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The MRC's Fetterman Fail

Once it realized it could exploit his stroke to help his Republican opponent, the Media Research Center waged war on Democratic Pennsylvania Senate candidate John Fetterman -- and even whined that Oprah endorsed him. Fetterman won anyway.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 12/7/2022

The Media Research Center largely ignored Democrat John Fetterman for most of his race for a Pennsylvania Senate seat. A February 2021 post by Alex Christy dismissed him as among the the "lefties" being promoted by the "hacks" on MSNBC, and another post that month briefly mentioned him -- but it wasn't until this past August, after Fetterman suffered a stroke yet still spent the summer owning his Republican opponent, TV doctor Mehmet Oz, on social media that the MRC got around to mentioning him again, in a post by Scott Whitlock fearmongering that Fetterman "supports abortion up to birth."

It was around then that the MRC started to realize it could exploit Fetterman's stroke to serve as a Republican surrogate in driving up concerns about his health and boosting Oz. A Sept. 1 post by Alex Christy complained about a "softball" interview Fetterman did with MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle, mocking that Fetterman "looked like he was doing the interview from a dungeon" and whining: "Ruhle didn’t ask Fetterman if his health problems could limit his effectiveness as a senator, only how he plans to convince voters it won’t. She did ask if he eventually plans to debate Oz, but did not press him on it when he equated all concerns about his health with mocking his stroke."

In a Sept. 12 post, Curtis Houck cruelly sneered that a press release announcing the hated ex-CNN host Brian Stelter's new position as a fellow at Harvard sounds "just as painful as John Fetterman trying to offer a complete sentence."

That exploitation really kicked in after an NBC interview with Fetterman that just happened to mesh with right-wing anti-Fetterman narratives seeking to portray him as too sick to hold office. An Oct. 11 post by Kevin Tober repeatedly hyped Fetterman's purportedly fragile state:

NBC correspondent Dasha Burns broke news Tuesday when she revealed on both MSNBC and NBC Nightly News that Pennsylvania Democrat Senate candidate John Fetterman is in worse shape than originally thought after his near-debilitating stroke.

While previewing her exclusive interview with Fetterman, Burns told viewers that his “campaign required close captioning technology for this interview to essentially read our questions as we asked them.”

She went on to note that “in small talk before the interview without captioning, it wasn't clear he was understanding our conversation.”


Despite his obvious struggles with putting together basic sentences, the Democrat Party and their propaganda arm in the media are still propping him up like nothing is wrong.

If he was a Republican candidate for United States Senate, this wouldn’t be Fetterman’s first tough interview and the media would be hounding him from now until November.

The next day, in whining about a Seth Meyers segment mocking right-wing Halloween candy fearmongering, Christy linked to Tober's attack post to sneer, "Maybe for his Thursday show, Meyers will talk about how Starburst is really just another term for 'the John Fetterman Campaign.'" Tim Graham praised NBC's interview with Fetterman -- because it served Republican purposes in hurting Fetterman and helping Oz -- in the writeup for his Oct. 12 podcast:

Meanwhile, NBC reporter Dasha Burns sternly questioned John Fetterman about his lack of transparency about his medical struggles after a stroke. Burns upset liberals by explaining beforehand that Fetterman required a Tele-Prompter to understand the questions, since he's having "auditory processing" issues. Democrats don't want you discussing how Fetterman is currently unable to debate on the floor of the Senate.

The MRC then moved on to attacking anyone who defended Fetterman by pointing out the reality of post-stroke auditory processing issues. Christy huffed in an Oct. 13 post:

Trevor Noah used the Wednesday installment of The Daily Show on Comedy Central to defend Pennsylvania Democratic Senate nominee John Fetterman from criticism he is not healthy enough to serve by comparing him to disabled war veterans Dan Crenshaw and Tammy Duckworth.


After playing a clip from the NBC interview, Noah joked that Fetterman’s speech problems make him not that different than Presidents Trump and Biden, but why the country should want a third bumbler was not answered.


Those are physical disability that has not impacted those two’s ability to do their jobs. A stroke is a different matter.

