October 22nd, 2010
11:17 AM ET

Juan Williams' remark aside, firing draws ire of left, right

The hullabaloo over the firing of ex-NPR news analyst Juan Williams is far bigger than right v. left.

Fox News has assailed NPR for its handling of the situation, calling it an assault on free speech and stoking GOP pundits and potential presidential candidates to demand that NPR's government funding be cut.

But it’s not only the right wing frowning on NPR’s decision. Though a handful have applauded the public radio station, journalists of every shade have come to his defense without condoning his comments. Williams said seeing people in Muslim dress on airplanes makes him nervous, and while plenty view his remark as silly or dangerous, few think he should have been axed.

“First of all, if I got on a plane and someone was in full Muslim attire, I would feel very safe because if you’re about to blow up that plane that’s not the way you’re going to be dressed,” Barbara Walters said Thursday on “The View,” where the controversy ostensibly started. “So if this is what you’re wearing, just as you might wear a cross or a Jewish star, fine. I think it’s a silly statement for Juan to be making.”

Walters, no stranger herself to the line between journalism and commentary, went on to say that “if you are someone who is giving your opinion then you’re allowed to give your opinion. You may or may not agree, like on this show.”

It was on “The View” last week that hosts Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar walked off the set during an interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly after he blamed Muslims for 9/11.

O’Reilly was discussing those remarks on his own show Monday when Williams made his controversial statement.

Many analysts, both liberal and conservative, have noted Williams also tempered O’Reilly’s remarks by saying that likening Muslims to extremists would be like saying all Christians were akin to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

No matter, though. NPR’s CEO Vivian Schiller told the Atlanta Press Club that Williams’ comments undermined his credibility as an analyst and that political activists cannot be reporters or news analysts for NPR.

“This is not a reflection on his comments. This is not a debate. Juan feels the way he feels. That is not for me to pass judgment on,” she said - before passing judgment.

“His feelings that he expressed on Fox News are really between his psychiatrist or his publicist – or take your pick – but it is not compatible with the role of a news analyst on NPR’s air,” she said.

She later apologized for her “thoughtless remark,” but there was no word whether NPR would discipline her for her deviation from the facts.

NPR’s ethics code, repeatedly used to defend Williams’ firing, states, “In appearing on TV or other media including electronic Web-based forums, NPR journalists should not express views they would not air in their role as an NPR journalist. They should not participate in shows’ electronic forums or blogs that encourage punditry and speculation rather than fact-based analysis.”

Williams isn't buying it, though. Speaking to O’Reilly after the Los Angeles Times reported Fox had signed him to a $2 million contract, Williams said he was targeted because of his affiliation with the conservative news channel, where he had been a contributor before his ouster from NPR.

“I don't fit in their box,” he said. “I'm not predictable, black, liberal. And let me tell you something else, you were exactly right when you said you know what this comes down to. They were looking for a reason to get rid of me because I'm appearing on Fox News. They don't want me talking to you.”

Williams also said he was provided no opportunity to present his case “eyeball to eyeball, person to person,” despite having given NPR more than a decade of service.

He said he received a call Wednesday, two days after the remark, from Ellen Weiss, NPR’s senior vice president for news. She asked him what he meant to say, Williams told O’Reilly.

“I said what I meant to say," he recalled telling her, "which is that it’s an honest experience that when I’m in an airport and I see people who are in Muslim garb who identify themselves first and foremost as Muslims I do a double take. I have a moment of anxiety or fear given what happened on 9/11. That’s just a reality."

He said he was told the comment “crosses the line” and Weiss implied it was a “bigoted statement.” He said he wanted to discuss it in person.

“There’s nothing you can say that will change my mind,” he quoted Weiss as telling him. “This has been decided above me, and we’re terminating your contract.”

Many journalists have stated in the last 24 hours that while they disagree with Williams’ categorization of Muslims, they also frown on his firing.

Goldberg even drew a line between Williams' opinion and O’Reilly’s remarks that prompted her and Behar to walk off "The View" set last week.

“What Bill O’Reilly said he was saying as fact and he was painting it as fact, and the reason that I was annoyed is because it’s not a fact. When you say Muslims did this, are you talking about Muhammad Ali? Because he’s a Muslim.”

As for Williams, she said, “The point he was trying to make is, I get nervous and that’s OK to say. Firing him for saying that, I think, is kind of ridiculous."

She concluded by summing up the thoughts of her co-hosts, who run the political gamut: “In all of our opinions, it seems the firing of Juan was a total mistake and sends the wrong message. And NPR, get yourself together because we’ve all got to work on this together.”

