Andy Coulson, a former editor of the now-shuttered Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid News of the World, was found guilty of conspiring to intercept communications, concluding a lengthy trial focused on criminal activity at the British paper. According to the Associated Press, fellow News of the World editors Rebekah Brooks and Stuart Kuttner were acquitted.
Coulson and fellow former News of the World employees Brooks, Kuttner, and royal editor Clive Goodman were on trial for charges stemming their alleged roles in the tabloid's widespread hacking of the voicemails and phones of crime victims, celebrities, politicians, and British royalty in order to find fodder for stories. The scandal became major international news after it was reported that News of the World had accessed the voicemail of Milly Dowler, a murdered teenager.
Brooks' personal assistant Cheryl Carter, her husband Charlie, and Mark Hanna, a former security official for News International, were "acquitted of perverting the course of justice by attempting to hide evidence from police."
The AP reports that the jury is "still considering two further charges of paying officials for royal phone directories against Coulson and former News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman."
While the hacking allegations gathered steam in 2011, News of the World, which had been operating for 168 years, was shut down.
From the June 19 edition of MSNBC's All In With Chris Hayes:
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Rupert Murdoch, CEO of Fox News' parent-company 21st Century Fox, penned a Wall Street Journal op-ed advocating for comprehensive immigration reform, a stance in stark contrast to Fox's callous coverage of the immigration system and immigrants, which frequently disparages migrants as akin to garbage, criminals, and terrorists.
In a June 18 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Murdoch, also the executive chairman of the Journal's parent company News Corp, urged legislators to pass comprehensive immigration reform, citing it as "one of the most immediate ways to revitalize our economy." Murdoch emphasized:
Immigrants enrich our culture and add to our economic prosperity.
I don't believe that people come to America to sit on their hands. The vast majority of America's immigrants are hardworking, family-minded individuals with strong values. They are drawn here from many different places by a common belief that this is still the land of opportunity for those willing to work hard.
Murdoch even urged lawmakers to provide "a path to citizenship" for "those individuals who are already here," and called it "suicidal to suggest closing our doors to the world's entrepreneurs, or worse, to continue with large-scale deportations."
It's a stance that runs in stark contrast to his news organization's recent extreme immigration rhetoric.
Last month, Fox reported on President Obama's speech urging immigration reform by deceptively editing footage to pretend the president was advocating for the release of criminal immigrants.
Evoking connections between immigrants and garbage, criminals, and terrorists is standard fare for the network, especially in light of a recent surge in migrant children entering the US to flee growing violence in Central America.
The June 4 edition of Fox & Friends reported on the undocumented immigrant children being dropped off at a Phoenix bus station awaiting deportation proceedings with on-screen text that read "illegal dumping," a phrase commonly used to describe the unlawful disposal of garbage or other unwanted items.
Fox has used the humanitarian crisis to attack President Obama and hype fears that the migrant children may be terrorists and violent cartel members. One Fox host said she "wouldn't be surprised" if the unaccompanied immigrant children were fronts for drug dealers or terrorists.
On June 13, Fox News reported on news that some military bases would open up to house immigrant families by portraying the immigrants as "whining" and accusing them of complaining "of conditions in free lodging," while denouncing the administration for "serving illegals while soldiers wait."
Rupert Murdoch and his Fox family have a history of conflicting on immigration -- Murdoch has been consistent in his support for immigration reform and has built a reputation for breaking with the network to back such reform, while Fox has been known to temporarily clean up their act when the boss is around.
Just today, Fox News' America's Newsroom took a uncharacteristically sympathetic stance on immigrants to report on Murdoch's op-ed, emphasizing the man's entrepreneurial success as an immigrant himself. The hosts followed suit with the network's tradition of abandoning typical anti-immigration rhetoric for more positive coverage when it comes to Murdoch, underscoring Murdoch's focus on America's entrepreneurial history of imagination and ambition and highlighting the importance of strengthening border security. No mention was made of Murdoch's advocacy for a path to citizenship for immigrants already residing in the U.S.
