Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Lord of the Blogs
Kathleen Parker thinks the world is going to Hell in a handbasket because of "bloggies" who are "the less visible, insidious enemies of decency, humanity and civility - the angry offspring of narcissism's quickie marriage to instant gratification."
There's something frankly creepy about the explosion we now call the Blogosphere - the big-bang "electroniverse" where recently wired squatters set up new camps each day. As I write, the number of "blogs" (Web logs) and "bloggers"(those who blog) is estimated in the tens of millions worldwide. Although I've been a blog fan since the beginning, and have written favorably about the value added to journalism and public knowledge thanks to the new "citizen journalist," I'm also wary of power untempered by restraint and accountability.
Say what you will about the so-called mainstream media, but no industry agonizes more about how to improve its product, police its own members and better serve its communities. Newspapers are filled with carpal-tunneled wretches, overworked and underpaid, who suffer near-pathological allegiance to getting it right.
Yet, strangely, they succeed so infrequently. I have literally never attended an event or seen it live on television and then seen it accurately reported.
That a Jayson Blair of The New York Times or a Jack Kelley of USA Today surfaces now and then as a plagiarist or a fabricator ultimately is testament to the high standards tens of thousands of others strive to uphold each day without recognition. Blair and Kelley are infamous, but they're also gone.
Bloggers persist no matter their contributions or quality, though most would have little to occupy their time were the mainstream media to disappear tomorrow. Some bloggers do their own reporting, but most rely on mainstream reporters to do the heavy lifting. Some bloggers also offer superb commentary, but most babble, buzz and blurt like caffeinated adolescents competing for the Ritalin generation's inevitable senior superlative: Most Obsessive-Compulsive.
The juxtaposition of these arguments in such a small space is bizarre. There are, by Parker's claim, "tens of millions" of bloggers out there. Who are the bloggers of a stature comparable to Blair or Kelley who have been found out to be fabricators?
Sure, bloggers "persist" regardless of quality. Since all one needs to do to earn the title "blogger" is start a site, that's not surprising. But her concern is, presumably, power, especially "power untempered by restraint and accountability." Lousy bloggers are, with few exceptions, consigned to readership in the dozens.
Yes, most bloggers are commentators, not reporters. We don't pretend otherwise. Reporters, after all, are paid to report. Most bloggers have day jobs. What has that to do with the lack of constraint on powerful bloggers? Further, most reporters seem to aspire to become opinion writers and television talking heads.
I also agree that most bloggers aren't very good. Again, though, most bloggers are unread--including some very talented ones who either don't post with sufficient frequency or focus on a niche of such a narrow appeal as to be unable to build an audience. But that's true of mainstream reporters and pundits as well. Bloggers are, in essence, freelance writers. While there may be tens of millions of us, only a few hundred are "selling" pieces on a regular basis.
Anyone who has read a small local paper or watched small market local television or listened to almost any local radio station can attest that most reporters are less than stellar. As with the mainstream press, bloggers with talent tend to rise to greater prominence. In the case of the former, that means getting hired by a major metropolitan or national publication such as the NYT or WaPo, getting a national syndication deal, or getting picked up by one of the networks.
Even so, they hold the same megaphone as the adults and enjoy perceived credibility owing to membership in the larger world of blog grown-ups. These effete and often clever baby "bloggies" are rich in time and toys, but bereft of adult supervision. Spoiled and undisciplined, they have grabbed the mike and seized the stage, a privilege granted not by years in the trenches, but by virtue of a three-pronged plug and the miracle of WiFi.
This string of ad hominem invective apparently made it past the adult supervisors. Again, though, it's wrongheaded. Bloggers don't "hold the same megaphone" as prominent journalists. Even the most successful bloggers (what a "bloggie" is, I haven't a clue) such as Glenn Reynolds and Markos Moulitsas Zuniga still have a fraction of the power of the major papers or broadcast networks. Even the most famous case of blogger power, the RatherGate scandal, only happened after the mainstream press focused their attention on the pick and shovel work done by bloggers.
And why the name calling? That doesn't go along with the idea that "professionals," unlike the great unwashed "bloggies," are civilized.
Effete? In comparison with professional journalists?
Rich in time and toys? Most of us have full time jobs and do our writing on the side.
