MARGARET G. WARNER: Good morning, everyone. I'm Margaret Warner. Welcome to day two of the Council's Edward R. Murrow 60th anniversary fellowship celebration.
I have the honor of serving on the fellowship selection committee this year, and we're delighted that so many of you, including so many former fellows, are joining us for this special event to celebrate both the work of the last 60 years, but also point the way forward and how we do sustain vital international coverage in the digital age.
We have three panels wrestling with that issue today from various points of view, and we hope you can stay for all of them, including our luncheon session with several network presidents.
We're also pleased that today Edward R. Murrow's son Casey is with us.
Casey, are you here? Well, good to have you. Good to have you.
Also, as Richard said last night, there's a special thanks due to the Ford Foundation. Ford this year generously provided funding, both to sustain the fellowship going forward and to support this event. And Time Warner responded to Ford's $50,000 challenge grant, to make this conference possible, and we're also most grateful to their support.
Now, on a personal note, I'd like to add that the Ford Foundation is one of the three funders for the NewsHour's overseas reporting unit, which I -- which I head. And so I know firsthand Ford's commitment to sustaining international coverage. And so it's a special pleasure to ask Calvin Sims, who's program officer at the Ford Foundation, and a former Murrow fellow himself from his days at the New York Times, to say a few words before we begin. Calvin. (Applause.)
CALVIN SIMS (program officer, Ford Foundation): Thank you, Margaret. I'm sort of wearing two hats this morning: one, as a funder of media projects to improve the quality of journalism through Ford, and two, as a Murrow fellow. And so when Camille (sp) called the Ford Foundation to inquire as to whether or not we'd be interested in sponsoring something like this Murrow Fellowship, it seemed a no-brainer on both fronts.
We at Ford provide funding for a variety of efforts to improve the quality of foreign reporting abroad, because we believe that good foreign policy can only start with good information about foreign affairs.
For me, I began my Murrow Fellowship here at the Council eight years ago. It was right in the aftermath of 9/11. I had been a correspondent for The New York Times in South America. And then I was in Japan. And then I was in Southeast Asia and Indonesia.
It had been a particularly difficult two years in Indonesia. And I was in need of some sort of respite to kind of gauge all that had happened. And I applied for this fellowship and got it. I arrived here on September 10th from Jakarta. And then the next day, the world changed.
There was a moment when I decided I wanted to run down to 43rd Street, on September 11th, and be a part of that reporting in the aftermath. But I realized that if I went to 43rd Street, I could never complete the Murrow Fellow, because they would never let me go. I would have been tied to The Times for at least the next year or so.
So I decided to sit that part out and then had, I guess, some reservations as to whether or not -- I was not allowed to -- eliminated myself from participating in one of the greatest news stories of our time.
But being a Murrow fellow here under Les Gelb; he refocused all of the work that the fellows were doing on 9/11 and the impact. And so when I was in Indonesia, I had spent a lot of time looking at the rise of radical Islam in what had been the world's largest and most liberal population of Muslims.
And so during my year here, I was able to spend that time away from deadlines, looking at whether or not Islam was compatible with democracy, spending some time back in Indonesia without deadlines, meeting with people like Abu Bakar Bashir, the head of the -- spiritual leader of the head of the group that did the Bali bombings. And I wrote a policy paper here at the council.
When I returned to The Times, we were still looking at this mix between democracy and Islam. And I was able to turn that policy paper here at the -- from the Council on Foreign Relations into a documentary that appeared on PBS, which looked at the rise of radical Islam and how it was not going to take over Indonesia. And even though we continue to see bombings there, it is now a viable democracy.
So on a personal note, I'm very grateful for the time that I was able to spend here at the council, the time that I was able to spend with other fellows and to have this open exchange that takes place here between fellows.
A journalist rarely has the time to engage in an exchange of openness with fellows from the CIA or from the military. And that's what this place provides. It's a sanctuary for that kind of exchange.
So Ford is very pleased to be a sponsor of this fellowship. And I hope that you will help us meet our challenge, in making the Murrow Fellowship viable for the future.
Thank you. (Applause.)
WARNER: Thank you, Calvin, so much.
I'm actually going to sit down.
So without further ado, let's get on to our topic. And this morning, we're talking about the challenges of reporting from closed societies. Last night, we heard about some of the dangers of reporting overseas. But there are particular challenges from closed societies. And we're going to talk among ourselves for about a half hour and then open it up to your questions.
A reminder to our audience here -- I'm sure you need no reminder -- to turn off your cellphones and BlackBerrys and don't just put them on vibrate, because it will interfere with the soundsystem. This meeting is on the record. It's being viewed on a live webcast by members around the country and the world.
Now to our panel. We have a stellar cast, really: four former Murrow fellows, all with deep experience in reporting from closed societies, where -- I think my definition, our definition would be, where the governments see the free flow of information as some sort of a threat and seek to choke it off. And it takes many forms, as we know. And so I'll start over to my left.
Dan Southerland, our oldest Murrow fellow here, from 1991 -- (laughter) -- is -- most seasoned Murrow fellow. (Laughs.) He is now vice president and executive editor of Radio Free Asia, where he basically runs all their editorial operations throughout Asia, including in two quite closed societies -- two at least: China and North Korea. I don't know what you're doing in Myanmar as well. He spent years as The Washington Post's -- as a foreign correspondent, particularly as bureau chief in Beijing at the time of the Tiananmen Square uprising in June of 1989.
David Remnick, who followed, I think, Dan Southerland as a Murrow fellow in '91/'92, is now editor of The New Yorker magazine. He also spent years at The Washington Post, with four years as its Moscow correspondent, beginning in '88, covering the -- essentially the collapse of the Soviet Union, and, as he likes to say, from -- as experienced by its peasants as well as its politicians. He wrote an incredible book called "Lenin's Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire," written while he was a Murrow fellow here, and it won the Pulitzer Prize in '94.
Caryle Murphy, who was a Murrow fellow in '94/'95, is now an independent journalist living and working in Saudi Arabia, another closed society. Until 2006, she too was a long-time correspondent for The Washington Post. I wonder what we're learning here. (Laughter.) Surveying --
MR. : None of us can keep a job. (Laughs.)
WARNER: Or, we're -- Washington Post is cutting back on foreign correspondents a lot. (Chuckles.) But in both southern Africa -- and Ben (sp) is the paper's Cairo bureau chief, responsible for covering the Arab world.
