Lara Logan’s Friendly Misfire

Lara Logan’s Friendly Misfire

CBS Chief Foreign Correspondent Lara Logan certainly did herself and her fellow war correspondent no favors with her inept defense of war zone ground rules, even as she may have been right about a few things.

Logan’s appearance on CNN’s media criticism program Reliable Sources,” followed Michael Hastings’, author of the now infamous Rolling Stone article “The Runaway General,” which summarily ended the Army career of Afghanistan Commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

In defending herself and her compatriots in the press corps, against charges they are too chummy with the military, Logan wounded them grievously with misaimed friendly fire.  She unfortunately reinforced the worst stereotype of reporters who “embed” with senior military officers but are actually “in bed” with them.


Perhaps the most clueless and unhelpful comment Lara Logan made in the interview with Howard Kurtz was this:  “I mean, the question is, really, is what General McChrystal and his aides are doing so egregious, that they deserved to end a career like McChrystal’s? I mean, Michael Hastings has never served his country the way McChrystal has.“
Lara Logan, CBS News, on CNN’s Reliable Sources, June 24, 2010

Oh Lara, don’t you wish you could take that back?   “Michael Hastings has never served his country the way McChrystal has??? Whisky Tango Foxtrot???  In that one sentence Logan implies that somehow military service trumps the journalistic tradition of truth-seeking.  If critics, who are already predisposed to believe the worst about the media, are looking for evidence combat reporters are too dazzled by the shiny stars on the commander’s epaulets, this is their smoking gun.

And the other part of Logan’s ill-conceived attack was musing about whether what Gen. McChrystal and his aides did really was “so egregious”.  Here again Logan reveals despite her undeniably courageous front-line battlefield coverage, she just doesn’t get it.   Yes, Laura, it WAS “so egregious.”  But don’t take my word for it.  Let’s look at how America’s top military officer put it:

“I cannot excuse his lack of judgment with respect to the Rolling Stone article or a command climate he evidently permitted that was at best disrespectful of civilian authority.   We do not have that luxury, those of us in uniform.  We do not have the right, nor should we ever assume the prerogative, to cast doubt upon the ability or mock the motives of our civilian leaders, elected or appointed.  We are and must remain a neutral instrument of the state, accountable to, and respectful of, those leaders no matter which party holds sway or which person holds a given office.“
Adm. Mike Mullen, Joint Chiefs Chairman, June 24, 2010

I have generally defended Michael Hasting in this imbroglio, but some of the comments of support I made were before I was a aware there was a dispute over whether ground rules were in effect, that Hastings may have violated.   Also Hastings has since hurled facile and fatuous barbs that unfairly smear a lot of good journalists.

And many people in the blogosphere have picked up on my comments, because of my long experience grappling with these issues firsthand, as a network correspondent covering the Pentagon for CNN and traveling around the world with top military commanders and civilian officials for 16 years.   This has been a polarizing issue, and may people have staked out extreme positions and glossed over the nuances.

So, just to be clear, here’s where I come down on the main issues and allegations raised by the McChrystal/Rolling Stone affair:

THE CHARGES:

1. Journalists write puff pieces to ensure access later.

I’m sure some do.  But not the good ones.  I side with Lara Logan on this on.  She said, “To be fair to the military, if they believe that a piece is balanced, they will let you back.”

Hastings delivers a cheap shot when he smears reporters with a broad brush, “There’s a reason why … everyone writes a glowing profile of him, because then that assures access later on… if you ever write a favorable story, they’ll get better access later,” he told Kurtz.

No Michael. It’s not writing a favorable story that ensures access, it’s writing and accurate, balanced, nuanced story that helps maintain access.  As I like to say, “a fair shake, not a free ride.”   As Lara Logan points out, she’s done plenty of tough stories that were not favorable, but that never blocked her access.  That’s because good commanders and good reporters know that truth isn’t all good or all bad.

2. Any off-the-record, should stay off the record.

I find it interesting that neither Logan nor Hastings make the argument I make, namely that some things you see or hear off-the-record, you can’t agree to keep off-the-record.  Hastings tells Kurtz, “If someone tells you something is off the record, I don’t print it.”