Grabbed the mike and seized the stage? A privilege granted not by years in the trenches? Such envy is quite odd coming from someone who has had the stage of a nationally syndicated column since her early 30s.
Furthermore, most bloggers who have any influence at all have achieved some degree of success outside the field of persuasive writing before joining the blogosphere. Virtually everyone at the top rungs of the Ecosystem has a law degree (Reynolds, all three Power Liners, Moulitsas, most Volokhers, Hugh Hewitt), a Ph.D. (Josh Marshall, Duncan "Atrios" Black, Andrew Sullivan, the rest of the Volokhers), success in the business/tech world (Charles Johnson, Ed Morrissey, Kevin Aylward), military experience (Moulitsas again, Greyhawk), or is an established journalist (Michelle Malkin, Marshall again, Sullivan again).
Indeed, it is the ability to bring genuine expertise from the "real world" that has made many of these people successful in the blogosphere. They add insight and information that even the best journalists can't be expected to have, simply by virtue of having chosen a different profession.
They play tag team with hyperlinks ("I'll say you're important if you'll say I'm important) and shriek "Gotcha!" when they catch some weary wage earner in a mistake or oversight. Plenty smart but lacking in wisdom, they possess the power of a forum, but neither the maturity nor humility that years of experience impose.
There's no doubt that this is true of a lot of bloggers. It's true, too, of a lot of reporters. After all, young reporters are immature, too. Many old ones lack humility. But in blogging and reporting, the best tend to rise to the top.
Each time I wander into blogdom, I'm reminded of the savage children stranded on an island in William Golding's "Lord of the Flies." Without adult supervision, they organize themselves into rival tribes, learn to hunt and kill, and eventually become murderous barbarians in the absence of a civilizing structure.
What Golding demonstrated - and what we're witnessing as the Blogosphere's offspring multiply - is that people tend to abuse power when it is unearned and will bring down others to enhance themselves. Likewise, many bloggers seek the destruction of others for their own self-aggrandizement. When a mainstream journalist stumbles, they pile on like so many savages, hoisting his or her head on a bloody stick as Golding's children did the fly-covered head of a butchered sow.
Again, someone with much more power than all but the best bloggers--and Parker is not among the most powerful syndicated columnists--casts wide aspersions on "tens of millions" of people based on a handful of (unspecified) incidents.
Schadenfreude - pleasure in others' misfortunes - has become the new barbarity on an island called Blog. When someone trips, whether Dan Rather or Eason Jordan or Judith Miller, bloggers are the bloodthirsty masses slavering for a public flogging. Incivility is their weapon and humanity their victim.
Trips?! Dan Rather tried to influence a presidential election with a completely fabricated story that he spent months on. It took bloggers a few hours to uncover the truth. Rather had far more power than all the bloggers put together. And certainly less "humility." Even after his lies were revealed, he was still allowed to keep his anchor chair for months and retire at his own leisure. And he still has a high paying job with the network as a "professional journalist."
Judith Miller is a criminal who is getting rich from her misdeeds. It took bloggers much less time to come around to the conclusion that she was an embarrasment to the journalistic profession than it took her adult supervisors.
Eason Jordan had zero judgment, repeatedly made slanderous charges without evidence, and yet rose to become the adult supervisor of the flagship network in cable news. I'm not sure he's someone one should bring up when defending the virtues of the mainstream press vice the blogosphere.
I mean no disrespect to the many brilliant people out there - professors, lawyers, doctors, philosophers, scientists and other journalists who also happen to blog. Again, they know who they are. But we should beware and resist the rest of the ego-gratifying rabble who contribute only snark, sass and destruction.
We can't silence them, but for civilization's sake - and the integrity of information by which we all live or die - we can and should ignore them.
And "we" do. By any measure, the most influential bloggers are precisely the former. With the exception of humor blogs like Scrappleface and IMAO, the only widely read and cited "snark, sass and destruction" site that I can think of is Wonkette. That, ironically, is a site written by a career journalist, financed by a media empire, and incessantly cited by mainstream journos as the archtypical blog.
Update: Steven Taylor offers more commentary on the Parker piece, including this point:
Are there annoying, vicious bloggers? Oh, yes. Of course, in some cases, the venom is in the eye of the partisan. Of course, there are some pretty obnoxious TV pundit and talk radio hosts. Kos says some pretty mean, obnoxious things about his partisan foes, but then again, so do folks like Al Franken and Rush Limbaugh. What’s the difference, aside from the medium in which the the statement are being made?