And Caryle, as I'm sure most of you remember, was famously in Kuwait when Saddam Hussein's forces invaded that country, and she remained as really ultimately the only Western journalist there, continuing to report, really, at considerable risk to herself, hiding out in a basement to do so, to hide out from Iraqi troops.
And Elizabeth Rubin, who is just departing as our Murrow fellow. She's a contributing writer at The New York Times Magazine. And for -- she's been working as a foreign correspondent in a lot of these difficult-to-report-from places. I'll name a few: Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Russia. And here come the easy ones: the Caucasus, Middle East, Africa, and the Balkans -- (laughs) -- where at least they like to talk. (Laughter.) Her stories have also appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, The New Republic and The New Yorker.
So to get a flavor of what it's like reporting from closed societies, I first asked each of our panelists to just give us a brief but -- and insightful anecdote about one time in their career where it was really hard to get the true story. And I'm going to start with Elizabeth.
ELIZABETH RUBIN: Okay. Thank you.
Well, this was a story that took place in Pakistan just after 9/11. It was in January 2002. And I don't know if you remember, but Musharraf gave a very powerful and persuasive speech that in fact he was going to be with the United States and he was going to shut down all the Islamic political parties who were involved in jihad in Kashmir and Afghanistan, everywhere. And he told his -- the country, you know, to the Pakistanis as well.
And so as journalists, it was natural that we were going to go find out if this is true. And Azad Kashmir is the Pakistani part of Kashmir, and the only way you can really go there is with the military. And they do this funny thing on the paper where it says you have three days there. But what it really means is that you can stay in a hotel for three days and they'll take you out for one hour to the front line to see the Indians on the other side with their guns, and they'll take you to one refugee camp, where you can speak to one family.
I thought this was kind of absurd, and there was no way I was going to get a story. So I tried to persuade them that we wanted to do something on the life of the people there, and I was going to need to go out. They said: Well, we'll see. Maybe you could do that.
So I went to the hotel, and I couldn't do that. So I had another fixer, other than one that I was appointed, and we went out at night. And we went out -- we knew we were followed, and so we went into a mall, and then we went to the back of the mall and got in a rickshaw and went up into the mountains and met these jihadis from Kashmir and various other people who were going around recruiting people with the help of the Pakistani intelligence. And in fact the Pakistani intelligence had been the founder of one of these parties.
So it was, you know, exactly what we needed. I think we stayed about five hours. I arrived back at the hotel at midnight, and there was about seven guys in white, you know, hats standing outside, looking very angry.
And so they say, you know, how worried they were; where have I been, you know. And I'm, like, how did you know I wasn't here? What are you doing here? Who are you?
Go to your room.
So I went to my room. (Laughter.) And the next day I was told not to come out of my room. (Laughter.) And I -- so I start calling, you know, the generals and everybody. What's going on? I didn't do anything wrong.
And they said: You're under house arrest. You can't leave.
And so I stay there, and I'm getting really antsy. I hate being confined. So I said: Couldn't I just go out and have a little snack or something in town?
So we go out to do that, and I kind of go back to the same place. And -- at which point -- that was probably not the smartest thing to do -- there's a knock on the door about three or four hours later, and the captain who was in charge of me was there and basically said, you know, to the person who answered the door, if they don't leave within the half an hour, everyone's going to be arrested.
So we left. At which point the story of my -- who I worked for and what I did started to get really big -- I worked for the CIA; I had tied the sheets together of my bed and climbed out the third-story window; you know, I was clearly a trained militant. (Laughs.) (Some guide ?). And this was told to me by the Pakistani general, you know, head of the army himself.
I said, look at me, do I look like I could jump out of a window? I'm not sure, maybe.
But what ended up happening is quite serious. My translator who was without protection -- he was a Kashmiri from India -- and very much wanted to do this story because he wanted to get what had happened to him out. He dissapeared. All of the people I spoke to were arrested and put in prison.
And I started to get everybody from the embassy to the generals to try to find out where this translator was. He had been stopped on the road and put in a basement and basically tortured for two weeks. And, you know, you kind of wonder, was the story -- was it worth it?
One of the guys was in prison for either six months or a year just for meeting with me. And this was not the first time -- you know -- that it happened.
But in the end, I think it probably is worth it. And a lot of these people knew what they were risking -- and they had been risking their lives anyway for everything that they've done and fought for.
But it happens quite often that we rely on people and work with people and, you know, it can seem, like right now -- some of it's very funny. But it wasn't very funny for all of the people involved in this story. And I often wonder, you know, how do you know when it's worth it to risk these people's lives. And it's an impossible question to answer.
WARNER: But one I hope we'll get to.
Dan Southerland, tell us what it was like, the immediate aftermath -- during and the aftermath and the Tiananmen uprising when the Chinese authorities clamped down in a major way.
DAN SOUTHERLAND: Well, the first part was kind of interrippled -- the demonstrations, the protests, leadnig up to the crackdown. That was just -- I had to admit it -- that was just very exciting. And then all of a sudden the tanks came in.
I came up with a brilliant solution for saving my fixers. I would hire Chinese speaking Americans. They would not be clobbered as badly -- or they wouldn't be arrested. I figured I had them out there -- immediately things began to go wrong.
My guy on Tiananmen Square was there at 2 a.m. as the tanks moved in. And somebody put a gun to his head, knocked him down, started kicking him. Four guys jumped on him, threw him in a jeep-like vehicle, unmarked vehicle -- obviously state security people.
Some of the civilians on the square and students tried to rush the vehicle. They started firing their pistols outside the vehicle -- outside.
He had a hood put over his head in some kind of compound. At one point he was transferred to something that looked like a barber shop, with lots of Chinese coming in and talking about secret meetings. And he could understand Chinese; that's why I chose him. He thought he was going to be shot. Eventually they drove him to the outskirts of Beijing and dumped him, bruised but not dead. And his last thought on that was, "What if I had been Chinese? How would they have treated me?"
Listening to the accounts yesterday and just now, I really realize I've sort of, over the years, become obsessed with this issue of the fixers and how to protect people. And that was certainly my concern at the time. And I inadvertently got one guy into trouble as this went on. The crackdown came, and I was trying to get into the hospital to see how many people had died; a hospital not too far from Tiananmen Square. And I get there and the whole mood in the city had changed from openness to people not talking. My sources weren't talking.