The extreme hypothetical example I have imagined is if I were talking to a general off-the-record, and he were to called the President the “n” word.  There’s no way I could say, “Too bad I can’t report that.”  I would inform the general and his staff that I could no longer honor my promise.  There might be a price to pay for that, but I would pay it.  And I would tell them to their face.  Hastings blindsided McChrystal and his staff, possibly because he didn’t fully know what he was doing.

3. There were no ground rules, so Michael Hastings did nothing wrong.

I wasn’t there, so I don’t know.  But I tend to agree with Lara Logan on this one.  It is highly unusual for the kind of after-hours social events described by Hastings to be on the record.  He says they happened at the front end, in the first day or two he was there, so no one was lulled into a false sense of security.  He says there were no ground rules.  Lara Logan doesn’t believe him.  All I can say is Lara’s view is consistent with my 16 years of experience, and Michael’s is not.  But who knows? Maybe somebody dropped the ball, figuring experienced reporters know the drill, and didn’t bother to nail down the rules.  As I said, I wasn’t there.

4. What Gen. McChrystal did wasn’t so bad, really.

Here I disagree with both Hastings and Logan. I’ve already explained why Logan was wrong on this point.  The climate of mocking civilian leaders McChrystal tolerated, and in which he tacitly participated, was in direct violation of article 88 of the UCMJ.  Here Hasting reveals HIS cluelessness.  He told CNN “I did not expect the fallout that occurred. In fact, I didn’t even think that it was possible for General McChrystal to even get fired.”

Okay, here’s a difference between an experienced military reporter, and a freelancer who has some firsthand experience, but lacks a depth of understanding of the complexities of the story he’s covering.  As soon as I read Hastings’s piece, I knew McChrystal was toast.  As did probably all of the veteran reporters who cover the military. That Hastings was blithely unaware he was about to bring down a general, reveals a shocking ignorance about the bedrock American principle of civilian control of the military.   If he doesn’t get that, one has to wonder what else he doesn’t get.

5. It’s okay to pretend to be friends and then “f*** them over,” because everybody knows, or should know, that’s how journalists work.

I’m with Lara on this one.  NO, that’s not how the good journalists work.  Yes, we are polite. Yes, we can be charming, and even funny, and yes, we can listen with a sympathetic ear.  But we don’t pretend to be something we’re not.  If we are writing a bad news story, we tell you.  We let you respond.  We take into consideration your arguments.  And then we write as close to the truth as we can get.  And the next day we can look you in the eye, and stand by our reporting because we haven’t lied to you, or misrepresented ourselves, or “f***ed you over.

6. It’s an illusion you’re on their team.

Hastings says, “They let you hang out with them. And they try to make you feel like you’re part of the team…  But that’s an illusion.…And they know that, and you know that. You’re a journalist… You’re there to tell it like it is.”

Hasting has that exactly right.  The journalists traveling with you can seem like the nicest people in the world, but don’t ever think we are on your team. We are not.  And experienced commanders know that.  And there really should be no confusion about this.  It is a bedrock principle of journalism.

7. By starting the profile with anecdote in which McChrystal makes a obscene gesture ( in a light-hearted manner), and by writing a sub-headline about “wimps in the White House,” Rolling Stone crossed the line into sensationalist, tabloid journalism.

I think Lara’s slightly off the mark on this one.  She said on CNN, “When you start an article with General McChrystal making obscene gestures, you’re not even using something that he said.  And “Rolling Stone” magazine put their own spin on this. They said that the greatest enemy for McChrystal is the wimps in Washington. Nowhere in the article does McChrystal refer to ‘the wimps in Washington.’ That’s “Rolling Stone” magazine, how they chose to cast this, to make it as sensational as possible.”

Here I think Logan is being oversensitive.   I get that the profile is written with attitude, in the style of Rolling Stone.  But let’s not forget the primary criticism of this piece is that it’s TOO ACCURATE.  I think most journalists charged with “excessive accuracy” would be ready to plead guilty.

It’s a time-honored (perhaps even hackneyed) writing device to start with a small anecdote that helps illuminate the big picture.  And as for the headline about “wimps in the White House,” Well, that IS an editorial characterization but it’s supported by the rest of the article.  Is the piece slanted?  Yes, it’s slanted toward the point of view of the author.   But the facts are there for people to draw their own conclusions.