Nicholas Fondacaro struck the same tone in another post the same day:

Two days after NBC News reporter Dasha Burns made headlines with her first-hand account detailing just how extensive Democratic Pennsylvania Senate nominee John Fetterman’s deterioration post-stroke was, the cackling coven of ABC’s The View had their knives out for her. They suggested Burns broke journalistic ethics, it was no big deal that Fetterman couldn’t comprehend speech and mocked Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker (R) for supposedly having an impairment too.


Flaunting a stunning level of cognitive dissonance and hypocrisy, Haines would soon follow up by decrying a comment made by the “PR team” for the Republican in the race, Mehmet Oz, about Fetterman not eating vegetables. She made her point by reading the response from the Fetterman camp, “I know politics can be nasty, but even then I could never imagine ridiculing someone for their health challenges.”

Again, this came after Haines and the rest of the cast roared with laughter at the possibility that Walker had brain damage.

This wasn’t the first time The View defended the questionable mental capacities of a Democrat. Last month, they circled the wagons for President Biden after he called out for a member of Congress who had been deceased for nearly two months. They diagnosed Biden with a “brain fart” moment.

Mark Finkelstein whined that the folks on "Morning Joe" pivoted to criticizing Oz instead of continuing to further right-wing narratives, while also invoking the NBC interview:

It was a schizoid Morning Joe today. On the one hand, Joe Scarborough and others defended NBC reporter Dasha Burns against criticism she has received from the liberal media for her comments on her interview with Fetterman. During the interview, Fetterman relied on closed captioning to understand her questions. In a subsequent NBC Nightly News appearance, Burns noted, "in small talk before the interview, without captioning, it wasn't clear he was understanding our conversation."

But Morning Joe quickly pivoted to trashing Dr. Oz, Fetterman's Republican opponent in the US Senate race in Pennsylvania. The attack on Oz was capped by Mika Brzezinski saying "we'll put doctor in quotes for Dr. Oz." For the record, Oz received his undergraduate degree in biology magna cum laude from Harvard. He went on to obtain MD and MBA degrees from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and Penn's Wharton School.


Note: Scarborough & Co. deserve little credit for not denying the undeniable. Of course, Fetterman's incapacity is a bona fide issue for voters. If Fetterman needs closed captioning to understand people, he will be incapable of functioning in informal environments where, on the fly, consitutents, reporters, and others are seeking to interact with him.

Houck used an appearance on Fox News -- presumably earned through all the Doocy-fluffing he has done over the past couple years -- to defend the NBC interview:

Making his latest appearance early Friday/late Thursday on the Fox News Channel’s Fox News @ Night, NewsBusters Managing Editor Curtis Houck teamed with District Media Group’s Beverly Hallberg to take down the liberal media for attacking NBC’s Dasha Burns after she pressed Pennsylvania senatorial candidate John Fetterman on his cognitive struggles since he suffered a stroke in May.

Houck picked this random act of journalism in the liberal media as his media highlight of the week, explaining that in sitting “down with John Fetterman for an in-person interview show” after he had skated by with taped, remote interviews with friendly liberals at MSNBC in Lawrence O’Donnell and Stephanie Ruhle.

“[O]ther than in the fact that she didn’t press him on abortion. You know, she really pinned him down about his fitness, physically and mentally to be a senator from the great State of Pennsylvania,” he added, noting that a Burns interview with Republican Mehmet Oz would air Friday on NBC’s Today.

Unmentioned, of course, is how the right-wing media circled the wagons around Herschel Walker after his abortion scandal was exposed -- something the MRC defended.

Houck spent an Oct. 17 post, headlined "CLOWN SHOW," complaining that a Philadelphia newspaper endorsed Fetterman over Oz, despite the former being "mentally and physically incapacitated":

Major newspapers are prone to endorse Democrats. It’s almost as predictable as Joe Biden liking ice cream or Donald Trump posting on social media.

But one published Sunday in The Philadelphia Inquirer caught our eye, as while it wasn’t surprising that they endorsed the mentally and physically incapacitated Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) for Senate, but rather how they ironically claimed that it’s Fetterman’s opponent, Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz, who’s the “wholly unprepared” person to assume office.