This doctor comes out of the hospital, and the crowd -- I don't know who they were, but they started saying, "Don't let the foreigner in." You know, they knew there were bodies in there. And this guy very bravely stepped up and said, "I'll take you in." And we walk into this makeshift morgue, a cement floor, and there are 20 bodies, bullet-ridden bodies. They weren't students, by the way. They were obviously older citizens of Beijing. They weren't young kids, which most of the people who died were not students. They were people who were trying to stop the tanks and so forth.
And I got that information and got out of there, and then I later found out this doctor had been punished or disciplined. And I had a brief conversation with him on the phone, but I cut off the conversation because I thought, "Anything I say on this telephone is going to be recorded and we're going to be in more trouble."
And it's a minor example, but it was the kind of thing in China where they normally would not do what they did to you. They're, I think, smarter than that. But it's still an example of how you live with this all the time. You know, "Am I going to get this guy into trouble?" And I actually broke relations with my best Chinese friend as a result. I didn't catch it, but the Chinese caught it and they said, "You're being followed every time you meet this guy." And I'm glad I did that. I mean, he wasn't giving me high-level information. You know, he was giving me kind of a flavor of what the life is like there.
So let's fast-forward to today. What's happening today?
WARNER: Well, let me first --
SOUTHERLAND: We can do that later. Okay.
WARNER: Let's do that later.
SOUTHERLAND: But --
WARNER: Caryle, now, you were under this challenge of trying to -- you started in Kuwait. You wanted to report. You even had to sneak your stories out. But how did you actually get the information you needed to give a flavor of what life was like as the Iraqis came in?
CARYLE M. MURPHY: Well, initially -- yeah. This is an old story; it's almost 20 years ago. But I think it really highlights how today it's much harder to have a closed society. Believe it or not, when I was in Kuwait, when Saddam's forces came in, there was no Internet to speak of and there were no cell phones to speak of. And none of us today would go out -- try to do what we do without those tools.
Anyway, I initially stayed in the hotel for the first week. And then Iraqi officials were moving in, so I moved in with American engineers across the street from the hotel in their apartment. And the second day, the Iraqis cut the telex in the hotel. That's how I filed, by telex. I'm sure there are people here who don't even know what that means. (Laughter.)
So I had no phone, I had no Internet, no telex, as of the second day. So I was desperately searching for some way to get this information out. And I met a guy in an elevator. He was obviously Kuwaiti. And I said, "I'm a Washington Post reporter. I need a telephone." He said, "Meet me here tomorrow at this same time and I'll hook you up with someone with a phone."
So I went back the next day and he brought with him somebody who was working with the Kuwaiti resistance, and they had stashed in a house on the outer suburbs a satellite telephone that had been smuggled in from Saudi Arabia, hidden in this empty house. The satellite telephone was almost as big as this. (Laughter.) It weighed at least 100 pounds. You had to open it up, set up the satellite, then dial the number. But at least it was communication.
So he said, "Look, it's better for you to stay with us and our family so I don't have to keep transporting you back and forth in the city." So I went -- I made my second movement. I went to stay with this Kuwaiti family. And because they were connected to the resistance, the two main guys leading this faction of the resistance would come and tell me what had been happening that day.
One of them was the former top general in the Kuwaiti army, and he's still alive today. The other guy was the head of the police. He had been in (Qan ?) the day of the invasion. He came back to Saudi Arabia -- (laughter) -- really?
DAVID J. REMNICK: As one is. (Laughter.)
WARNER: (Inaudible) -- vulnerable.
MURPHY: He dressed like a Bedouin and he snuck across the border from Saudi to Kuwait. And this is a very sad story, because he got captured by the Iraqis and has never been heard from since.
So I did send -- before I met the Kuwaiti resistance, I did send a story written long-hand out with a friend who was leaving, and she faxed it to The Washington Post.
Another time there was a Dutch radio reporter there. She and I went to the Swedish embassy and we threw a package over the wall -- (laughter) -- we called them ahead of time and said, "We're going to do this" -- and asked them to please transmit this information. I think they did -- I can't remember now, but I think they did transmit something to the Post.
But it was the satellite telephone with the Kuwaiti resistance that allowed me to get out my stories. And, you know, communications have changed so much. I mean, it's an obvious point that, you know, closed society -- I mean, I'm working in Saudi now, and I'm not the only one. I'm a freelancer. There's another one who's freelance. She's American. The AP has just opened a bureau there. AFP now has an American bureau chief.
So I think the Saudis have decided, "We're going to get a better deal and better, fairer stories if we let them come and stay here and, you know, spend time and meet people." So it's their way of -- I mean, it's still not easy to get information in Saudi. It's still very much a closed society. But it's not as closed as it used to be. And it's because they realized, you know, everybody there, especially young people, they're on Facebook. They're Twittering. Especially women use the Internet, because they're so restricted in their physical movements.
I'll stop there.
WARNER: Just to complete this mosaic, just giving us this patchwork flavor, David, your experiences in the Soviet Union. Now, when you went there, it was after Gorbachev had famously announced this era of glasnost. But it still must have been a challenge.
REMNICK: Well, this is why I feel like an impostor on this stage. I was sent to a story where the cork was just about out of the bottle, so much so that I can tell you that one of the earliest stories I did -- I was invited to the KGB headquarters, to Lubyanka, where very few had been -- or had been with the capacity to leave. (Laughter.) And I was there to cover the Miss KGB contest. (Laughter.) Now, I wasn't born yesterday. (Laughter.) I thought that would get some decent play. And so did they, obviously.
You know, I was there from a period from the very beginning of 1988 to literally the flag going down over the Kremlin. It wasn't my fault. (Laughter.) But this was a period where people -- I could have sat on my stoop in front of my -- you know, I lived in a building that looked like Co-op City in the Bronx -- and I could have just answered the mail and interviewed people passing by and gotten a greater picture of Russian life than had been permitted for the previous 70 years, to some degree.
I mean, people wanted to speak, so much so that at the end of my time in early August of 1991, I went to interview Alexander Yakovlev, who had been Gorbachev's kind of better angel in the Politburo, and I said, you know, "What's" -- a really insightful question -- "What's happening?" And he said, "Well, there will be a KGB-led coup with the participation of the army" and, you know, the kind of revanchist pro-communist side of things.