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Filed under: Air travel • Islam • September 11
soundoff (851 Responses)
  1. Maureen Fitzpatrick

    NPR needs to fire all of news analyst that participate as pundits on all the stations and then I will take them seriously.

    October 22, 2010 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Karl

      It's obvious you don't listen to NPR

      October 22, 2010 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • kel

      The thing is... Juan Williams was a news analyst for NPR, not someone who was paid for his opinion. His comments were inconsistent with his job at NPR. That’s not to say that he doesn't have a right to free speech, to state his opinion. He does. And where his exercise of those rights are inconsistent with his job, his employer has a right to terminate his contracted services. Touting his opinion is inconsistent with his journalistic responsibility as an analyst and it undermines both his credibility as well as that of his employer. He had been warned in the past about crossing that line, yet he chose to do it anyway.

      This unusual situation is about the only one that I can think of where being fired for stating an opinion or making an irresponsible comment is appropriate.

      October 22, 2010 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ben

      Please, how do you think they would've reacted had he said something about christianity or the tea party? Do you think he would've been fired? or even reprimanded?

      October 22, 2010 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Patrick

    Ok so Vivian Schiller, CEO of NPR can make a statement that "His feelings that he expressed on Fox News are really between his psychiatrist or his publicist" between his psychiatrist?? Is that her saying that he needs psychological help? Isnt that an opinion too? How can someone opinionated be able to decide whether or not someone should be an analyst? Oh wait, news today is all about an opinion, just like this blog. When is NPR going to report news instead of giving us THEIR opinion/view of it? Pull the government funding, I will be sad to see Wait Wait, Car Talk and others go but they will find a better home. Is anyone from the government actually overseeing what is being done with OUR money?

    October 22, 2010 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • fuyuko

      I agree. to me that is worse than what williams said. She's the boss. Perhaps she should judge herself by her own standard and fire herself!

      October 22, 2010 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike in KC

      The government can pull their whole 2% of NPR's budget....who cares. Long time contributors to NPR like myself can easily make up the difference. I worry about people who have to be around Juan now......you know how all of those black men are when they get angry. They start beating their wives and kids and robbing liquor stores and all. I'm not a bigot though.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Texana

      Vivian Schiller want us to take HER as credible? Her statements totally cross the line. NPR is known to be biased, with a strong Far Left agenda. NPR has no high standards. To fire him the way that NPR did? Shocking and in the worse taste. NPR is not only biased; NPR is at times un-American.

      October 22, 2010 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Geez

      Her comment just goes to show that there is a bias there. If someone in a ski mask walked into a bank and later you admitted being nervous would you be considered to have issues? We arent talking about sob fits or uncontrolled shaking. All we are talking about is taking notice.

      October 22, 2010 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rich

      I agree let her sleep in the bed she made...pull funding

      October 22, 2010 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • hellmut

      At least she apologized for her stupid remark and he did not.

      October 22, 2010 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • miami2010

      I'm with you, She need to be fire too and Defunds NPR, I'm not want my taxes go to this Liberal Wing Network. Why in the world I have to support a Liberal Wing News Network, this country has to change big time.

      October 22, 2010 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris s

      Patrick, tou hit the nail on the head.

      October 22, 2010 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • asrael

      Ah, yes: Any excuse will to do pull NPR's funding..... speaking entirely objectively, of course...

      October 22, 2010 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • James Mooney

      I'd feel the same way as Juan if I saw a German wearing a Nazi uniform getting on a plane!

      October 25, 2010 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Karl

    I guess i am in the minority because when I want news I don't want to hear what a reporter thinks or feels about any issue he/she is reporting.

    October 22, 2010 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wesley

      I'm with you. However, this was on an opinion show, not a news show. Therefore, I wouldn't expect my news to come from here. I would expect a conversation, debate and dialogue. That is what occurred on this episode. God forbid someone expresses their fears in public so that we can have a conversation about how to confront it, discuss it and move beyond it.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Elisha

      You obviously don't watch O'Reilly. It's a show that is based on a myriad of personal feelings...

      October 22, 2010 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark B.

      Karl – you must watch FOX then, you won't find what you describe anywhere else.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      The very point is that NPR tries to maintain journalistic standards that prevent their journalists for appearing on opinion/punditry type shows . They should have clarified that he was being fired for having close associations with opinion rather than fact based reporting rather than any individual statement. If they fired him solely for that one comment I'd agree that it was not appropriate to fire him, but I for one am glad that NPR/APR/PRI programming is around to actually focus on the facts without giving an opinion one way or the other.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Andy

      Mark B., you're kidding right? You must be kidding.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Do you really think that there facts are not filtered by the human experience?