The subhead was comical: “The Republican nominee, Mehmet Oz, is wholly unprepared to be the commonwealth’s U.S. senator.”


Only two paragraphs in the middle were spent on his stroke and, predictably, the paper dismissed concerns and argued it “should not be inherently disqualifying” as sitting Senate Democrats Ben Ray Lujan (NM) and Chris Van Hollen (MD) have recently suffered strokes.

“There is no reason Fetterman cannot serve effectively after his stroke. Fetterman said that one of the most significant challenges of his recovery involves auditory processing — a condition in which his comprehension of certain words and phrases is occasionally delayed,” they argued.

Adding that it only took him “a few seconds to ensure that he has understood a questioner correctly” and then a few “more to collect his thoughts and find the right words,” the left-wing rag insisted such a level of incapacity won’t keep him from “know[ing] what his values are and...communicating them.”

Houck huffed in an Oct. 20 post that one TV segment "wrapped on the Pennsylvania Senate race and ignored Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s (D-PA) mental incapacity."

Clay Waters played a bizarre round of whataboutism in an Oct. 21 post comparing Fetterman to ... Herschel Walker?

The New York Times drips with understanding when it comes to the health problems plaguing Pennsylvania Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman, but their sympathy turns to snideness when it comes to the dissociative identity disorder diagnosis of Georgia Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg’s Friday edition story on Walker, a football legend, appeared under this snide headline: “Walker Says He Has ‘Overcome’ Mental Illness, but It’s Not So Simple, Experts Say.”

Stolberg seemed to hint that Walker was using his mental illness as a convenient excuse.


The problem is that when the impaired Democrat Fetterman faced questions, the media, including the Times, circled the wagons in his defense. Some outlets even went after mainstream media reporters who dared question Fetterman’s fitness for office.

The same paper that pushes “Long COVID” and demands surgery for “transgender” teens to cure gender dysphoria has suddenly recovered its skepticism about medical disorders.

Waters didn't mention how his employer, along with the rest of the right-wing media, circled their wagons around Walker after he was credibly accused of paying for an abortion. (Bill D'Agostino similarly complained that "the media eagerly flooded the airwaves with the latest tidbits about Walker’s scandal, they have been incredibly protective of another embattled Senate candidate: John Fetterman, who’s running as a Democrat in Pennsylvania.")

Rich Noyes spent an Oct. 21 post noting that "Alone among the three broadcast morning shows, only ABC’s Good Morning America covered President Biden’s campaign appearance with Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman in Pennsylvania on Thursday, and correspondent Rachel Scott admitted the President is unpopular with voters and unwanted by most Democratic candidates," grumbling that "while ABC at least talked about the President’s problems, Scott neglected to mention Fetterman’s ongoing health problems which have put the race in peril for Democrats, and showed no clips of Fetterman speaking."

Houck returned to claim in an Oct. 25 post that CBS is trying to "pull Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) across the finish line" (you know, like how the MRC tried to pull Walker across the finish line):

Just as the liberal broadcast networks tried to keep former Gov. Charlie Crist’s (D-FL) campaign afloat, CBS Mornings did its best to pull Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) across the finish line in his close race against Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz. Thanks to chief campaign and election correspondent Robert Costa, CBS had one simple message for voters weighing Fetterman’s health in their vote: let it go.

Costa spent the second half of his piece on Fetterman’s health, leading with a clip of the mentally and physically limited Fetterman stammering his way through one of his rare stump speeches.


Costa added that “Fetterman’s use of a captioning device will be on display during the debate” and posed the question to passerby’s in State College, Pennsylvania this past weekend.

After one person said no one “should be shamed for using things that makes things more accessible” and another seemed indifferent, Costa brought in an expert from the left-wing Poynter and cited a CBS News poll to argue alleged talk about issues with Fetterman’s health need to end[.]

This was all setup before a debate between Fetterman and Oz, which the MRC exploited too.