8. Hastings only wanted to highlight the problems in Afghanistan.

Hastings says, “I had really no control over, you know, the after effects. And that really wasn’t what I was focusing on. What I was focusing on was trying to write the best story that I could to bring attention to the war in Afghanistan.”

This is probably the most frustrating thing for Hastings.  He’s produced a very illuminating piece of long-form journalism that highlights the real shortcomings of the strategy in Afghanistan.  He raises essential questions in a compelling way, questions all Americans should be asking, about the how the war is going and the prospects for success.  What’s clear in Hastings incisive and evocative account is that even the generals who are prosecuting the war have deep misgivings. And by the way, that’s something we can only find out if commanders can trust reporters enough to go off-the-record, and allow them to be a fly on the wall.  If Hasting did commit any journalistic sins, he is paying for it by blunting the impact of his own reporting, in return for the short-term notoriety of being a general-killer.

If you’re keeping score, on these eight points, Lara Logan wins 3, Michael Hastings 2, and I go my own way on 3.

Jamie McIntyre was CNN’s Senior Pentagon Correspondent for 16 years.  He’s now an Adjunct Professor of Journalism at the University of Maryland, and blogs regularly about military and media issues at http://​www​.lineofdeparture​.com

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Mr. McIntyre,

I heard you on the Jim Bohannon show tonight and was intrigued by what you said there so, I decided to check out your blog and wasn’t disappointed. I think point number 8 is particularly important. We’re fighting to kick the Taliban out of the cities, again, and hope that will bring them to the peace table. While everybody is talking about victory nobody seems willing to discuss what that means short of the elimination of the Taliban as a viable force in Afghanistan. Thank you for your insightful comments and keep up the good work.

Semper Gumby,

Nick

I’m wondering when some smart journalist is going to conclude that Hastings was played by McChrysta. These are professional black ops military guys who have built careers on deception, illusion and manipulation. They eat journalists for breakfast, and I wouldn’t want to joke about how literal that statement might be over the course of their careers.

When you want to use a journalist, you don’t pick one of the savvy regulars who know the drill, you picked the new guy, the greenhorn who hasn’t got a clue, and you lead him down the garden path to where you want him to go.

Looks like McChrystal and his team couldn’t get the job done in Afghanistan, and perhaps saw that it was going to go south fast and soon, and didn’t want to end his career as the guy whose command it all fell apart under. But of course he can’t just quit and walk away or asked to be relieved, he’s got his men and morale to think about, legacy as a leader comes in second to those kind of considerations. He doesn’t want his boys and girls to think he’s walking away and leaving them behind, so he comes up with this little beauty, and it works perfectly.

He sacrifices himself and some of his people to some degree, while putting the responsibility for his removal on the bad old liberal Rolling Stone journalist, whose career will actually take a huge boost from this coup. It works out well for everybody, except the president of the United States who takes a hit, but overall I don’t think it could’ve worked out better all-around for everyone if he had chosen any other path to getting himself out immediately.

Am I the only one that sees this?

It is a cute way to end with a box score of wins and losses but, obviously, all eight points are not of equal seriousness.

To my mind, points 2) and 4) are the most important…

…with that in mind, does McIntyre find the tone of insubordination that Hastings depicted to be credible? If credible, would it be sufficiently scandalous to be treated in the same way as an off-the-record use of the N-word?

And, since the doctrine of counterinsurgency insists that all operations of the United States government in Afghanistan — political, diplomatic, nationbuilding, international development, humanitarian aid — should be subservient to the military, is it possible that the disdain for civilian control that Rolling Stone depicts grows out of this doctrine? In other words, might the flaw be found not in McChrystal the commender, but in the Pentagon policy itself, drawn up by Petraeus, which turns a general into a Viceroy?

Andrew,
GREAT point. This would make a great paper at the war college.

Jamie: I agree that Lara’s quote was unfortunate, but please, tell me that you think being a journalist reporting the major stories (including the military) is just as important as serving in the military. Tell me I’m interpreting this wrong??

Valley — you use the word “important” but Logan did not. She was saying that Hastings had never served his country “the way McChrystal has.” She was not making value judgments about the rival civic merits of a free press and special forces commandos.