      October 22, 2010 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Texana

      When you watch a news item, you are getting that journalist's or reporters perspective couched in "objective language". The words that they use, the information that they give you, the facts that they include or omit, and the interviews that they choose-all of this represents their opinion. You get it, believe me, but it is not in an honest form. CNN, Fox, the BBC-all have their perspectives, greatly influenced by their ownership (CNN and Fox both have significant Arab ownership-yes, Fox as well).

      October 22, 2010 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ben

      please cokie roberts expressed an outside opinion about glenn beck, saying he was quote a dangerous terrorist.

      October 22, 2010 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nkelly

      what was he reporting exactly?

      October 22, 2010 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • jakirk2010

      If that is the case, then why not terminate his contract after his first appearance anywhere outside of NPR? To allow him to continue his appearances on any other show, just reinforces the assumption that they were using him probably as much as Fox was using him.

      October 22, 2010 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
  4. The Wizard of OZ

    Never mind the man behind the curtain.
    Now the world can see the way that it really is at NPR and they dont like it. But ooops
    The mainstream media is the same. Just watch closely.
    And lets state the obvious they are all human beings and they all have opiniions.
    So what do we expect news mingled with opinion.

    October 22, 2010 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
  5. SarahKate

    @Mikedog1969: Free market does not consist of a radio news broadcasting network that is GOVERNMENT FUNDED.
    I just don't understand why we can't talk about this stuff. Maybe if more people felt safe admitting how they feel we would be able to work through it and eliminate the need to be afraid of each other. Instead we will call each other racist and bigots, conservatives will view liberals and out to destroy American values and liberals will paint conservatives as trying to keep the ordinary man down if your not rich and white. All of these are distortions of what most Americans are, unfortunately with the only voices heard being those who are as fringe as you can get....you can bet that is probably where we will end up. I am a counselor who teaches my clients to not be afraid to share your fears, we are in this together and by knowing that we all have the same fears, different details, we will start to be able to understand and work with each other in a way that makes America better.

    October 22, 2010 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Sniffit

    "It's good to see Journalists are defending their own. I wish they did that with the Journalist who was fired by CNN for saying that Jewish people control the media. It was stupid but was it worth the firing."

    You don't understand. When people like Rick Sanchez or Helen Thomas or others say anything that is even remotely interpretable as derogatory towards Israel or its behavior or the jews in general, people like Bill O'Reilly, Palin, etc., go off the deep-end and scream and holler and rant and rave. Helen Thomas was excoriated by the right wing when she made that comment about Israel getting out of Palestine and leaving them alone. But when it comes to commentary that might be interpreted as derogatory towards muslims, they want it protected and will even encourage it and call it laudable. It's part of the narrative they want written and believed. They are supporting the demagoguery and fearmongering of the GOP/Teatards and other right wing dimwits. The last thing they want is for it to become unpopular for people to encourage fear of muslims. They desperately need for it to remain socially acceptable to lump them all together and villify them.

    October 22, 2010 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Sniffit, CNN, Fox News don't take tax payer dollars so the comparison does not work. The ones responsible for removing Helen was the network that fired her because they assumed their ratings would drop if they did not. NPR on the other hand is given tax payer dollars and because it is "Public" radio they should not be pushing an agenda. If they applied the same rule to everyone on NPR who spoke his mind, then that would be one thing. They are leaning left – and that is the problem. CNN is left and they have that right, just as fox is to be right. They are a companies who get paid according to viewers. NPR, needs to stand on its own 2 feet now and they can say and do whatever they want as long as it does not break the law..

      October 22, 2010 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sniffit

      Actually, it works just fine when you add in that this is a contractual matter. As I've mentioned elsewhere, NPR prohibits all employees from going on other shows or writing for other papers or whatever in a manner that compromises their objectivity by making their opinions public. This was a CONTRACT. Williams willingly and knowingly agreed to those terms of his employment. This is not government action to censor someone. Go read some case law.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      NPR has fired everyone that has done this...NOT! That is fine because Juan Williams is in a better place since he has landed a new 3-year $2 million contract with Fox News He is a democrate too! Good for Juan! NPR is going to lose their federal funding anyway.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark B.