The defense continued to present its case in the fifth month of the trial of several News Corp. employees for allegedly compromising the privacy of crime victims, British royalty, entertainers, and politicians.
Former News International editors and executives -- including Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson, and Stuart Kuttner -- are on trial in England for their accused roles in conspiring to hack phones and voicemails to find fodder for news stories.
On the stand in April, Kuttner denied paying off the investigator who did the phone hacking, while Coulson testified at length about his actions surrounding the disclosure of the hacking.
The race is on to win the support of Fox News ahead of the 2016 Republican presidential primary. Republican Senator Rand Paul, often listed among likely 2016 presidential contenders, is apparently trying to court News Corp. executive chairman Rupert Murdoch, hosting the media mogul at this weekend's Kentucky Derby.
The New York Times quotes Paul saying he "thought it would be fun to have [Murdoch] come down," and Murdoch explained his presence by clarifying he had never been to the Derby and offering that he finds Paul to be a "very interesting man." But as the Times explains, the context for the day at the track is much grander than the two men's mutual interest in the event: the looming 2016 presidential race and Paul's desire to win the support of "arguably the most powerful broker in Republican politics."
The Times lays out how Paul's "libertarian brand of politics" has prompted some concern among commentators at the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal and Fox News Channel. Indeed, Murdoch himself has spoken out against Paul's views on foreign policy, telling Fortune magazine [subscription required] last month, "I agree with [Paul] on a great number of things but disagree strongly on some things -- too strongly perhaps to vote for him." According to the Times, the day at the Derby was "part getting-to-know-you and part political audition, and marked a potential turn in the race for president."
Murdoch and Paul's Kentucky Derby hangout isn't their first meeting, either. Paul reportedly met with Murdoch and Fox News chief Roger Ailes last November -- according to Politico, that meeting was similarly part of Paul's effort to "smooth concerns among Republicans and influencers about whether he shares his famous libertarian father's views on issues like national security."
Winning the support of Murdoch and his sprawling media empire -- particularly Fox News -- has been a top priority for Republican candidates for the past decade, and with good reason.
Arriving on the scene of the wreckage days late, a number of conservative voices, including some Fox News employees, announced that it had been an "appalling" error in judgment for movement activists, media players, and Republican leaders to embrace and elevate the cause of rogue Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and his law-breaking crusade against the federal government. The commonsense warnings were dated, of course, because by then Bundy had already uncorked his racist rant and had thoroughly embarrassed backers who had portrayed him as a folk hero, a "patriotic, heroic American," and a symbol of mighty resistance.
At the peak of the Fox-hyped Bundy frenzy (i.e. when irresponsible Sean Hannity wondered on-air if the federal government would kill the Bundy) those voices of dissent about the rancher were hard to hear. Back when The Drudge Report recklessly hyped the fear of a violent standoff between federal forces and anti-government militia members who had rallied to Bundy's side and uncorked insurrectionist rhetoric, cool-headed conservative observations about not cheering a rancher who refused for decades to pay his grazing fees were mostly muted. (Here's an exception.)
Why? Because at the time, the overblown Bundy controversy nicely fit the right wing's beloved Phony Outrage programming slot. Because the story provided Fox and others with easy, free content to obsess over for days and to stoke far-right paranoia about "government overreach" during the Age of Obama.
Only after Bundy revealed his ugly beliefs ("I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro") did many conservatives concede that cheering him represented a political and public relations debacle. That it was a "net-negative." (The Republican National Committee certainly thinks so.)
In the wake of that mess, recall that just this month Rupert Murdoch announced that his Fox News channel had "absolutely saved" the GOP by giving a "voice and hope to people who didn't like all that liberal championing thrown at them on CNN." Yet it's hard to see any Republican positives following the Bundy debacle, which is now widely seen as having been another botched Fox News presentation.
These kinds of flops have become a bruising routine for conservatives. Instead of scoring points on its behalf, Fox News seems to be in the business of delivering black eyes to the GOP and its most devoted followers.
Today marked the seventh straight year that The Wall Street Journal has not won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting. It also marks the seventh straight year the newspaper has been owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.