And I wrote this down and published it in the newspaper and promptly left the country, because my time was up. And as I turned on the TV when I finally got back to New York at midnight, there were tanks going by my apartment building. So sometimes the story is right in front of your face.
That said, and even with the development of Twitter and the Internet and e-mail and all the incredible means of communication, a government's capacity to cover up and to lie is still based on the foundation of how many bodies they're willing to fit in a trench. So the Putin government is immensely more clever in the way it controls information. It has little safety valves. There's a newspaper here that's kind of free. There's a radio station that's kind of free. But television, of course, which is what everybody watches, is completely unfree.
And in order to make sure that everybody gets the message, every once in a while there's a body -- not like in 1937, not like in the '50s; just once in a while. And that's enough. And there is the terrible conclusion that one draws that the amount of truth gathered in a society like that, which is semi-this, semi-that, is built upon the sheer bravery of people being able to do what these three people have done in their careers, and I have not. So, you know -- and I mean that really sincerely.
WARNER: Well, what -- you're all reporting from closed societies. Particularly if you're living there, being based there, how do you know what the red lines are? And to what degree should an American reporter observe those red lines, either to preserve their access or their visa or the lives of those who help them? I mean, is this case by case, or do you have a ground rule?
SOUTHERLAND: I think in China you have shifting lines, you know, particularly as regards the domestic media, the local reporters, you know, who have been aggressively pursuing investigative stories but getting blocked.
I think there's an element of keeping people uncertain. You know, sometimes you're surprised that you can get somewhere undetected, and other times you get lots of trouble from local officials. So in China it's partly what's happening in Beijing, where it's going to be more open, and in the countryside, which I feel is underreported, because it's difficult.
The other thing they've done in China is they've outsourced the violence to -- basically the local officials will have a gang that they work with who will rough up reporters, including some foreign reporters occasionally.
WARNER: That happens in Russia as well.
REMNICK: Yeah, but foreigners have it easier.
SOUTHERLAND: I would agree.
REMNICK: I would say that there are certain subjects that you could count on one hand that you would end up in the trench I mentioned for. One of them is Putin's money; anything to do with the flow of real favors, real money. Money is the subject in Russia now. Nobody gives a damn about political gossip and all the stuff that made the communists crazy in the earlier time. It's all about business secrets. And the ultimate weapon is used.
WARNER: Whereas in China, the red lines, at least for the local reporters, are Tiananmen, Taiwan -- the three Ts. What's the third?
SOUTHERLAND: The three Ts -- Tibet --
WARNER: Tibet. Tibet, absolutely.
MURPHY: I mean, I haven't lived in Iran, and it's very hard now for Americans to report -- I mean, to live in Iran. And so you're always worried about the extent of your visa, because usually they give you 10 days and then you try to get it extended.
I went and did the red line, which was to do something about the supreme leader. But I told everybody that's what I was doing. I told all the red-line guards that's what I was going to do. And they laughed and thought, "No, she can't possibly be doing that." And actually it was one of those, again, situations where, you know, my fixer and all the fixers in Iran are registered with the Ministry of Culture. So they have to report back everything you're doing. And they'll say to you, "If there are people that you want to see that you don't want them to know about, do it with somebody else." So that makes things clear.
Again, in this particular instance, my translator, who was an anthropologist and a professor -- this was around the time when Halle Espandiare (ph) and Kiyan Tachbak (sp), you may remember, were arrested, and he disappeared. And again, it was a situation we didn't know. Was it because we were working on the supreme leader? Why did he disappear? I couldn't get any information. And this went on for eight months. This was a precursor of what's going on now, in a way.
In Iran, I would say it's very hard to know what's going to tip them or tip -- I mean, we now -- we can see that all of the reformers are on trial now. So it's clear what's going on now. But up until this point, you just never knew. Was it because you wrote about women or because you wrote about sex or because you wrote about the money? As David was saying, that is a big deal. If you talk about the clerics and their money, that's a problem.
But I would say Iran is one of those places where the red lines are very, very unclear. And, you know, he ended up in what was called white torture -- a white cell wearing white clothes. They gave him yogurt and rice and kept the lights on for 24 hours a day and, you know, created a file of thousands and thousands of pages. And at the end they said, "Bebakshi (ph)," which means, "Sorry, we made a mistake." And, you know, his life was ruined.
And it was -- we still don't know. Was it about the supreme leader? Was it that they thought he was involved in this velvet revolution, which the supreme leader is obsessed about? And it's almost a self-fulfilling prophecy, because today, you know, he sees everybody as being involved in this velvet revolution that was in his imagination, to some extent. Anyway, so I think it's very hard in some places, particularly Iran, to know where that red line is.
WARNER: Now, John Burns of The New York Times, I think in a speech, was quite critical of some western reporters in Iraq before the Iraq war began, saying that --
REMNICK: He was critical of CNN.
WARNER: -- (we ?) didn't want -- we're so eager to maintain access and stature and visa that they did not report on what John Burns felt were right in front of their very eyes, the atrocities from oppression of that regime.
Is that a tension that exists when you're posted somewhere and you're getting out incredibly revealing and important stories, but you know that if you went over this line or this line, you would get kicked out?
REMNICK: Why report? Why go? I couldn't agree with John Burns more. And one could easily say that The New Yorker -- because I'm an editor, I have the luxury that a newspaper does not. A newspaper has a permanent presence. Increasingly so, there are fewer of them, but these permanent presences are very important.
I'd rather see somebody get chucked out of a country once in a while than to cut these kind of deals, which are disgusting.
MURPHY: Yeah, because sooner or later --
REMNICK: What's the point?
MURPHY: -- they get over it, you know.
RUBIN: That's right.
MURPHY: And they let your correspondent come back. So I think it is definitely what you find out. Especially if it's important, involving human rights abuses, you've definitely got to report it. You don't have to stay there and report it, but write it outside. But it should be done, yeah.
WARNER: So let's go to the question that Caryle put on the table, though. Now we have this proliferation of social media and just communication. And Dan, I mean, we saw it famously in Iraq, where mainstream media began using some of the material coming over these new channels as sources of news. To what degree, for instance, when you're covering Asia, is that part of now your incoming? And what special -- doesn't it represent special challenges in terms of understanding especially the credibility and validity of it?