The same is true of Ann Coulter, Ted Rall, and others who have made careers in the print world, too.
Update: Welcome Eschaton readers!
Correction: The original referred to Kos' Markos Moulitsas Zuniga repeatedly as "Zuniga" rather than "Moulitsas."
- The Florida Masochist linked with The Knucklehead of the Day award
- Conservative Revolution » Blog Archive » - A Conservative Blog from Cleveland, Ohio linked with Pingback
Dan Rather tried to influence a presidential election with a completely fabricated story that he spent months on.
This, of course, is bullshit. The fabrication came from the right-wing bloggers. The press meekly went along.Posted by: dave at December 28, 2005 23:26 Permalink
It is the individuality of the blogger that many journalists find intimidating I think. In a blog, you’re out there on your own. There are no other columnists or reporters or advertisments or TV listings or sports highlights or movie reviews or anything else to help attract readers. Bloggers have to create their audience all by themselves. In her heart, this woman does not believe she could ever write enough, that was good enough, to attract a readership of tens of thousands of people, like Digby or Billmon or Steve Gilliard or Americablog or Atrios. Call it blog-envy.Posted by: CathiefromCanada at December 28, 2005 23:31 Permalink
Although I’m not an “adult” and official “journalist” like the subject of the post, this piece of tripe by Parker just reeks of being still another planted piece of paid propaganda by the Bush league and their cronies.Posted by: Milo Johnson at December 28, 2005 23:37 Permalink
No one has ever proven that the document cited by Dan Rather were forgeries. In fact, two of the four document specialists he took them to authenticated them. The other two would not authenticate them, but never implied that they were forgeries either.
The most important part of the story is that NO ONE has ever refuted the CONTENTS of the documents. Bush went AWOL and did not finish his service commitment. No amount of aspersion cast upon any documents can change that.Posted by: Brad at December 28, 2005 23:45 Permalink
Hey, Kos’s last name is “Moulitsas”, not “Zuniga”. It’s a cultural thing.Posted by: Ted at December 29, 2005 00:06 Permalink
So it’s like everything else – you’re good if you get paid. (It’s sure not that you get paid if you’re good.)
Why do they even write these lame articles?Posted by: Avedon at December 29, 2005 00:43 Permalink
I mean no disrespect to the many brilliant people out there – professors, lawyers, doctors, philosophers, scientists and other journalists who also happen to blog. Again, they know who they are. But we should beware and resist the rest of the ego-gratifying rabble who contribute only snark, sass and destruction.
Does that not sound just a tad “classist” to anyone else?Posted by: puhleeze at December 29, 2005 00:48 Permalink
Another difference between bloggers and ‘nationally syndicated columnists’: the former generally don’t get paid for phoned-in nonsense knocked off because writing during the holiday season is Hard.Posted by: ahem at December 29, 2005 00:55 Permalink
i view my blog as the place i can write all the “letters to the editor” i want and people read them and comment pro or con. its as simple as that.Posted by: ron at December 29, 2005 00:57 Permalink
“Dan Rather tried to influence a presidential election with a completely fabricated story that he spent months on.”
First, the story was accurate, and the documents genuine, although the chain of custody was in question and they had been scanned into MS Word. Second, Rather announced his leaving the anchor position in summer 2004. Third, what “lies”? Sorry, but that line ruined your post. Get some adult supervision (or at least judgement).Posted by: BostonGemini at December 29, 2005 00:57 Permalink
Parker seems to think that clever writing makes one a bona fide professional. I picture her sitting there reading over her words and thinking.. “oh, so much more writerly then those ‘bloggies’!”
So Kathleen, How’s that working out for ya? Being clever?Posted by: bruce at December 29, 2005 01:42 Permalink
there is much wrong that can be pointed out in Parker’s column. If I could tell her my thoughts in just one sentence, it would be:
blogs are just free speech for everyone, facilitated (greatly) by the web.
what’s so hard to understand about that?
and what’s so threatening, as well? I mean, other than the horror Parker feels when the proles dare to speak up?