Does one have anything to do with the other? Perhaps.
During my time at Editor & Publisher magazine from 1999 to 2010, I covered the Pulitzer Prizes each year, corresponding with members of the juries to determine who would win the awards and why.
Anyone who knows the Pulitzers can tell you it is a fierce competition. Failing to take home the prize in no way suggests one's reporting was unworthy.
But for the Journal, which has garnered dozens of the awards during its celebrated history, that stretch of failure cannot go unnoticed. In the history of the Pulitzers, only The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and Associated Press have won more.
And during the past seven years as the Journal has remained winless, those four news outlets have won a combined 33 reporting Pulitzers.
While the newspaper has won two Pulitzers since Murdoch took over, they were for editorial writing and commentary. The heart and soul of any news operation, its reporters and photographers, have been repeatedly denied in the competition that remains the most prestigious award in journalism.
With today's winners ranging from The Tampa Bay Times to Reuters, the Journal's name is sorely missed by many, its staff likely as much as anyone.
A look at the Journal's history finds the paper's great journalism winning acclaim and top awards, all pre-Murdoch.
From its first reporting award in 1961 for uncovering problems in the timber industry to its last two in 2007 for digging into the scams of backdated stock options and the negative impact of China's growing capitalism the Journal had never gone more than five years without a win, with that stretch in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In the five years before Murdoch's purchase, the paper won Pulitzers for public service and international reporting and two each for beat reporting and explanatory journalism.
The Pulitzer Prize is not the ultimate judgment of a newspaper. And many in the industry often criticize editors who appear to assign stories specifically with the goal winning a Pulitzer in mind.
But for a newspaper of the Journal's size and stature, such a long stretch may be a sign of its goals. Murdoch has reportedly made clear that he does not prioritize the kind of in-depth, long form journalism that often wins these awards.
In response to Media Matters' documentation that a group pushing climate change denial has also rejected the known health impacts of tobacco and secondhand smoke, Fox News is suggesting that secondhand smoke is not dangerous.
On the April 9 edition of Special Report, Fox News correspondent Doug McKelway pointed to a report by the "Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change" (NIPCC), which was written in an attempt to debunk the United Nations' recent consensus report, to claim that "a torrent of new data is poking very large holes" in climate science. In an accompanying article at FoxNews.com, McKelway responded to a Media Matters blog post documenting that the group behind the report, the Heartland Institute, has previously denied the health impacts of tobacco, by claiming that the "Heartland's denial of the dangers of second hand smoke was re-affirmed by a large scale 2013 study":
The NIPCC ["Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change"] report was immediately assailed by administration supporters. The website Media Matters reported that the NIPCC study was published by the conservative Heartland Institute, which previously denied the science demonstrating the dangers of tobacco and secondhand smoke. (In fact, Heartland's denial of the dangers of second hand smoke was re-affirmed by a large scale 2013 study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute which found "no statistically significant relationship between lung cancer and exposure to passive smoke.")
Media Matters had actually pointed out that the Heartland Institute once claimed that smoking "fewer than seven cigarettes a day" -- not just secondhand smoke -- was not bad for you, while simultaneously being funded by the tobacco giant Philip Morris. Regardless, secondhand smoke is unequivocally dangerous and causally linked to cancers including lung cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute, the American Lung Association, and the Centers for Disease Control. McKelway cherry-picked one study that found no statistically significant link between secondhand smoke and cancer but did find a trend of "borderline statistical significance" among women who had lived with a smoker for 30 years or more. Meta-analyses have previously found that the "abundance of evidence ... overwhelmingly support the existence of a causal relationship between passive smoking and lung cancer." The Environmental Protection Agency states that it does not claim that "minimal exposure to secondhand smoke poses a huge individual cancer risk," but that nonetheless secondhand smoke is responsible for about 3,000 lung cancer deaths a year in U.S. nonsmokers:
The evidence is clear and consistent: secondhand smoke is a cause of lung cancer in adults who don't smoke. EPA has never claimed that minimal exposure to secondhand smoke poses a huge individual cancer risk. Even though the lung cancer risk from secondhand smoke is relatively small compared to the risk from direct smoking, unlike a smoker who chooses to smoke, the nonsmoker's risk is often involuntary. In addition, exposure to secondhand smoke varies tremendously among exposed individuals. For those who must live or work in close proximity to one or more smokers, the risk would certainly be greater than for those less exposed.