SOUTHERLAND: Yeah, I just took a look at the cell phone numbers in China. It's 650 -- and they can measure this -- 650 million. Eighty-two percent of households have some kind of device. We're getting -- I wouldn't say we're flooded with videos and photos, but we're getting a stream, a pretty steady stream, from citizen journalists. And you look at these videos and there's a picture, let's say, of some people in a land dispute overturning a police car, and it's kind of shaky. But, you know, you can document what it is and you know there's a fight going on there, so you can be pretty sure it's authentic.
Then you see kind of a forest of cell phones being held up, taking pictures of all kinds, all angles. And you say, "My gosh, I mean, everybody is out there." I was just looking at some film that my wife video'd, my wife did at Tiananmen. And there's a sea of Chinese out in these pictures. Obviously there were a million people in the streets. I don't see anybody with a camera. It was too expensive then, 20 years ago.
It's incredible. I mean, everybody -- and we're kind of really coping with this by adding Web editors to evaluate. I mean, one day I was working on a weekend and we had an incident where a couple were filmed sitting on a roof about to commit suicide or something because their house was going to be demolished, or they were threatening. And two reporters are telling me that the video was from different places. I finally managed to get some guy in Hong Kong that said, "No, it is this province, you know. I can document it." But it's very tricky, because if you get stuck -- for example, if the security services try to plant a false video, that's a danger.
WARNER: Have you had that experience?
SOUTHERLAND: I haven't that I know of. We've so far not been burned. I think we had one fake picture that we had to deal with. That's not bad, considering it didn't cause great damage.
The other tricky thing is what if they go after the person sending the stuff out? And also it's a very short window before the Internet police and everybody else catch up with these guys. So I've got a guy in Hong Kong who just sits there working the phones, you know, trying to get stuff. But it's very, very hard to deal with. It's not enough -- you need good editors to back up, you know, to evaluate. This is why I guess it took me a couple of decades, but I actually appreciate editors, now that I am one. (Laughter.)
WARNER: Now that you are one.
REMNICK: I know the feeling. (Laughter.)
WARNER: Elizabeth, what are your thoughts on this? I mean --
RUBIN: Well, I think no correspondent worth his or her salt has ever had the feeling of being in a big country, a big, complicated, foreign country -- vaguely knowing the language, not knowing the language at all, depending on a driver-translator -- and not feeling like this whole enterprise is vaguely preposterous, which is to say I'm going to understand Afghanistan and write a story or a narrative or show pictures, and this is going to give a deep understanding to the vaguely inattentive American audience -- (laughter) -- having a beer at home.
So I think it's the height of vanity -- and I've been guilty of this vanity. I remember when the first citizen journalism came up, and Jim Fallows wrote about it, I was really dismissive of it. First of all, you didn't know technologically what that could mean. It felt all so fuzzy and warm and vaguely unrigorous. In fact, there are forms of citizen journalism that are incredibly valuable.
And yet, and yet, a lot of cell-phone pictures on the streets of Iran give you one thing and they don't give you a whole lot else. I'm not sure what the world needs more of, all the time or more images -- unanalyzed, unsorted through. You know, there's a lot of that. And there's no special place in heaven, God knows, for editors as such, any more than there are for writers as such.
But the capacity to also forget this feeling that it's a prosperous enterprise and to learn elements of professionalism and languages and understanding of that culture -- and, after all, as a reporter, what you are is a bridge, because if you actually have the Afghan write that story, he or she is going to have a hard time communicating in the proper language and the frame of reference and all the rest.
So there really is a huge role, you know, for people like this running around, as absurd as it is, and doing something that somebody with a cell phone or Twitter is not equipped to do. There is something to be said for professionalism and learning your craft in about a thousand different ways, just as there is for a doctor. I can fix certain bruises on my hand. I cannot give myself heart surgery. Actually knowing something in a craft, there is something to know. It's not just being a seal and bouncing a ball on your nose.
WARNER: And we're going to go to questions from the audience.
Caryle, I just wanted to ask, you said you thought that actually it's getting increasingly difficult for societies -- or governments to keep their societies closed. Do you think, living now in Saudi Arabia, that the slightly greater openness that the Saudis are showing now has also a blow-back to Saudi audiences, or are they able to keep this kind of wall where you may be writing for American audiences, but --
MURPHY: They read my stories on the Web.
WARNER: So you think it is.
MURPHY: You know, "Who do you work for?" "I work for ABCD." And they go to the website, you know, and watch for my story.
But one thing I also do is I send a copy of my story, after it's been published, to everybody I quoted, including the government, because, you know, one of the things that I think that you have to get over in many of these societies is that "Oh, she's got a hidden agenda. She's not just a journalist. Maybe she's working for some intelligence agency." So the way I fight that is to be as open as possible, and so I always remember to send a copy of the story, after it's published, to whatever person helped me interact with the government.
And I also tell the government sometimes when I think I'm going to do a sensitive story. So I will get a warning if I am going to have problems, like I decided to do a trip to the eastern province to talk to Shi'ites and how they're feeling these days. So I just mentioned to the spokesman from the Ministry of Interior that I was planning to do this. I didn't tell them when I was going. But I said, "I'm planning to do this." He didn't say anything. And then when I came back, I went to see him. I said, "Well, this is what people are saying. What's your response?"
And I think that they appreciate the fact that you give them an opportunity to comment. So that's how I handle that.
WARNER: We're going to go our members' questions now. So I'm going to invite people to join in the conversation. You all know the ground rules. But just please wait for the microphone and then state your name and speak directly into it, and your affiliation. And, of course, please limit yourself to one question and make sure it's a question and not a long speech or peroration.
So who'd like to go first? Right here.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Patricia Patterson, Patterson Investments.
I can't tell, from listening to everybody last night and this morning. Many of you are in countries where you're going to be for a while. How many of you learn Arabic, learn Chinese, learn enough to say, "Let's kill the reporter," or at least find your way around? How many people actually learn the language?
REMNICK: I did, but I only had to go to one place and it was very large. (Laughter.) So a lot of people spoke that language. And the Washington Post --
WARNER: Trained you.
REMNICK: -- paid good money for me to get a terrible Estonian accent. (Laughter.) And, you know, if you have a job like Elizabeth's, where you're running around all the time, you know, unless you're, you know, Roman Jakobson, the greatest linguist who ever lived, you just can't possibly -- I mean, other than Europeans, who seem to know lots of languages.