Exploiting the debate

When Fetterman needed closed captioning during his debate to counter issues with auditory processing after his stroke -- an issue that usually resolves itself over time -- the MRC quickly pounced to bash Fetterman as severely mentally ill. Tober was first up, trying to establish the narrative that Fetterman's performance was "disastrous" and that the stroke has "incapacitated" him:

Hours after Pennsylvania Democrat Senate candidate’s disastrous debate performance Tuesday night, where he was unable to complete a coherent sentence, MSNBC’s The 11th Hour host Stephanie Ruhle sought to excuse Fetterman is clearly incapacitated by his recent stroke, and played whataboutism by directing attention toward Georgia Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker.

“Given how he performed recovering from his stroke, Michael, some Republicans are out there tonight saying that Fetterman is unfit, he should withdraw,” Ruhle said as if Republicans are the ones who are wrong in this situation.

Tober then complained that the folks on Ruhle's panel pointed out that Oz isn't from Pennsylvania.

Houck followed with an Oct. 26 post that emphasized Fetterman's "physical and mental incapacitation":

On Wednesday, ABC, CBS and NBC attempted to channel Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars during their morning news shows by telling viewers to move along and dismiss what they saw Tuesday as Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D-PA) showed severe cognitive impairment on a debate stage against Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz for Pennsylvania’s open Senate seat.

For a news media that so often has demanded we not normalize Donald Trump, they were hellbent on normalizing Fetterman’s inability to offer a string of coherent thoughts and required massive screens displaying the closed captioning.

Christy complained that CNN reported that Fetterman's condition is not permanent and that he did OK despite that, then mixed in a little whataboutism:

CNN senior political analyst joined CNN Newsroom host Erica Hill on Wednesday to recap John Fetterman’s Tuesday debate performance. Avlon tried to reassure viewers that Fetterman’s poor performance was just “a snapshot in time,” that he will recover from his stroke, and that he was “gutsy” to even show up, but also that party label matters. The last point being a complete 180 from Avlon’s commentary on GOP candidates.

Hill began by recalling, “I spoke with former Democratic Governor Ed Rendell and former Republican Congressman from Pennsylvania Charlie Dent. And what I was struck by, I asked the governor out of the gate, do you think that John Fetterman should have debated and he said, no.”

Acknowledging that many Democrats “are feeling that way,” Avlon disagreed and wanted to give Fetterman a participation trophy, “And I think you've got to give credit to Fetterman for showing up. Because it is a risky decision, it's a gutsy decision, knowing how debilitating the stroke was against the backdrop of him saying that doctors have assured him that this is something that can be recovered from.”

Fondacaro similarly played Herschel whataboutism while similarly whining about a TV show that wouldn't promote the right-wing anti-Fetterman narrative:

Two weeks ago, the cackling coven of ABC’s The View mocked Georgia Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker for how he talks and suggested he had brain damage. Earlier this week, they used the term “stroke” to malign Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis’s debate performance. But on Wednesday, following the Pennsylvania Senate debate, the cast decried criticism of Democratic candidate John Fetterman as “unempathetic” and accused Republican candidate Mehmet Oz of “bully[ing] a stroke victim.”

Graham pushed this narrative as well in his Oct. 26 podcast, grumbling that "the post-debate coverage lauded Fetterman's 'courage,' downplayed his disabilities (or made them a virtue)." Tober, meanwhile, did some servile stenography for his favorite Fox News host:

Nearly 24 hours since the end of the one and only Pennsylvania Senate debate between Republican Mehmet Oz and Democrat John Fetterman, Fox News host Tucker Carlson opened his popular primetime show Tucker Carlson Tonight by going after the leftist media for knowingly covering up the extent to which Fetterman is incapacitated. Other than NBC correspondent Dasha Burns, the entire leftist media establishment covered up or downplayed Fetterman's brain damage.

"It's the media who covered John Fetterman who should be the most ashamed. They've known the truth for months," Carlson opened by noting. "With only one exception, that would be NBC reporter Dasha Burns, the media lied to voters about it. We don't know anything about Dasha Burns, but she at least tried to be sort of honest," Carlson added.

By contrast, the MRC never criticized Carlson for selectively editing his interview with Kanye West -- which the MRC used to praise his right-wing values both before and after he tweeted out an anti-Semitic attack -- to take out the craziness and even more anti-Semitism.