EPA estimates that secondhand smoke is responsible for about 3,000 lung cancer deaths each year among nonsmokers in the U.S.; of these, the estimate is 800 from exposure to secondhand smoke at home and 2,200 from exposure in work or social situations.
In an interview with Fortune, News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch credited Fox News with having "absolutely saved" the Republican Party, praising the network for giving "voice and hope to people who didn't like all that liberal championing thrown at them on CNN." But Fox News has not just given "voice and hope" to conservative news watchers. The network has been instrumental in helping Republicans for years by actively promoting and fundraising for GOP candidates, serving as a staging ground for numerous network employees to prep runs for office, championing Republicans' legislative goals, and systematically smearing and lying about an immeasurable number of Democrats, progressives, and any policy initiatives the network found insufficiently conservative.
During the same exchange, Murdoch reportedly bristled at the suggestion that Fox promotes the tea party, potentially at the expense of the GOP:
Does it bother you at all, Rupert, that there is a view that Fox News has contributed in a big way to the political discontent in the U.S., degraded the political process, and maybe, in spotlighting the Tea Party, even hurt the Republican Party? I think it has absolutely saved it. It has certainly given voice and hope to people who didn't like all that liberal championing thrown at them on CNN. By the way, we don't promote the Tea Party. That's bullshit. We recognize their existence.
But Murdoch's assertion that it's "bullshit" that Fox News promotes the tea party is, well, bullshit. Simply put, today's tea party probably wouldn't exist -- at least not at its level of influence and notoriety -- without the integral role Fox News played in promoting the first round of tea party events during Obama's first year in office.
Even given the warped standards by which Fox News' journalistic ethics are often viewed, the network's early promotion of the tea party is still staggering to revisit. In the early months of 2009, Fox News personalities on several different programs aggressively plugged the supposedly upstart tea party movement. The network even held its own events on April 15 of that year that they branded "FNC TAX DAY TEA PARTIES." Fox News hosts Glenn Beck (who has since left the network), Neil Cavuto, Sean Hannity, and Greta Van Susteren all broadcast live that day from various tea parties around the country.
Guinness announced that it will not participate in the New York City St. Patrick's Day parade due to the parade's exclusion of LGBT groups, prompting outrage and calls for boycott from right-wing media figures.
News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch charged that gay groups had "bullied" Guinness into pulling out of New York City's St. Patrick's Day Parade, calling for a boycott of the Irish brewer.
Guinness announced on March 16 that it would not participate in the parade, citing the event's exclusion of gay and lesbian groups. "Guinness has a strong history of supporting diversity and being an advocate for equality for all. We were hopeful that the policy of exclusion would be reversed for this year's parade," the company said in a statement.
Murdoch denounced the decision on Twitter, writing that he hoped "all Irish boycott the stuff":
Murdoch's attack on Guinness' pro-equality stance comes after Fox News personalities repeatedly assailed New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for not participating in the event and justified the parade's anti-gay discrimination by citing the existence of gay pride parades:
According to a new report in Politico, Republican Senator Rand Paul recently sat down with Fox News chief Roger Ailes and News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch.
Politico explains that Paul, who is often listed as a likely contender in the 2016 Republican presidential primary, met separately with the two men as he "has been working to smooth concerns among Republicans and influencers about whether he shares his famous libertarian father's views on issues like national security."
During the 2012 presidential cycle, Fox News essentially hosted the Republican primary, and Paul's jockeying for the support of Ailes and Murdoch is evidence that Fox's role as the gatekeeper of the Republican party hasn't changed.