WARNER: Yeah, I would say -- and I do the sort of what has been derogatorily referred to as parachuting in -- but I do the same when you go someplace for a month. No, I don't learn -- well, I (can ?) -- Pashto or Dari. So that's why the translators, fixers -- we call them our local producers, because they just do -- they are absolutely essential as, when someone's translating for you, they are your filter, in a way, and you really -- a lot of judgments come into that.
SOUTHERLAND: I'll just chip in. This is another one of my obsessions, so I'm going to try to make it short. But I have been preaching to journalism school students to learn a difficult language; get started now. I started Chinese about, I don't know, several decades ago. I'm still not that good at it. I was rated intermediate recently. I still carry little character cards around to study the characters. I'm still working on it. I always say the first 20 years are the hardest; then it gets easier. (Laughter.)
So I probably got this obsession in Vietnam, where I was part of the UPI team there, which was covering the American war, mostly. And, you know, somebody realized I spoke French, and at that time it was useful. And they said, "Dan, you cover the Vietnamese." So we had about nine guys covering the Americans. I had a license to go all over Vietnam, and I started studying the language. In fact, I quit UPI just to study the language. So I can now say, "Do not shoot" in five languages. (Laughter.)
But it really is important. I mean, Seymour Topping was asking yesterday, "What can you tell young reporters when they go into the field?" And I think he was looking for a different answer. But part of it is "Get the language. It won't help you" -- it didn't help with the Khmer Rouge. I mean, they just killed every journalist, every fixer, everybody they captured. But it will help you understand the country.
And please stop me now, because I may --
WARNER: I'll stop you now and just ask Caryle.
So have you learned Arabic in all these --
MURPHY: I know a lot of words, but I still don't know enough to do an interview in Arabic. And the main reason is I just never had enough time to sit down, and I didn't have the luxury of the Post. The Post, in its wisdom, decided that Russian and Spanish and Chinese and Japanese, they would teach those correspondents going to those places, but not Arabic. So I didn't get the year-long training. And, you know, I wish I had.
But another thing I like to bring up is that one good thing that's happening is that a lot of young Americans who are interested in journalism -- now, their parents or their grandparents emigrated from these countries, and they're learning the language and they're going to those areas.
The second thing that's happening is a lot of young people in these countries that we cover that are difficult, the young people there are more competent now to be journalists in the western tradition than they were 20 years ago. I mean, you can get now people who can write a story for an American audience. It may need a good editor. But in many of these countries you can get that. You couldn't get that, you know, 20 or 30 years ago.
REMNICK: Yeah, there's a reason you're seeing a lot of bylines in the Post and the Times who are, you know, natives or people who are fixers who are now being elevated into and getting their due, in a sense. For example, in Gaza, the New York Times person in Gaza all the time is Taqrid el-Hodari (sp).
And, you know, I -- it's not impossible to imagine that sometimes her sentence structure might not be absolutely elegant, but they can fix that in the garage. And she knows a lot. (Laughter).
And she's, you know -- and when one is getting, you know, led around by her, as I have, you -- you know, you feel like you're a little bit in a marionette kind of relationship because she knows everything. She takes you to the person. She knows the better questions to ask. And you get to ask yourself what the hell am I adding to this. (Laughter).
So it's a kind of honesty in advertising.
WARNER: Yes. Which is good to see. Right here in the third row?
QUESTIONER: Hi. Jim O'Neill from Clarium.
I'd like to ask each panelist to give a two-word answer. What two closed societies are most underreported?
SOUTHERLAND: Can I come back to that?
RUBIN: North Korea.
WARNER: Yeah. I'd say North Korea and Myanmar.
WARNER: Yeah, Burma.
SOUTHERLAND: Actually, my radio covers North Korea like crazy. And we're working -- one of the interesting things is we're working with North Korean defectors -- turning them into broadcasters. And, boy, I'll tell you, that's quite an experience.
You meet one of these guys and you realize they're from another planet. I think there are stories in China that are underreported, but not the whole thing.
WARNER: Since this questioner asked for a two-word answer --
SOUTHERLAND: Sorry. North Korea.
QUESTIONER: Is there a mike?
QUESTIONER: Thank you. I'm Ted Sorensen at Paul Weiss.
Having parachuted in as a lawyer to many of these countries and similar countries, I'd like to ask whether any of you had relations with the U.S. embassy and what's helpful, useless, or risky.
WARNER: Good question.
MURPHY: I can answer that. When I started my career as a foreign correspondent, that was before I went to the Middle East. I was in South Africa. The United States embassy was a wonderful source of information. They had people who would, you know, take you in, give you a briefing on the economy and the politics, give you names and phone numbers, have you meet the ambassador. And they were really a good check on your own reporting, you know.
But in the last 10 years, especially under the Bush administration, the embassies are liked locked boxes. They don't want to give out any information. And, you know, it's -- and also, it varies from country to country.
But since the closure of the U.S. Information Agency, it's really gotten much more difficult to get cooperation on an information basis. Everybody is afraid to talk. They're afraid that you're going to misquote them and then their career will suffer, or they've been told from Washington don't talk to journalists.
It's really upsetting.
REMNICK: I think there was a little bit where I was -- a kind of point of pride that one didn't get one's stories at the embassy; that it was really considered low-rent thing to be an embassy reporter and that if you got anything more than Rice Krispies there, you were -- it was a bit of -- if I look back on it, silliness, because there were smart people at the Russian embassy. Jack Matlock was actually an exceptional ambassador. There were some political people there that knew a lot.
But as I say, the Soviet Union at that time went from being a black box -- I mean, if you read Rick Smith's book or Bob Kaiser's book from the '70s, every conversation is secret and there's a very tight, you know, group of friends that they could really speak to, and they were all dissidents or semi-dissidents in Moscow. And so -- and all of a sudden, this broke open.
So to spend more than five minutes, you know, in the embassy was not odd. But the whole Bush bit hadn't happened yet. I mean, to Reagan's credit, the Moscow embassy was not like that.
RUBIN: When I go in a foreign country because I'm going in just for a month, I try to go in and see the U.S. ambassador almost immediately just to understand what -- sort of what the administration's view -- what view they're getting from the field. And I find that useful. It doesn't -- it's always off the record. It's not a story. But there are some very astute, savvy ambassadors out there.
That said, I think part of the problem especially in areas -- I'll give you an example -- from Afghanistan is most of your embassy people in a dangerous area aren't getting out at all. I had a bizarre experience flying out of Afghanistan -- I was at baggage claim at Dubai. And someone from the embassy -- I won't give you his position -- but it was fairly high up, and it was someone who would be very involved in writing the reports about the country said to me how, you know, they'd seen my pieces and blah, blah, blah.
