total compensation, which includes, she said, any bonuses, stock grants, and other long-term incentives. This distinction appears to be the basis of Sulzberger’s comment that Abramson was not earning “significantly less.” But it is hard to know how to parse this without more numbers from the Times. For instance, did Abramson’s compensation pass Keller’s because the Times’ stock price rose? Because her bonuses came in up years and his in down years? Because she received a lump-sum long-term payment and he didn’t?

And, if she was wrong, why would Mark Thompson agree, after her protest, to sweeten her compensation from $503,000 to $525,000? (Murphy said, on behalf of Thompson, that Abramson “also raised other issues about her compensation and the adequacy of her pension arrangements, which had nothing to do with the issue of comparability. It was to address these other issues that we suggested an increase in her compensation.”)
Would you hire a college senior who performed journalism that way? Consider these elements:

“Let’s look at some numbers I’ve been given.”

Auletta didn’t feel the need to explain who had given him the numbers or how he knew they were accurate. In this way, the most basic factual question was simply ignored.

For ourselves, we have no idea if those numbers are accurate. Assuming they are for the sake of this exercise, let’s continue assessing Auletta’s work:

“As executive editor, Abramson’s starting salary in 2011 was $475,000, compared to Keller’s salary that year, $559,000.”

In this passage, Auletta compares Abramson’s first-year salary in the executive editor post to Keller’s eighth-year salary in the post. Would such questions of seniority typically affect such salaries?

Like you, we have no idea. Auletta simply let this obvious question pass.

“Her salary was raised to $503,000, and—only after she protested—was raised again to $525,000.”

When was her salary raised to $503,000? After that, what did she protest about, and why was her salary raised that second time? The most obvious facts are omitted here. Whatever the truth of these matters might be, this is less a work of journalism than it is the gauzy world of fairy tale.

At this point, Auletta committed his groaner about Taubman, even as he corrected the previous day’s groaner about Geddes. He then moved ahead to this statement:

“But it is hard to know how to parse this without more numbers from the Times.”

We can’t “parse” anything about this at all until we get accurate numbers. Does Auletta have any accurate numbers? Like you, we have no way of knowing. Why should we assume his numbers are correct when he committed those factual groaners about both Geddes and Taubman?

Finally, pray for The New Yorker’s baby:

“And, if she was wrong, why would Mark Thompson agree, after her protest, to sweeten her compensation from $503,000 to $525,000?”

Truly, that’s just sad. Assuming that this “sweetening” did occur, there could be a thousand different explanations for it. Auletta gives parenthetical treatment to the Times’ denial of the pay equity hypothesis. As readers, we still don’t even know when these alleged salary bumps occurred.

In truth, Auletta’s work hasn’t been journalism. Through his errors and his slippery insinuations, he created a familiar, high interest novel, built on a familiar, high-interest theme.

His suggestions and claims may be perfectly accurate. But how is a reader to know?

By last night, Bazelon and Hayes were drifting away from the “pay equity” explanation. But at the outset of this high-profile story, this theme served Team Abramson’s interests, making an instant martyr of its embattled principal.

A familiar story had been crafted about her plight, built around a highly familiar theme. In truth, the plight of our second, younger woman was treated in a similar way.

At ProPublica, D’Leisha Dent was fashioned as a martyr to a familiar old nemesis, “segregation.” This made a pleasing morality tale.

In many ways, ProPublica’s reporting and advocacy were accurate and justified. But in the process, the astonishing academic profile of Central High’s senior class was largely disappeared.

If D’Leisha Dent can’t get into college, what in the world is going on with the lower ninety percent of her senior class? To tell you the truth, ProPublica didn’t seem to care a whole lot about that. Neither did The Atlantic.

Can we talk? D’Leisha Dent will not be discussed on the Chris Hayes program. Her plight will not be examined on your TV machine.

One of our two women this week is extremely high-status. Last night, Hayes and Bazelon pondered her plight in some detail.

D’Leisha Dent is not high status. In our view, her plight was novelized a bit too, at which point it disappeared!

Tomorrow: Abramson and Howell Raines

32 comments:

  1. Obviously putting your weekend series on hiatus and a replay of the pillow fight from My Brilliant Career does not clean out the brain completely.