You’re living in a glass house, Kathleen.Posted by: renato at December 29, 2005 06:10 Permalink
Ted: You’re right. I keep making that mistake instinctually even though I know better.Posted by: James Joyner at December 29, 2005 06:53 Permalink
Since when is Malkin a journalist?Posted by: labradog at December 29, 2005 06:59 Permalink
Since when is Malkin a journalist?Posted by: James Joyner at December 29, 2005 07:05 Permalink
You are remarkably tolerant (of parker) and even handed in some odd ways. As far as I know, Eason Jordan was right in what he said, where he said it, and every day that we are in Iraq he is proved righter. What is the evidence that he childishly lashed out, or that he was wrong?
aimaiPosted by: aimai at December 29, 2005 07:10 Permalink
Is someone implying that ScrappleFace is not a legitimate part of the mainstream media?
On what basis can that allegation be sustained?
Free speech is scary!! Waaaaah!Posted by: Mike Nilsen at December 29, 2005 07:42 Permalink
I think Ms. Parker had some irregularities with her medication. There are some valid criticisms of blogs but my understanding is that very few people are getting paid for blogging unlike the MSM which is an industry.
‘“Dan Rather tried to influence a presidential election with a completely fabricated story that he spent months on.”
First, the story was accurate, and the documents genuine, although the chain of custody was in question and they had been scanned into MS Word.’
It must be nice to live in a dream world. Where is Ms. Ramirez?Posted by: ICallMasICM at December 29, 2005 08:52 Permalink
Of course its classist and elitist she’s rooting for her team – the doctors and lawyers and scientists, philosophers and “other journalists” the ones who made up the top ten in careers that the NYT published earlier this year the same people that decided we should go to Iraq without a plan, yeah they’re the best and the brightest we have. She wouldn’t be caught dead at a party that invited rubes, groundlings and the “great unwashed” – eeewwwweee! To think someone who went to a community college would be able to think critically much less articulate it in a convincing way.
And this example she gives: “What Golding demonstrated – and what we’re witnessing as the Blogosphere’s offspring multiply – is that people tend to abuse power when it is unearned and will bring down others to enhance themselves. Likewise, many bloggers seek the destruction of others for their own self-aggrandizement. When a mainstream journalist stumbles, they pile on like so many savages, hoisting his or her head on a bloody stick as Golding’s children did the fly-covered head of a butchered sow.”
Isn’t that the MO of Bush, Cheney, Rove and the rebublicans?
Are we really going to pretend that the Rather memos were legitimate at this point? Even Rather doesn’t maintain that stance any longer.
WaPo: Rather Concedes Papers Are Suspect; CBS Anchor Urges Media to Focus On Bush Service, September 16, 2004; Page A01
CBS anchor Dan Rather acknowledged for the first time yesterday that there are serious questions about the authenticity of the documents he used to question President Bush’s National Guard record last week on “60 Minutes.”
“If the documents are not what we were led to believe, I’d like to break that story,” Rather said in an interview last night. “Any time I’m wrong, I want to be right out front and say, ‘Folks, this is what went wrong and how it went wrong.’ ”
Dan Rather statement, September 20, 2004
Last week, amid increasing questions about the authenticity of documents used in support “of a 60 MINUTES WEDNESDAY story about President Bush’s time in the Texas Air National Guard, CBS News vowed to re-examine the documents in question-and their source-vigorously. And we promised that we would let the American public know what this examination turned up, whatever the outcome.
Now, after extensive additional interviews, I no longer have the confidence in these documents that would allow us to continue vouching for them journalistically. I find we have been misled on the key question of how our source for the documents came into possession of these papers. That, combined with some of the questions that have been raised in public and in the press, leads me to a point where-if I knew then what I know now-I would not have gone ahead with the story as it was aired, and I certainly would not have used the documents in question.
But we did use the documents. We made a mistake in judgment, and for that I am sorry. It was an error that was made, however, in good faith and in the spirit of trying to carry on a CBS News tradition of investigative reporting without fear or favoritism.
CBS News fires four staff members for their roles in producing a 60 Minutes Wednesday report on President Bush’s service in the Texas National Guard. The report relied on falsified documents that CBS News later admitted it could not verify.
The firings included Betsy West, the senior vice president for prime time news programs; Josh Howard, the executive producer of 60 Minutes Wednesday; and Howard’s deputy, senior broadcast producer Mary Murphy. The producer of the report, Mary Mapes, was also fired.