And he -- and I said, well, what do you think's going on there. And he said, well, I really think that the press is being, you know, awfully negative about the prospects for our engagement. And if you get out in the country, people are really glad that we've got a -- we're making a commitment.
And I said, oh, how interesting, you know, where were you, where have you been. He said, well, actually I've never left the compound.
True story. True story, and a very, very bright man. But -- and because of security. So I think it's -- it's useful simply for, you know, if you're looking at the political dynamics, they have an important insight, but it's not a key to the culture.
MURPHY: And may I just add something? It's really sad to see U.S. embassies in many countries nowadays because they are like fortresses. There's no longer -- they no longer represent the open society that we do have here, and it's very sad.
RUBIN: I mean, interestingly now, I lot of people who've gone to work for the administration, like in Afghanistan or Pakistan, they're working at consultants because it's the only way that they can escape the confines of the embassies. So they'll say, okay, we'll come and work with you, Holbrooke, but we're not going to be a part of that whole, you know, security apparatus where we don't leave because otherwise, there's no point in having them.
But you do need -- particularly since we are at war now, you know, in these countries, you have to go, to some extent, to the U.S. embassy because you -- or to the Americans to find out, like, well, how do they see this; what are they doing here; why -- what is -- I mean, I just did this piece about Karzai in Afghanistan and wanted to know what the interactions are between the embassy and Karzai. And, you know -- and you have to -- and sometimes you really have to push and you have to keep calling them over and over and over again because that first meeting is useless.
So -- but you can't ignore them. And it's true. I think in the '90s, it was kind of like you didn't go to the U.S. embassy. It was kind of embarrassing.
RUBIN: You know, you got your story elsewhere. But you do have to engage with them now.
SOUTHERLAND: I think -- and I agree with Caryle that it's -- it varies from embassy to embassy. And I mean -- and there are experts in government who are worth consulting. I mean, I don't take this attitude that, you know, we should just blow them off. I think you just have to find out who's smart. I mean, pick out, you know, within the embassy itself. You know, have lunch with somebody. Sometimes that brings out a little more background information.
But they have things to contribute.
WARNER: Right here on the aisle?
QUESTIONER: Thank you, yes. Rory O'Connor from Media Channel.
I'd like to go back to Margaret, what you said right at the very beginning here. My question is: Are we seeing the end of the foreign correspondent with all these ex-Washington Post foreign correspondents on the stage?
Or conversely -- and I'd address this to Caryle -- in this day of layoffs and buyouts, buybacks and so on, are we, instead, seeing a new flowering through the Internet? I'd like to in particular ask you about your experience with the Global Post.
MURPHY: Yeah. I think that the cutback of foreign correspondents by most American newspapers and television stations is a boon to people who are willing to work as freelancers, you know, where you have to pay for your own 401(k) and your own health benefits.
But especially for young people starting out who -- you have to find a country where there's still an interest by American editors and there's not that much competition. You know, I didn't go to Beirut or Cairo because there's already scores of young people trying to go foreign correspondents there. So I went to a place where there are fewer, and there's still an interest in news from Saudi Arabia.
So, yeah -- what was the second -- oh, Global Post.
Global Post, you know, I have a feeling it's going to make it. It's still an experiment. It just started in January. But I think that the -- the design and the concept might eventually work. You know, they're getting their revenue from three different streams -- syndication and advertisement and then special access.
They don't pay that great, as we heard yesterday. But, you know, it's exposure, and it's a nice presentation. And I'm not sure it'll be the only way foreign news gets delivered in the future, but it's one way.
WARNER: We do actually have a whole panel coming up next on that with Charlie Sennott from Global Post. But does anyone else have another thought in general about -- with all these cutbacks?
SOUTHERLAND: Just to give you some good news, there are more foreign correspondents in Beijing now than they were when I was there. In other words, it's increased. But they're of a different type, many of them. They're guys who have three -- what we call three strings. You know, they're stringing for a lot of people. They don't make a lot of money, but they're -- and they're doing a lot of business reporting or -- look at the New York Times in China right now. They seem to have three people in Beijing, one in Shanghai, one in Hong Kong. That's amazing given their financial problems.
The Washington Post is down to one. Washington Post foreign staff down from 26 to maybe 14. So that's very painful for me, and I hate to praise the New York Times because they were the enemy, you know, the competitors. But it actually -- there is some good news out there. I'm sorry to --
WARNER: And I think that the challenge is for the non-Washington Posts and non-New York Times and Wall Street Journal -- I mean, they're really just a handful of papers that are now fielding their own foreign correspondents, as we heard last night, with a presence.
And I think that presents particular challenges of consistency and quality, and we have to find another way to maintain those standards but adapt to the new financial realities, which is, of course, what the big challenge is. And I'm glad we didn't have to solve that at this panel.
Another question? Yes, right here. And I'll take one from the back. I'm sorry I've been focused here.
QUESTIONER: My name is Tony Catali (ph). I'm with the Oleon Group (ph).
I think it's been really interesting, considering last night's panel and this morning, listening to you all about talking about fixers. It seems to me like this is something that's becoming much more of an issue, much more of a story.
So my questions to you guys, obviously, when we hear about fixers, you know, you have to take into consideration who they're getting you to meet with. But when you're talking about closed societies in general and the governments in those societies, at what point does the fixer become the story if something happens to the fixer or if you're trying to find out something and they disappear and you lose track of them?
WARNER: I'm sorry. I don't quite understand your question. Do you mean do we have special responsibility -- or I mean, they clearly become a story if they get killed. I mean, but usually you're trying not to make -- I mean, occasionally, I've had fixers in a foreign country that, I'll say, God, he's just the perfect character. You get to know this person. You spend two weeks driving around with them, all these interesting insights.
But it's just a red line you don't cross. You don't make him a character. I mean -- and you have to be, I think, very aware of each fixer comes from his or her own set of political assumptions, and they're part of a certain strata of society, and they have certain cultural assumptions. So you always have to filter for that.
REMNICK: I think we have to -- to be honest, what we realize about fixers we don't often realize enough about ourselves. In other words, we are very discerning about who a fixer takes us to because we know that that fixer is so-and-so and his or her connections are with so-and-so. We don't ask those questions about ourselves enough; what our own orientations are, what our own presumptions and assumptions are.