    "If D’Leisha Dent can’t get into college, what in the world is going on with the lower ninety percent of her senior class?"

    Perhaps you should read at least 77% of your own blog's comments.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dent had ACT scores too low to permit her to be accepted at most of the colleges she might otherwise have been recruited by. Someone took pity on her at Miles, because of her athletics and her other obvious positive qualities. Or perhaps to entice her football playing boyfriend to attend there. It changes nothing about the situation for black students at Central High. Do you imagine that because Dent got into Miles it means everything is great at Central High and Somerby has no reason to complain about the focus of the Atlantic article?

      What is wrong with you?

      Delete

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      Delete
  2. OMG, he's done it again!

    How can Somerby NOT know by now that D'Leisha has signed a scholarship offer to Miles College?

    I suppose none are so ignorant as the willfully ignorant who dare not venture from the comfort of their own self-pleasing narrative.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You keep ignoring the many responses made to your complaint. Dent was offered by the Atlantic article as an example of someone who would not go to college -- Somerby didn't write that article. He is discussing that article and why it focused on segregation instead of poor education.

      That scholarship offer to Miles College does nothing to change the problem -- that the other students at Central High were doing worse than Dent and that Dent herself could not earn high enough ACT scores to get college offers. That is true, whether she was ultimately accepted at Miles college or not. Her ACT scores are low. She did get accepted, but she did not get recruited and did not receive those letters from a variety of colleges. Nothing is changed about the substance of the report that she later accepted a scholarship (based on athletics). OMG, how do you keep missing the point over and over and why do you not read and understand the people trying to response to your complaints?

      Delete
    2. The scholarship offer to Miles College was made an accepted before Somerby began stating repeatedly she might not, then could not, get into a four year college.

      This fact dominated yesterday's post comments, in which a major topic of the post was an error made by the author Ken Aueletta. Somerby has yet to acknowledge, much less correct the error.

      You responses are to state the error is unimportant. Opinion noted. Don't commit the same mistake as Somerby and novelize why she was accepted.

      Facts were missed. Story was embellished and novelized in the manner for which Somerby cites Maddow and others. Corrections remain unmade.

      Delete
    3. This is a triviality that has nothing to do with the topic of discussion. Somerby relied on the info presented by Hannah-Jones which was subsequently made obsolete by events in Dent's life -- that happens. Auletta on the other hand, is a journalist who is paid to get his information straight and he made blatant errors, wrong statements at that time he wrote them.

      It is permissible to make inferences from the facts at hand without "novelizing." The act of novalizing bends the facts, omits or ignores facts or makes up facts in order to fit a preferred narrative. I did not do that. Neither did Somerby.

      I think Somerby is generalizing when he says she couldn't get accepted, but he is not mistaken, nor is he "novelizing." Dent received no recruitment letters (based on Hannah-Jones report). She was accepted at Miles College because of her athletic performance -- that is stated in the article. Her ACT scores were too low for her to be accepted other places. That is a fact. I did speculate about the possibility that she was accepted in order to recruit her boyfriend, but I did express that as speculation, not fact. That is the difference between novelizing and speculating.

      You have manufactured a big issue about this because you dislike Somerby, not because you care about truth or Dent. It is tiresome and wastes space. Once you make your point, please stop. There is no need to go on and on like this, especially when people do not agree with you.

      Delete
    4. "Someone took pity on her at Miles," Anonymous wrote on a dark and stormy night, going on and on about why, when someone disagrees with you, you should not write a third comment.

      Delete
    5. And yet here you are again.

      Delete
    6. "You have manufactured a big issue about this because you dislike Somerby, not because you care about truth or Dent"

      And this was written not long after the truth-lover wrote this:

      "I think Somerby is generalizing when he says she couldn't get accepted, but he is not mistaken, "

      Not mistaken to flat out say she can't get accepted into college three weeks after she's been accepted into college?

      Pull your head out of Somerby's butt and breath some fresh air. Maybe it will clear your head.



      Delete
    7. She was not accepted based on her academics. She was offered a place at Miles based on her athletic performance. That is stated in Hannah-Jones's article. That is why Somerby is not mistaken. He is talking about her academic work, exemplified by her low ACT scores.