I interpret her argument to be that no one except a fellow soldier has the standing to report on a general’s insubordinate attitude. That is clearly bunk.

I’m far from a conspiracy theorist but I think you’re absolutely spot on Aaron B. Brown. No other explanation makes nearly as much sense.

I retired after 38 years of federal service, all of it in public affairs, both as an enlisted soldier and a civilian public affairs officer. McChrystal’s fault is that he didn’t learn from his predecessors, Brig. Gen. Signlaub and the Air Force general four star who was fired after giving an interview on a plane ride to Kuwait during the first Iraq war. I once told a lieutenant general that because he had three stars he could only speak to the media for three minutes. he laughed, but later during an interview he told reported that his PAO would only let him talk for three minutes. As a PAO I would never let anyone talk to a reporter for more than 15 minutes without suggesting that we were at or near the last question.
My rule to everyone giving an interview to anyone in the media is. “There is no such thing as off –the-record.“
You could say that Gen. McChrystal was ill served by his PAO, but I wasn’t there. His PAO may have disagreed with the Rolling Stone interview from the beginning. But to paraphrase Forrest Whitaker who won an Oscar in the King of Scotland, He should have made him listen!

To Steve Valley and all thoughtful readers–

My interpretation is that Jamie DOES believe that a journalist “is just as important” as serving in the military. But setting Jamie’s possible intention aside, I can say without hesitation that I (UF JM ’76) believe journalism is just as important… if “importance” can be measured. Steve, I believe that you and I both desire to see America be the Best that it can be. Military service and ACTION in a JUST cause is highly commendable.

But so was the work of reporters who did the grunt work about My Lai. Abu Ghraib. Agent Orange. Cambodia and Laos. Watergate. The Pentagon Papers.

Protecting the freedoms that live in the beating heart of America is the job of many outside the military. Some are politicians, some are activists, some are never-miss-an-election voters… and yes, some are journalists.

–Kyle York
Proud Son of a WW2 Merchant Marine Veteran
Proud Classmate of Jamie McIntyre
Proud Journalist

Many good points from Jamie McIntrye.

It’s often humorous (darkly) that some people believe that soldiers are the only people who fight for press freedoms. That’s a bag of self-serving BS, or a bag of ignorance. In fact — sometimes it’s just as dangerous performing as a correspondent, and often the first ones who are ready to squelch press freedoms are troops in the Pentagon. They often cloak the choke behind the veil of OPSEC, but often the choke is about politics, money, embarrassment, etc.

You and Hastings are ******* idiots. She is 100% correct. You’re just too butt hurt about it.

USA Oath of Office: “I (insert name), having been appointed a (insert rank) in the U.S. Army under the conditions indicated in this document, do accept such appointment and do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter, so help me God.”

In reference to the idiotic remarks of the most senior idiot, “…We are and must remain a neutral instrument of the state, accountable to, and respectful of, those leaders no matter which party holds sway or which person holds a given office.“

Just where in the oath does it even IMPLY that an officer is to obey all civilian leaders no matter what? McChrystal is an idiot for speaking so candidly in front of a self-serving left wing media shill. But he was right on his assessment of the gaggle running this cluster f&^%k.

And Logan is dead on when she states that “Michael Hastings has never served his country the way McChrystal has.” or any other soldier for that matter. Comparing the current crop of journalists to the military is as disconnected as comparing arsonists to firemen.

Absolute garbage. Your job is to report, not decide, report. Maybe now you will understand why no one trusts your reporting.

Military leaders will often question and disagree with their civilian–and military–bosses. They may even have a few snide remarks. McChrystal’s fault was saying those thing in the presence of a reporter. Other leaders are saying (I’m sure), “Wow, I’m glad no one from the media heard me last night after the meeting!”