Is the real bend with a political opinion in the United States Democrat and Republican? And all these things that we -- you know, is a kind of radical critique of American journalism that we confine to this whole area and call it Norm Chomsky or post-structure, whatever. It's a real serious subject, and I'm glad to see that it gets asked a lot more.
As far as fixers are concerned, if you can't see through your own fixer's habits or perceptions, then you really shouldn't be out doing that job. And my experience with them -- which is not as rich as somebody like Elizabeth -- is that they are -- if you have any decent tendencies or hiring good people, they're extraordinary and they're brave and they're selfless almost to an embarrassing, shaming degree.
And so if somebody gets hurt or, God forbid, killed or kidnapped and you write a story about it, I can't see anything wrong with that in the world.
RUBIN: No. Oftentimes, their stories are unbelievable because they've seen things. I mean, for instance sometime translators in Afghanistan who worked with the Special Forces, they have seen things that none of us know about. You know, and they -- one of them who I know ended up in prison accused of being a Taliban, and he did been with the Special Forces and, you know, these people have unbelievable stories to tell. I don't think it's odd to tell their story just because they're a fixer. It doesn't make them any less, you know, valuable to see what they've seen and to see what they've experienced.
WARNER: But would you fear you might be revealing too much and endangering them if you --
RUBIN: Oh, I'd only to it if they wanted it. You know, I wouldn't write a story about them if they didn't want it.
REMNICK: And they tend not to want it.
RUBIN: And they usually don't. And some of them do who've maybe left. But, no, most of the time, you're not going to write -- and they don't even want their names in the piece.
WARNER: There was a question back here. Yes, sir?
QUESTIONER: Morrie Helitzer. I was a fellow in 1960-61.
My question to the panel and also to members of the audience. Can you identify a watershed event when it became risky, life threatening for foreign correspondents? Because -- just to give you a little context on it, I was in Yugoslavia in 1949. And that was relatively a closed society. For a closed society, it would not qualify today.
But essentially, there was a sense of immunity for foreign correspondents. You were safe. I was traveling from Belgrade to -- from Zagreb to Belgrade on the train. I had a beard at the time. The conductor locked at the passport, said "Chetnik."
These were the Nazi allied members in Zagreb in World War II. And they said, what kind of name, Mr. Brown Brown. I was taken off the train, and I was taken to the ministry of the interior. And I was quizzed there so on and so forth. And then somebody came by and found out I was a foreigner, and the person who had done it was admonished, and I was taken off.
But subsequent to that, it did become life threatening, or at least in -- (inaudible) -- were being kidnapped or killed. And was there a watershed event that brought this about, or was it just a movement in general?
REMNICK: Well, Russia was the election of Vladimir Putin and the murder of Paul Klebnikov, but they tend not to kill foreigners, mostly Russians. That's what they care about. They care about that informational unit.
MURPHY: I think it's gotten much more dangerous for foreign correspondents, not necessarily always because of retaliation from the government you're trying to cover, but from conflicts. There's so many more millions and millions of small arms out there. Look at Africa where so many countries with 13-year-olds are running around with Kalashnikovs.
And the conflicts in the Middle East, like in Lebanon. I mean, it's very easy to get killed reporting those stories.
WARNER: Another question? Yes, sir, right in the back on the aisle.
QUESTIONER: Chandrakant Pancholi from Overseas India Weekly.
My question is how do you find these fixers and translators and drivers? And does your bureau give you -- does the U.S. embassy give you? And how do you find out that they -- (laughter) -- they are not planted ones?
WARNER: How do you find your fixers and drivers and so on? And do you get them from the U.S. embassy? And how do you ensure they're not planted?
RUBIN: I will say that some of the best fixers have been found out of desperation. Like you are -- when the war started in Afghanistan, for example, and a lot of people came from Tajikistan into the non-Taliban area and we needed translators. And there was a medical student who spoke English. And he's turned into the one of the New York Times' best reporters in Afghanistan.
He was just a guy who -- a tall guy who spoke some English. And oftentimes, you can create a fixer. I mean, somebody who just has a minimum of English and is a smart person and you can teach them the job and they get excited by it. And most of the best fixers in Afghanistan, that's how they started. And I would say the majority of them tended to be from medical school so they had some English.
REMNICK: That's in a system of either a chaos society or a free society. In China -- certainly, the China that Dan operated in and the Soviet Union I did and Iraq and many other places, Tehran, you have government minds. (Chuckles.) You don't have any choice whatsoever.
RUBIN: Yeah. That's right.
REMNICK: We had an office in Moscow staffed by a -- it sounds very fancy, but believe me (scattered laughter) -- a translator who, by the way, didn't speak English, but nevermind. (Laughter). I'm sure she had other talents. (Laughter).
A driver who got in an accident three or four times a week and refused to drive very often because he was drunk and other such. And they were appointed by a government agency. In the Russian case, it's called upedek (ph) -- it was the diplomatic corps. It was a KGB thing -- and maids or cleaning people.
So, on Friday afternoon, they go to some meeting, and they would, you know, say what they heard at the office or what was David and his wife talking about. It must have been an excruciatingly boring meeting -- (laughter) -- and -- in its kind of late mannerist phase, but it was, you know, it was serious business for a long, long time. The Chinese had this, and you had to live in these particular buildings. You didn't have a choice.
So the breakthrough for us is, in 1990, we finally, you know, screw this. We'll just hire somebody and see how the government reacts. We'll hire somebody that's actually good. (Laughter). And I hired a woman named Masha Lipman.
WARNER: Oh, wow.
MURPHY: My goodness.
REMNICK: And Masha Lipman had great English and she knew a lot and she was smarter than everybody, blah, blah, blah. She's now a columnist for the Washington Post. She was one of the best journalists in Russia when there was that period when there was actual journalism.
And, you know, you --
WARNER: She's at an important think tank.
REMNICK: Yeah. She's at the Carnegie Endowment there is Moscow. She's really --
WARNER: When some of us go to Russia, we put her on the air as an expert.
REMNICK: Yeah. She's on the tube a lot.
WARNER: I think -- I hate to say it, but I think my time -- our time is up. This has been a really fascinating panel. And I thank all my panelists.
Our next one at 10:15 will get more into more Global Post and sort of the new forms of foreign reporting in this digital age.
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