      You are misusing language when you focus on the narrowest, most literal interpretation of a statement and ignore the larger meaning, obvious especially in the context of his posts.

      Delete
    8. Ah, I see. So Bob is still right to wonder "If D’Leisha Dent can’t get into college" because she didn't get into college in the manner that you think she should.

      You are truly reduced to grasping at straws.

      By the way, if you truly care about anything other than defending the indefensible, aren't you at least glad that Dent got into college? Or are you going to continue to imply that she really didn't deserve to, and is just another dumb jock?


      Delete
    9. "You are misusing language when you focus on the narrowest, most literal interpretation of a statement and ignore the larger meaning, obvious especially in the context of his posts."

      WOW! The ultimate irony from one of Bob's most loyal sheep.

      Hint fella: Nice case of projection there, but that is exactly Somerby's MO. Nit pick the word or prhase that doesn't meet his high standards, then go off for a month about it, while ignoring "the larger meaning."

      After all, that could be a real traffic study, only bungled. And the charges against Gov. Ultrasound weren't really that big a deal.

      Delete
    10. @5:32 I don't know Dent. I don't know whether it is a good or bad thing that she is going to Miles -- I suppose it depends on how much they are charging her and her likelihood of finishing with a degree. I do wish her well.

      I don't think jocks are dumb. I don't think Dent is dumb. I do think she is poorly educated and cannot perform academic tasks well enough to do well in a challenging curriculum. I think she has an uphill struggle ahead of her because her low ACT scores suggest she will have difficulty reading and writing at college levels.

      Education is not something deserved or given to anyone. It is a process you engage in that changes you, if you put in the work, and prepares you to do challenging things later in life, if you decide to pursue them.

      I am not the person who has invested a whole morning in proving Somerby wrong.

      Delete
    11. Wow! Another of the commentariat whose case against TDH is so weak that he has to resort to the tired trope that anyone who has a different opinion must be one of "Bob's … sheep."

      When TDH objects to language, he doesn't nitpick the word choice. He objects to misrepresentation of some issue he finds important. Feel free to disagree with his judgment on these matters. I do. In the case of the article in which Ms Dent appears, TDH thinks that the emphasis on "resegregation" obscures a much more important issue, the failure of TCHS to prepare its students for higher education. Is he right? Why not make up your own mind on that issue, an important one, instead of whining about TDH's supposed faults as a language critic?

      While you're being a stickler for honesty, maybe you could stop pretending that TDH claims that the Fort Lee traffic jam arose from some officially-sanctioned honest-to-goodness traffic study. Did the lane-closing clowns think they were studying something? Nobody knows. As TDH points out, that claim could be a ruse or a hoax, but that doesn't mean we know what was behind the closings.

      If you've read the indictment against McDonnell, you'd know that his actions weren't really that big a deal. Even the prosecutors admit in their brief in opposition to McDonnell's motion to dismiss, that his actions weren't "substantial." They certainly weren't substantial enough to violate Virginia law. Of course, that doesn't mean Gov and Mrs Ultrasound didn't violate federal law. Maybe I'm just jaded: a governor of my state tried to sell a Senate seat.

      Just for the record, I think TDH should correct his statement about DD. She did get into an accredited, four-year college, and he shouldn't say she can't when she already has. But it hardly affects TDH's point.

      Just for the record, I think the conviction of the McDonnell's would help restore the karmic balance of the universe. Call it "when bad things happen to bad people."

      Delete
  3. "Somerby relied on the info presented by Hannah-Jones . . ."

    As he spends days upon days hammering Hannah-Jones for her inaccuracies. Including all those pleasing PR pictures of black and white children playing together.

    ". . . which was subsequently made obsolete by events in Dent's life -- that happens."

    Well, it happened AFTER Hannah-Jones' article was published, but WELL BEFORE Somerby began repeating the gross "inaccuracy" about Dent's future in college on a daily basis.

    Apparently, Somerby is either too lazy to do a google search or too stupid to know how. Which is it?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Do you google search everything you read? No one does.