The Politico report also points out that both Murdoch and Ailes have "historically had a good relationship with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie," another likely player in the 2016 Republican primary. Indeed, in 2011, New York magazine reported that Ailes "fell hard" for Christie and strongly encouraged him to throw his hat into the ring for the Republican nomination in 2012. Ailes certainly wasn't alone at the network in swooning over Christie -- Fox personalities fawned over the New Jersey governor for much of 2010 and 2011.
But as Politico lays out, Christie's relationship with the network may have soured after he "embraced President Barack Obama immediately after Hurricane Sandy ravaged New Jersey," shortly before the 2012 election:
Murdoch tweeted at the time that "while thanking O, must re-declare for Romney or take blame for next four dire years." Christie, according to The New York Times, called Murdoch just before the election and made his case for needing support after the hurricane, but the media titan told the governor that he needed to reiterate his support of Romney. Christie eventually did.
Fox hosts have also been notably less ebullient about Christie following the 2012 election. Sean Hannity announced on his radio show in January that, "to be blunt, yes, I am disappointed in Governor Christie." The Five co-host Eric Bolling lectured Christie on Fox's airwaves, advising him to "act like a Republican" and stop praising Obama over Sandy.
As recently as this morning, Fox Nation was posting commentary from Fox News Radio host Todd Starnes deriding Christie as a "RINO" and mocking his "schoolgirl crush" on Obama.
While people outside the Fox empire are seeking the support of Ailes and Murdoch, several of its employees are already stoking speculation about running in 2016, including Mike Huckabee, John Bolton, Allen West, Scott Brown, and Ben Carson.
Newly released transcripts of secretly recorded comments by a News Corp. executive reveal that the phone hacking scandal that has engulfed the company over the past few years could cost the firm $1.6 billion, much more than has previously been disclosed.
The reputation of News Corp. and its founder and head, Rupert Murdoch, have taken a hit from the now-acknowledged illegal practices of the company's News of the World and The Sun newspapers, which include generating stories by paying off law enforcement officials and hacking into the cellphones of celebrities, crime victims, politicians and others. Numerous News Corp. employees are currently on trial on charges relating to those crimes.
News Corp. not only declined to participate in David Folkenflik's new book about Rupert Murdoch, but "actively discouraged" people from speaking with the NPR veteran, while also "denigrating" his reputation, the author says.
Still, Folkenflik says he was able to conduct his reporting for Murdoch's World: The Last of the Old Media Empires and has come away with a detailed look at how the mogul built and sustains a global media conglomerate. In a wide-raging Wednesday interview with Media Matters, Folkenflik discussed Fox News' role in Republican Party primaries ("arbiter and umpire"), the network's PR department (Roger Ailes' "unbridled id"), the "searing experience" the Murdoch family has undergone due to the still unfolding phone-hacking scandal in Britain, how the network used Juan Williams' firing to "unleash" unprecedented "vitriol" on NPR, and what the future may hold for the empire Murdoch built.
Below is a transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
What prompted you to write this book since so much has been written about Murdoch and News Corp.?
I thought that the extraordinary revelations of the summer of 2011, which I was involved in covering for NPR, offered an extraordinary and new window into the inner workings of how News Corp. operated. If you look at it it involved his properties in England, and yet the stakes were felt very keenly here in the heart of midtown Manhattan just a few blocks from our bureau where News Corp. has its global headquarters. And as I looked at the story more closely, it became clear to me that there were commonalities in the cultures that News Corp. had created, particularly in the three great English-speaking nations in which Murdoch casts such a great shadow, Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. That they evolved differently in some ways through the culture of each country, and yet there were these common threads that I thought were worth exploring and teasing out and understanding ... I thought it was important to see what kind of steward he had been at The Wall Street Journal, how Fox and Murdoch had operated in the age of Obama, and what possibly could give rise to the conditions that would allow what now appears to have been fairly widespread criminality to have occurred at his two best-selling newspapers.
In his forthcoming book on News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch, veteran NPR media reporter David Folkenflik reports several fascinating stories about the mogul's expansive media empire.