      Contractually speaking, NPR had let Williams appear on FOX for a long time and thus gave up the right of refusal by allowance. If there is a lawsuit that will be a keypoint. Williams has an excellent chance of suing and winning.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • jakirk2010

      So you are saying that in all the years NPR has been around not one opinion has ever been broadcast? Because if it has, then defining what is consistent or inconsistent views becomes a moot point. As I mentioned before, this wasn't the first time he appeared on a show outside of NPR and if management had a problem with him doing so then should have terminated his contract prior to this appearance. The fact that they didn't terminate his contract reinforces the assumption that NPR was using him as much as probably FOX was using him. Addtionally, firing someone over the phone is pretty bad taste if you ask me and not allowing an employee that you have employed for 10 years to defend himself face to face with his superiors speaks volumes to the type of management that is at NPR.

      October 22, 2010 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sniffit

      my name is sniffit and im a racist tard!

      November 15, 2010 at 7:12 pm | Report abuse |
  7. InnocentBystander

    I am a bit confused on what the mistake was that Mr. Williams made. I see a few comments on here with the idea that Mr. Williams is under contract with NPR and therefore cannot express his opinion in the media, regardless if it leans left or right. However, I watch Mr. Williams weekly on FOX Sunday News giving all sorts of opinions regarding the economy, the president, politics, etc. He was never fired for these comments??? Another comment was that it can be interpreted as racist for him to say these remarks and if they were surrounding Black Americans people would be very
    offended. I have to say that as a Black American I would not be offended if someone says they were walking in a neighborhood known for violence, especially violence commited by Black Americans, and were a bit nervous. I'd be nervous too!! It's an honest opinion. Recently we have become so caught up on race and bigotry that we cannot accept honest feelings and emotions. And if we can't accept these things, how can we educate people on how not to feel this way? We cannot continue to stop the discussion before it begins on fear of hurting someone's feelings. That is why race is still such an issue in American society.

    October 22, 2010 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chuck

      Excellent comments InnocentBystander. The issue surrounding Juan Williams is really about freedom of speech verses the political correctness crowd. If we, as Americans, do not have the right to speak about our feelings or state an opinion, then we have lost what this great country has given us. We should be able to speak without intimidation. We should be able to have dialog with repercussions. The problem is, as shown by NPR, there are people on the left that do not want dialog or freedom of speech...they only want their speech to count.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • asrael

      That's right: only those on the left are the villains; the righties are American heroes, every single one...

      October 22, 2010 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
  8. anonymous

    yeah...just like i get scared of every black guy i see outside a gas station..every black guy seems to be a thug, in my opinion, and that makes me very scared..

    October 22, 2010 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Linda

      Anonymous Are you sure it's not the other way around? Your blog is dumb. Did you graduate from third grade. If you talk the way that you blog, I would be afraid of you.Black people are thinking about you at a gas station, whether he looks like a thug or not, especially if you look the way that you blog. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

      October 22, 2010 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Seth

    Of course the left and right dislike this. They both rely on "advocacy journalism" to push their agendas, but that isn't what NPR does. The left and right love any opportunity they get to discredit an actual news organization because it heightens the appearance of their own bias as legitimate. Williams was fired because he made bigoted comments under the guise of being a factual journalist. That flies in the face of what NPR does and I personally support their actions wholeheartedly.

    October 22, 2010 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • ficheye

      As do I Seth, as do I.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Actually, I have been listening to NPR every night for the last year and they are NOT balanced, they lean left and they do state there personal opinions. I will never listen to them again... EVER! What utter garbage!

      October 22, 2010 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chuck

      Guess what Seth...I don't agree with you. Am I now a bigot? Or a racist? Juan's remarks was based on a feeling or an emotion that he had, and it was not an opinion. Are we now going to fire everyone because of comments that others don't like? The pc crowd, and you may be one of them, needs to get a life. I am wondering if you would want some of the other NPR people, who have made derogatory remarks on the air, to be fired as well. Or, is the firing only for those that don't tote the left wing line?

      October 22, 2010 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ben

      and of course they make an exception when it's about saying horrible things about glenn beck in opinion journalism. Ie: Cokie roberts.

      October 22, 2010 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Sniffit

    "Free market does not consist of a radio news broadcasting network that is GOVERNMENT FUNDED."