Tober returned to whine in yet another Oct. 26 post:

On Wednesday night's edition of MSNBC's The Last Word, host Lawrence O'Donnell went into damage-control mode in the aftermath of Tuesday night's Pennsylvania Senate debate where Democrat candidate John Fetterman proved to everyone watching that he is incapacitated from the stroke he suffered last spring, and is unqualified to serve in the United States Senate. Knowing that, O'Donnell used the opening monologue of his show to compare Fetterman's illness to former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.


By tying FDR and Churchill to Fetterman, O'Donnell hopes to lead his viewers to believe that Fetterman is just as capable of performing his duties as Senator as FDR and Churchill were in leading their respective nations in World War II.

The problem is that FDR was stricken by Polio and unable to walk. That didn't affect his ability to speak or make important decisions. Whereas Fetterman is clearly mentally incapacitated.

Finkelstein huffed in an Oct. 28 post:

Poor Mika Brzezinski. With John Fetterman's campaign collapsing around Democrat ears in the wake of his disastrous debate performance, the Morning Joe co-host soldiered on Thursday.

Like a rescuer sifting through the rubble for signs of life after a building collapse, Brzezinski did her brave best on behalf of her fellow Democrat. Even so, she strained credulity well beyond the breaking point with this line:
"Given that he did have a stroke, some might be surprised, [by] how well he did."
Mika must travel in some seriously strange circles if she knows people who thought Fetterman did surprisingly well. Talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations!

Finkelstein then penned another post complaining that Brzezinski repeated Fetterman's claim that “By January I will be much much better, but Oz will still be a fraud,” which quickly devolved into fearmongering about Fetterman's condition:

As per Johns Hopkins Health [emphasis added throughout]:
The first three months after a stroke are the most important for recovery and when patients will see the most improvement.
Fetterman's stroke was five months ago.

As Johns Hopkins further notes [emphasis added]:
"The most common long-term effects of stroke include aphasia, the medical term used to describe difficulties with language use. It is the most common long-term effect of strokes. Patients may struggle to find the right words, or have difficulty forming words or making themselves understood. They may also have problems understanding what people are saying, or have difficulty reading."
Anyone who watched the debate saw a textbook example.

Finally, Johns Hopkins also notes:
"It is very difficult to estimate how long a patient will take to recover from a stroke, which symptoms they will experience, and if those symptoms will resolve themselves over time or be permanently disabling."
So for Fetterman to boast that he will be "much, much better by January" is wishful thinking at best. Made even more questionable by his refusal to release his medical records. It could be that what we saw in the debate from Fetterman is basically what we'll get going forward.

Finkelstein is not a medical doctor -- he's just some guy who did an internet search.

Jeffrey Lord spent his Oct. 29 column spinning a conspiracy theory about Fetterman under the ridiculous headline "What Did the Media Know and When Did They Know It?," in which he declared that "The reason for the collective shock at Fetterman’s performance - by “panicked Democrats” and others - is that once the fact of Fetterman’s stroke was known, the media tried to run cover on the subject of Fetterman’s real condition as a result":

Instead of investigating and doing its due diligence on what was really going on with the stricken candidate and reporting it to Pennsylvania voters and the rest of the nation, the media reflex was to run cover for Fetterman. And when Fetterman finally agreed to that solitary debate with Oz, the intake of breath by debate-watchers in and out of the media was real. Sheer shock at hand. And for one reason and one reason only.

In not digging into Fetterman’s condition, and attacking NBC’s Dasha Burns for simply and objectively reporting what she observed, the media was signaling it was there not to cover Fetterman but to protect him - to cover for him.

Which is to say, yet another self-inflicted blow to liberal media has been had.

That's rich coming from a guy who has suffered numerous self-inflicted blows by being such a creepily obsequious kneejerk Trump defender.

Oprah endorsement

The weekend before the election, the MRC attacked Fetterman again, but for more prosaic reasons -- in this case, getting an endorsement from Oprah Winfrey. Christy spent a Nov. 4 post insisting that Oprah's endorsement meant nothing, even though it was a clear rebuke of Oz, whose TV career was launched by her:

Of all the stories that could’ve led off Friday’s CNN This Morning, the one that the cast settled on was Oprah Winfrey endorsing John Fetterman in Pennsylvania’s Senate race with co-host Don Lemon desperately trying to suggest it all mattered.