The move follows the release of an independent panel report prepared by former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and former Associated Press President Louis Boccardi. The panel faulted “a myopic zeal to be the first news organization to broadcast” the documents and “a blind defense of the segment after it aired despite numerous indications of its shortcomings.”
Update: Also see:Posted by: James Joyner at December 29, 2005 09:13 Permalink
I write for an msm organ, albeit editorials. I don’t know about the entire blogosphere, but I wouldn’t trade Kos, Eschaton, TPM and Liberal Oasis for many, many MSM outlets. Yes, without the msm, bloggers would have less to work with. But the most prominent MSM outlets have been incredibly timid and cowed for way too long. I could not do my work without these blogs. They are quick, accurate and much, much faster in correcting inadvertent mistakes.Posted by: Jim at December 29, 2005 10:01 Permalink
Blogs monitor the MSM. It’s the newly implanted “second head” of professional journalism, fact-checking and analyzing its accuracy and objectivity. It is utterly valuable and long, long overdue—how many Vivica Novaks and Judith Millers and Bob Woodwards—just to name a few contemporary, credibility-free “journalists”—were at work throughout the profession’s history? People like Ms. Parker must grow up and get used to having their feet held to the fire, because it’s permanent. Think mammograms.
As an aside, I think this column in all its indignant hauteur will be an exemplary museum piece of the times, perfectly suited for Journalism 101 terms papers and dissertations of the future. It’s so….Tory, circa 1770.Posted by: chisholm at December 29, 2005 10:55 Permalink
there are millions of bloggers…most are talking about how bad susie’s new haircut looked today and asking who is going to billy’s party after the football game friday night.
and that’s just the right wing blogs…Posted by: Rush's Dealer at December 29, 2005 11:06 Permalink
Shorter Kathleen Parker:
Blogs were OK with me when they seemed predominantly conservative back in 2002, but now that there are as many liberal blogs, and the most successful blog is not only liberal but unabashedly Democratic, I don’t like them so much anymore.
We’re going to hear more from conservatives about this over 2006 as things get worse.Posted by: SullyWatch at December 29, 2005 11:12 Permalink
I think articles like this show just how afraid a lot of the MSM is about the rise of blogging. We’re encroaching on their territory and they don’t like it one bit.
As someone else noted, bloggers are often acting as the watchdog of the MSM, as well as the government (something the MSM is doing infrequently these days). We are filling a huge void and, as more and more get recognition, the MSM will have to find ways to adapt or go the way of the Dodo.
Also, she missed one other point: unlike the major news outlets and local fishwraps, 99% of bloggers aren’t worried about pissing off sponsors, advertisers, and the corporate suits that control our salaries.
We are unfettered by these constraints and, as such, are far more open to express our opinions and call a spade a spade, rather than trying to paint it as a diamond.
She is right, however, that a lot of blogs are crap. But she fails to note that many are great but not widely read for various reasons.
All in all, it sounds like she is just pissed that someone like Atrios or Kos gets more run than she does.Posted by: Mark at December 29, 2005 11:44 Permalink
The most anyone has been able to say about the Rather documents is that they can’t vouch for the source. Even the “commission” that recommended the firing of the 4 could only say that they “couldn’t be authenticated.” That’s a far cry from forged. My point is that if Rather wanted to influence the election (and do his job), he should have run the story in 1999, without the documents, like Greg Palast did. The story didn’t need the documents—aWol was AWOL.Posted by: BostonGemini at December 29, 2005 12:51 Permalink
“Dan Rather tried to influence a presidential election with a completely fabricated story that he spent months on. It took bloggers a few hours to uncover the truth.”
And thank Jeebus for those gallant freepers, who, in their uncanny and unparalleled knowledge of typeface history and “kerning”, managed to have a series of dissertations released to the world, about something they all managed to study from one pass on a TV screen (shades of Bill Frist), WITHIN TWO HOURS.
And, as is always the case with those ruffian blogger types, these people possessed so much innate credibility with the MSM, that OF COURSE their scholarly refutation of Mr. Rather and CBS News was, by the end of that evening, reprinted and accepted hands-down as FACT, literally everywhere.