The day it was announced that the General was going to return to the US to meet with obozo I knew he would be sacked. I wrote a friend and sent this message about why in my opinion the comments were made.
“Think about it. You work for an idiot who refuses to allow you to fight the war he has given you because he make rules that are so stupid a sane person would not follow them. You can not quit nor ask for a transfer. You have over thirty years on the job and figure retiring is the way to go. You call your boss an idiot, something everyone knows anyway, and he asks for your resignation. You get to tell him what you think via an article, you get away from him and you retire. The public knows he is an idiot and he is so stupid he believes he fired you. Sounds smart to me.” That was my opinion then as it is now.
When you are a field grade Officer everything you say is going to be recorded either by machine or by notes and reported. The General was unable to tell the Chiefs of Staff he wanted out. The best thing to do was to say what everyone knows and retire. What he said was correct and everyone know obozo is the village Marxist idiot. So the worst the General has is a notation in history that he was fired by obozo the clown.

As far as the comment comparing the experience and the service given by the General and the reporter. Anybody can be a reporter but it takes dedication and intelligence to be a 4 star with a lengthy record in Special Ops. I took Lara Logan’s statement to mean the General has put his life on the line for his country VS an reporter who has reported or written stories about events that happen. In the military we talk about when we enlist we in effect write a check for the amount of “our Life” and give it to the USA. We hope that check is never cashed but if indeed it is we knew going in that was a possibility. The General wrote his check and I ask has Hastings or even Jamie McIntyre written one? I know when I wrote mine I was prepared to have it cashed but I was lucky. I have a few cousins on the Vietnam wall that were not as lucky. But we served and did our part. God Bless America.

I too have cousins on the Vietnam wall, forever very young men who served and did their part. God Bless America. And may God Bless the six journalists who “wrote their checks and cashed them” covering that ancient conflict, experiencing life and death in service of the Truths We Hold to be Self-Evident.

And God Bless lifelong working journalist Walter Cronkite for reporting bravely from the open streets of Hue after the Tet Offensive. God Bless the courage and the freedom that allowed his broadcast on February 27th when he solemnly said “For it seems now more certain than ever, that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate.” And God Bless the common Americans who studied Cronkite’s observations and decided that enough cousins had died serving the conceit of the Commanders playing a game of dominoes, where they kept score with body counts.

God Bless President Lyndon Johnson for recognizing that more escalation would only mean more solemn funerals. And may God Bless always the thousands of American service men and women who were NOT sent to fight and die to satisfy Johnson’s military advisers who “knew” what it would take to secure victory, a fatally-flawed strategy that would have had us fighting and dying in Vietnam TODAY… and burying more of our second-cousins tomorrow.

And so God Bless the nine journalists covering Afghanistan who “wrote their checks and cashed them.” May their deaths not be in vain as we hear Warriors here and elsewhere assert than more troops from the mightiest nation on earth will end the Afghan Insurgency.

And finally, may God Bless the insurgents who stood their ground against the mightiest military power in the world, those who made the supreme sacrifice at a bridge in Concord and in the deep snows of Valley Forge. When the foreign enemy’s generals promised success after securing their massive measured escalation, we met them here in the forests and fields of Saratoga. And those foreign forces of occupation suffered, died, and surrendered, having made the fatal mistake of failing to understand the nature of the colonial insurgency, the very greatness that we Americans celebrate this weekend.

–Kyle York
Saratoga Springs

To Circle 8:

Approved.

I take issue with your comment that “Anybody can be a reporter but it takes dedication and intelligence to be a 4 star with a lengthy record in Special Ops.”

So, how about comparing a reporter with the same amount of high-level experience in the job? Not just anybody can get there.

And if you’re good at the job, you gain trust.

That’s what disappeared for Gen. McChrystal: The commander in chief couldn’t trust his commander on the ground, and for the good of discipline—among other likely reasons—relieved him of command.

Your inflammatory and unsupported statements like: “What he said was correct and everyone know obozo is the village Marxist idiot,” are a prime example why you—and you’re anyone—couldn’t be a reporter.

Reporters—as differentiated from “commentators”—provide a public service: Generally dependable information on which to base decisions. Sometimes crucial decisions about public policy. They sometimes die to bring us information that’s essential to our survival.

Military men and women provide another public service… the defense of a whole range of Constitutional guarantees, including our ability to gather and disseminate news and discuss the news and public policy. And have a backyard barbecue on Independence Day. They also die while providing that protection.

We need both reporters and military public servants in order to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and maintain the ability to experience the benefits of the concepts it puts into words.

Thanks for serving. None of us would be typing in the reply box on this blog without you.