    It is precisely because NPR is government funded that it has a policy of prohibiting employees from expressing personal opinions, feelings or theories about political issues when being interviewed elsewhere. Because it is government funded, it needs to protect the appearance of integrity and objectivity and not be seen as leaning one way or the other. Before this issue broke, NPR had just issued a memo reminding all employees that they were not allowed to attend the John Stewart "Restoring Sanity" rally...and of course, some people on the left accused NPR of being right-leaning because they issued no such memo with respect to Glenn Beck's rally. Of course, the righties who are here wetting their pants about this have ignored that. The reality is, if Williams was going to go all over the airwaves voicing opinions, he wouldn't be seen as an objective news analyst anymore, but as a news agency receiving government funds, maintaining strict rules to protect the objectivity of their reporting is very important to NPR and should be to anyone else.

    Besides, this is NOT a free speech issue. You have a right to free speech. You also have a right to sign a contract that makes your employemnt and paychecks contingent on you self-limiting your exercise of those rights. He signed such a contract, but then breached. Poof...no more job and no more contract.

    October 22, 2010 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      I was listening to them for the last year and it happens all the time. Last year – NPR political editor Ken Rudin said the White House campaign against Fox News is a bad idea. "It's not only aggressive, it's almost Nixonesque," What is that? He did that while working for NPR! Not on Fox news! Fire Vivian for calling her stupid comments calling a decent man nuts.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • asrael

      Shouldn't "almost Nixonesque" mean "almost behaving like Nixon behaved"? What's opinionated about such an apparently fact-based description?

      October 22, 2010 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • jakirk2010

      There argument would have held more credibility if they forbid every employee from appearing on any show outside of NPR. You can't pick and choose which is allowed and which is not allowed. When you do that, your contract becomes unenforceable. Either way, I'm sure I'm sure Mr. Williams is alot more happier with $2MM in pocket then he ever was at NPR.

      October 22, 2010 at 6:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • SarahKate

      Thanks for the lecture, however if you read the post in it's entirety along with the post that it was directed towards I believe that is the point I was making. However you have turned it into something that it was not.........much like biased news, both left and right. I want to let you know I appreciate people like you who feel the need to put a spin on everything and put people in there place when you 'think' they don't agree with you.

      October 25, 2010 at 11:17 am | Report abuse |
  11. ayush

    I would be more scared of Mr Williams than Muslim people, if on a plane together.

    October 22, 2010 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark B.

      Just as Muslim extremeists would have it.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Randy

      It's obvious you are a pin head. No religious sect or the government has the right impose political correctness on the vast majority majority of Americans. I'm very tired of intelligent people being penalized for saying what is on their mind. although the left gets away with it much more than the right. What happened to the first amendment? Even the president downplays the bill of rights as an impediment versus guaranteed rights. Political correctness needs to be abolished. The sooner the better. I'm looking forward to the next Congress.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • asrael

      Can't ... wait ... for the Republican turnover and the long overdue abolition of political correctness. And, of course, the public guarantee that no Republican politician would ... ever ... attempt to limit the "freedom" of an American citizen...

      October 22, 2010 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
  12. fuyuko

    What Vivian Schiller said was worse. "his feelings that he expressed on Fox News are really between his psychiatrist or his publicist – or take your pick – but it is not compatible with the role of a news analyst on NPR’s air,” she said.

    That's just plain judgemental and rude to say about an employee. So you get to apologize and Williams gets canned?

    October 22, 2010 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Agree with you 100%! That woman needs to go.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • asrael

      Not to mention the law that specifically states that persons named "Williams" are not allowed to apologize for anything.
      Wait a moment: there isn't such a law...?

      October 22, 2010 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
  13. ACE

    What facts are you talking about Scott, or are you just to bias to see or think straight

    October 22, 2010 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Sniffit

    "However, I watch Mr. Williams weekly on FOX Sunday News giving all sorts of opinions regarding the economy, the president, politics, etc. "

    And as NPR has said, this wasn't the first time he's breached his contract in this manner and it has been a subject of discussion and problems with him before.

    October 22, 2010 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Zach

    things you just don't say.. totally should be fired..
    how is that any different then someone saying 'i get nervous when i'm walking down the street at night alone and black man walks by"

    we wouldn't even be having this discussion...

    October 22, 2010 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dana

      Who's the last black guy that you heard of that flew airplanes into the side of our buildings?

      October 22, 2010 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • SD

      “There is nothing more painful for me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery—then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved.”

      Rev. Jesse Jackson

      October 22, 2010 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ben

      please he was expressing a knee jerk reaction not a complicated biggoted philosophy. the man went on to say he supports the ground zero mosque and also thinks we should look past our fears. being human is being prejudice, being a good human is looking past those prejudices.

      October 22, 2010 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
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