All by themselves, I might add, with no assistance whatsoever from Karl Rove (that would be the same Karl Rove who also didn’t have J.H. Hatfield’s entire criminal record in the hands of every member of the media, before Mr. Hatfield’s book on W was even published).
I can’t believe that at this late date, “mainstream” commentators are still buying-into this BS. Oh wait, yes I can (other Irrefutable Universal Truths that “good” pundits know and believe: “Only Lefties oppose the Iraq War”; “Howard Dean is TOO ANGRY to run for president or lead the Democratic Party”; “only ANGRY LEFTIES don’t like the president, who’s a pretty good guy”; name your own Irrefutable Universal Truth, here!).
In the case of James Joyner, however, I’m stymied: is there an appropriate expression about a RUNNING clock, that’s WRONG twice a day?Posted by: Barry Champlain at December 29, 2005 13:02 Permalink
Spoiled and undisciplined, they have grabbed the mike and seized the stage, a privilege granted not by years in the trenches, but by virtue of a three-pronged plug and the miracle of WiFi.
Having lived in Orlando, I read Parker for some time, as the Sentinel is her flagship paper.
This is a repeated meme in her work: “years in the trenches” of journalism is how you earn a coveted op-ed slot.
She has never, to my knowledge, made the case why this should be so. A career at the city desk cranking out stories about 4-alarm fires, dog shows, and corruption at city hall does not, a priori, endow a journalist with the specialized knowledge to write well about economics, politics, education, foreign affairs, culture, or just about anything.
Watch Parker on “The Chris Matthews Show” to find a stunning weekly example of this phenomenon. She and the panels of her cohorts that Matthews assembles are deeply unqualified to have opinions about most of the subjects they talk about.
Hence, there are many horse-race/inside-baseball/pick-another-bad-metaphor discussions that are, at best, factesque, and, at worst, lazy and stupid.
Parker’s column itself is a great example – no real research, no examples, no expert opinion. Just vague moral hectoring, beltway-style.
Parker should spend less time bemoaning the “power” bloggers are taking and more time examining what she has done with what power she has been granted.Posted by: Ellington at December 29, 2005 13:39 Permalink
My memory of the “Rathergate” documents were that the secretary at the NG office where they allegedly originated vouched for the accuracy of the contents of the document.
As well, my memory recalls that Bush spokescreatures neither denied nor even contested the accuracy of the claims in the documents when presented with them for the story.
So what you’re left with, unless my memory is faulty, is an attack on the documents based on the idea that they could not be the original documents, since team Bush was careful to destroy all of the originals, so they must be reproductions.
If they are reproductions they must have been fabricated. If they were fabricated they must have been forged. If they were forged, they must be flase.Posted by: mere mortal at December 29, 2005 16:10 Permalink
There is no doubt the owners of the msm are really pissed. How would you feel if you spent billions to control the flow of information just to have anyone for a few dollars speak what they think is the truth. Poor babies. I think blogs and the internet are the only chance for truth to come out. Ms Parker kiss my grits.Posted by: john at December 29, 2005 22:30 Permalink
“Spoiled and undisciplined, they have grabbed the mike and seized the stage, a privilege granted not by years in the trenches, but by virtue of a three-pronged plug and the miracle of WiFi.”
Well, Kathleen, where does one start? You strike me as the kind of person who isn’t used to having the shallowness of your thoughts bluntly treated as the thing it is—shallowness of thought. You have trouble with “incivility” in the blogosphere, but you support a president and an administration that politely lie about matters of life and death and politely, cleverly embrace torture as state policy.
You’re a fraud, Ms. Parker. First of all, you’re a fraud to yourself and offended that a new and powerful voice is confronting you with that truth. Secondly, you’re mad as hell that the blunt oppositional voices you don’t want to hear can’t be “supervised” and ultimately silenced. Your corporate world of words has been invaded and is being replaced by more refined intellects, Ms. Parker. Maybe you should open a boutique.Posted by: H. B. Acker at December 29, 2005 23:45 Permalink
And where did the conservative Kathleen get the idea to compare bloggers to the stranded kids in “Lord of the Flies”?
Funny. If you replace “bloggers” with “the Bush Administration” or better still “Ken Mehlman and the RNC” throughout her piece, it actually scans better.Posted by: Just a guy at December 30, 2005 14:25 Permalink
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