Lemon kicked things off by hyping “Oprah Winfrey, Oprah, snubbing the man she turned into a household name. Endorsing John Fetterman over Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania's very, very tight Senate race.”

After an unrelated clip of former President Trump in Iowa, Lemon continued trying to make the Oprah-Fetterman endorsement a big deal, “Let's start now, Jessica Dean live from Montgomery County, just outside of Philadelphia. So good morning to you. It's interesting because Oprah helped to make Dr. Oz famous but now she's endorsing his opponent, John Fetterman. Do you think it's going to swing any votes?”

Fondacaro kicked off his daily two minutes hate of "The View" by only alluding to Oprah's endorsement while bashing the show's interview of Fetterman for not being as hateful as he would be:

The Friday edition of ABC’s The View brought with it one of the more highly anticipated interviews for the show, Pennsylvania Lt. Governor and Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman. If you predicted it would be a cakewalk for him, you’d be correct. They refused to grill him pretty much on anything and instead repeatedly teed him up to go after critics and his Republican opponent, Dr. Mehmet Oz, and downplayed his obviously strained health condition.

Wasting her first question asking about his endorsement from Oprah, co-host Joy Behar didn’t push for him to release his medical records but rather for him just to explain what his doctors told him:


Bringing things back to the debate last week, Hostin suggested “it was an incredibly courageous and brave thing for you to show what healing from a stroke looks like. That's incredibly brave.” She then doubled down on her past assertion that Oz was a “bully” during the debate.

“Does any of this surprise you? A man with a Harvard master's degree, do you think the people of Pennsylvania saw what they needed to see from you to gain their vote?” she teed him up.

Hostin has repeatedly tried to portray Oz as a quack, he too has a degree from Harvard, and while she touts Fetterman’s, he did not receive his post-stroke.

Houck brought the conversation back to deflecting from Oprah's endorsement:

Friday on the “big three” network morning shows from ABC, CBS, and NBC, the trio eagerly touted Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement of handicapped Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) over her longtime colleague and Fetterman’s GOP challenger, Dr. Mehmet Oz.


NBC’s Today went the lightest on the midterms, but heaviest on Oprah Winfrey. Co-host Savannah Guthrie teased “a surprise endorsement from Oprah in one of the nation's closest races,” with co-host Craig Melvin adding a few minutes later that it was “a major endorsement.”

Saturday Today co-anchor Peter Alexander also called it “a surprise endorsement,” noting she “gave Oz his start in TV nearly 20 years before the heart surgeon launched his own talk show in 2009.”

“The Oz campaign responding overnight, writing, ‘Dr. Oz loves Oprah and respects the fact that they have different politics. He believes we need more balance and less extremism in Washington,’” he added.

ABC’s Good Morning America had correspondent Eva Pilgrim briefly mention it during a report on the Pennsylvania Senate race: “And overnight, Oprah, who gave Dr. Oz his start in TV and worked with him for years, endorsing his opponent, Fetterman. Now, Fetterman was previously ahead in the polls here, but we have seen that lead diminish as we head towards election day.”

CBS chief campaign and election correspondent Robert Costa touted it on CBS Mornings as one of the “surprises in the works” and “big news.” With Winfrey’s best friend and Democratic donor Gayle King off, it was left up to her co-hosts to marvel. Co-host Tony Dokoupil interjected with a “wow” while co-host Nate Burleson had an “mmmm.”

That's a lot of complaining about something that supposedly doesn't matter.

And that, four days before the election, was pretty much the last anti-Fetterman gasp for the MRC. It didn't attack Fetterman or his stroke any more before election day -- which suggests that that it may have decided that its stroke obsession may not have worked or even backfired, not unreasonable give that Fetterman defeated Oz. It also suggests that, despite the MRC's kneejerk protestations to the contrary, Oprah's endorsement may have mattered after all -- enough to prematurely stop its partisan attack machine.

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