Don’t forget who got us into the ” cluster f&^%k” as you called it. Last name starts with a B.

If the military ISN’T accountable to the representatives the voters elect to steer the country, what’s to keep us from becoming a military dictatorship?

The writers and signers of our Constitution tried to put in checks and balances to keep that from happening. Two of those checks and balances is freedom of speech, and freedom of the press.

As to Lara Logan’s “never served his country the way McChrystal has” comment: Military service people should be respected and honored for the risks they take in harm’s way. Reporting from a war zone puts news people into harm’s way, too.

The information they provide to us citizens is an essential part of making decisions about public policy. Like what to do about the so-called “cluster f&^%k” you mentioned… and the people running it. Whether at the White House, the Pentagon or on the ground in some foreign country.

On this Independence Day Weekend, I thank them all for serving… and am glad that I don’t need to protect myself with a gun just to go shopping… which I’m about do do.

T.

I would like to thank you for proving exactly why the American public has such a dismal view of the press. You should be deeply, DEEPLY ashamed of this article.

I am not a journalist. I served in the military. I believe that journalists have a responisibility to report the truth. What they do not have is the right to destroy a brilliant career for the sake of advancing a reporter’s career or the circulation of a newspaper. If Hastings did not know he would bring down a general, I am sure his editor did. Shame on them. The last thing a combat soldier needs is to have his trust and faith in his commanding officer shaken. Do we want another Nam? No?, then get these newbie reporters off the field and let the military do what it knows how to do.

I’m curious. Which part of this article should I be “deeply ashamed” of?
The part where I suggest journalists shouldn’t write puff pieces to get access later?
Or the part where I warn sources nothing they say is REALLY off the record?
Or the part where I say journalists should be able to look their sources in the eye and say they treated them fairly?
Or the part where I suggest reporters should not be disparaged just because they haven’t served in the military?
Or the part where I say what we really should be debating is our strategy in Afghanistan?
Which part should I be “deeply ashamed” of?

Sooo… Lara Logan approves of propaganda? She’s not to be trusted.

Rob says it well–

“Do we want another Nam? No?, then get these newbie reporters off the field and let the military do what it knows how to do.”

It is altogether fitting and proper that we should reflect on Vietnam.

By the poster’s line of reasoning, newbie reporter Cronkite’s post-Tet assertion of a military “stalemate” should have been cut by “HIS EDITOR” and certainly ignored by our Civilian/President Johnson. And in mid-1967, with United States troop levels close to the half-million mark, America should have “LET THE MILITARY DO WHAT IT KNOWS HOW TO DO” and granted General Westmoreland’s request for 80,000 additional troops with indications that further requests were being contemplated.

It will be a sad day for freedom when newbie reporters cannot cite the British disaster in Afghanistan, or a day when editors censor Soviet Commander General Victor Yermakov’s reflection on the defeat of a modern army of 120,000 soldiers after nine years and 15,000 Soviet dead. See http://​www​.cnn​.com/​2​0​0​9​/​W​O​R​L​D​/​a​s​i​a​p​c​f​/​1​2​/​0​1​/​a​f​gha… .

With all due respect for our military leadership, I see no clear and present danger in the free speech expressed by Hastings or Logan or McIntyre or Cronkite or newbies. Civilian insights, even the musings of a mere President, they give me comfort and confidence that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

–Kyle York
A Patriot… even on the day AFTER “The Fourth”

Sound’s to me like you’re reading too much into it. It sounds to me she was suggesting that Hastings had never worn a uniform. You seem to be reading it as a slight against McChrystal. I don’t get that at all.

Interesting point of view Aaron. What happens when you factor in the SOF “bulletproof” mind set? You can’t do a spec op mission with out it. Having supported Nav Spec War in the 80’s I saw 2 kinds of Seals. The war vets that new the truth of their mortality and the new guys that hadn’t learned it yet. Today’s operators should know the difference by now.
I bet it is a combination of the 2 – “I’m bulletproof and if they do shoot me they’ll be doing me a favor!”

Agree with you. I think we are trying to compare apples to oranges. There is no comparrison, to these jobs..The general knew what he was doing, and the reporter did not bend the truth. It was a win win for everyone concerned…

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