      He is hammering Hannah-Jones not for her inaccuracies but because she ignores the academic gap in performance and what that means for African American kids (not simply for Dent) and instead focuses on resegregation, as if that were responsible for the problems of Dent and the students who had worse performance than she did in Central High.

      You, of course, don't give a damn about any of that.

      Delete
    2. And you don't give a damn that it was reported that DENT GOT INTO COLLEGE! And that Somerby continues to write that she can't.

      Good God, man. It's that simple, and Somerby can't be more wrong. Why is it so hard for you to see that?

      And yes, before I would write anything from a source I don't entirely trust, then I would check it out. And all it took was googling Dent's name, and up came the story that she accepted a scholarship to a four-year college -- an opportunity that Somerby, to this day, apparently STILL doesn't know about, but others found within a matter of nanoseconds.

      Why? Because Somerby is a lot like George W. Bush in that regard. He's got his mind made up. Don't bother him with facts.

      And on that note, I wonder when Bob expressed his "surprise" that the WMDs were never found?


      Delete
    3. She can't. Her ACT scores are not high enough for her to be admitted to a college that uses such scores for admission. She got into an open admission college (see Cacambo's post elsewhere). Somerby is not wrong. You are wrong.

      Delete
    4. Anonymous @5:28P,

      You're right. TDH couldn't be more wrong about a simple fact. DD did get into an accredited, four-year college, and TDH shouldn't say she can't when she already has. But this college accepts anyone who applies with a high-school diploma or equivalent. This is the only option available to TCHS' best, leaving TDH's point intact. Why is it so hard for you to see that?

      The WPE had his mind made up because God told him he was right. He had to make up evidence to support his case when the real world intruded. If you think TDH is anything like that, I suggest you re-read a few Daily Howlers.

      On April 22, one month after the WPE invaded Iraq, TDH said that he'd be surprised if Saddam didn't have WMDs. He was in numerous company, some good and some bad, including some of Saddam's top military commanders.

      Delete
  4. If people are going to say that this firing wasn't about gender but about personality, they have to explain how her personality was OK for so many years and only just now became an issue. She didn't turn pushy over night.

    ReplyDelete
  5. In an earlier thread, I mentioned Amanda Bennett as another woman who had been fired as chief editor of a newspaper. She has a relevant column in the WaPo.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the link DinC. Bennet says something very interesting:

      "The second thing I know from experience is why the charge of unequal pay — that Abramson reportedly alleged and Sulzberger vigorously disputed — landed with such force. I have managed at five organizations over nearly 20 years. At each of them I saw women paid less than men in what I thought were identical positions.

      Was everyone lying who said they were committed to equal pay? I came to believe not. It was worse than that. It became clear that we saw things differently. I saw two people who, I believed, were doing the same work but being paid unequally. Those above me saw a story and a history, something that they thought caused the man to deserve higher pay: This one had just stepped down from a senior position and taken his higher pay with him. That one had been hired from a higher-paying organization. Yet another had been offered a job with a competitor. How many women in the past decade have been promoted past their peers, only to see in the spreadsheets the sad evidence that their own stories were apparently not as persuasive? "

      Delete

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    ReplyDelete
  7. I hope the promise about Raines is kept. That should be a good one.

    Considering some of the cartoons I've been seeing, including winners of the caption contest, not to mention the naming of Andy Borowitz as the resident humorist, it's a wonder David Remnick has kept his job...

    ...unless really funny cartoons and writers would too much hearken back to the early days of the magazine. Heaven forfend!

    I have a theory...No, let's say I have a source who tells me ... that JA got the sack because she had fallen into the practice of showing off her "T" tattoo to everybody in the office.

    And the men complained.

    ReplyDelete
  8. "Whatever his pay may or may not have been, Taubman was Abramson’s successor as Washington bureau chief, not her predecessor. This error tipped the scales in the direction of the emerging novel, in which Abramson had been massively underpaid as compared to relevant men."

    So how much tipping of the scales is there? $100K whether for her immediate predecessor or immediate successor is a pretty good chuck of change. Unless, of course your own mindset is that gender pay gap is a false narrative to stamp out whenever it raises its ugly little head.

    ReplyDelete
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