Among the stories highlighted in Murdoch's World: that Fox News' public relations shop used an elaborate series of fake accounts to post pro-Fox comments on websites critical of the network; that the same PR department has resorted to ruthless tactics to take revenge on critical reporters; that News Corp's CEO tried to suppress damaging reporting about the phone hacking scandal from running in the Wall Street Journal; and that a New York Post columnist was merely "chastised" for directing a racial slur at a colleague.
Fox's ruthless PR department: Taking revenge on reporters and using sock puppet accounts on critical websites
Folkenflik highlights numerous anecdotes about the aggressive tactics of Fox News' PR department, which punished reporters that upset the network.
For example, when New York Times media reporter Timothy Arango was working on a story about CNN's solid ratings in 2008, he was reportedly first asked by Fox to run in full a "vitriolic" statement about CNN that the conservative network had provided him. After he bristled at the suggestion, Arango -- a former News Corp employee that had worked for the New York Post from 2002 to 2006 -- claims he received an ominous threat from Fox suggesting he would be attacked personally for his story.
The morning Arango's story ran on the front page of the Times' business section, he was contacted by a writer for the now-defunct gossip website Jossip. That site later anonymously published a hit piece on him, including revealing that a recent medical leave he had taken "may have been a stint in rehab":
This time, he said, [Fox News' Irena] Briganti warned him: They're going to go after you personally. On March 5, 2008, Arango's story, headlined "Back in the Game," ran on the front page of the Times business section, and it was featured prominently on the paper's website. That morning, he received a call from a blogger with Jossip, a now-defunct gossip site. Arango knew what lay in store but did not return the call.
The unbylined story on Jossip said Arango had just returned from a two-month medical leave that "many allege may have been a stint in rehab." The Jossip posting utilized every element of Arango's past coverage at the Post and Fortune magazine to draw a portrait of a craven reporter in unsuccessful pursuit of on-air reporting jobs at cable channels. It referred to "blowjob pieces about CNBC execs" written, the blog claimed, when Arango was hustling for a job at the network.
Arango braced for the slam about rehab because he had indeed returned a few days earlier from an extended medical leave to address his substance abuse. Arango kept silent, expecting a wave of disgust from his own newsroom. It never materialized. Bill Keller, then the executive editor at the Times, emailed Arango a note of encouragement: We don't take that kind of bullshit seriously. Keep your head up. [Murdoch's World, pp 72-73]
Folkenflik also writes about an incident involving fellow Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff. Wolff reportedly told Folkenflik that he was approached by Murdoch's staff with a request to "change the date when Murdoch met his third wife, Wendi Deng," whom Murdoch married "just weeks" after he finalized his divorce from his previous wife. After Wolff refused, his book received "scant coverage in any News Corp properties," though the New York Post eventually published seven pieces in the span of a month invoking an affair Wolff had been having with a colleague:
As Wolff tells the story, Murdoch wanted the timing of his involvement with Deng out of the book, but it stayed in. The Man Who Owns the News, received scant coverage in any News Corp properties. And Wolff also criticized [New York Post editor Col] Allan by name on cable television for the racially charged cartoon. Soon an article appeared on the gossip website City-File, and then another surfaced on the better-known Gawker, alleging that Wolff was having an affair with a younger colleague - a woman just a year older than his daughter. The Post pounced, citing, of course, the reporting of others. Over the course of the month, the Post published seven pieces invoking the affair and publishing another cartoon by Delonas, unfairly depicting the couple, in the words of Wolff's girlfriend Victoria Floethe, as "a thirteen-year-old girl in bed with an eighty-year-old." By the end of the coverage, Wolff had moved out of the apartment he shared with his wife and the tabloid was running pieces about a legal fight the soon-to-be divorced couple were having with Wolff's mother-in-law. [Murdoch's World, pp 49-50]
Folkenflik explains that after some negative attention in 2008, "Fox pulled back on some of its most aggressive tactics."
As Media Matters has previously highlighted, lashing out at critical reporters isn't the only way Fox's PR shop seeks to shape public opinion. Folkenflik reports in the book that the network's staffers set up a series of fake accounts to post comments to articles that were critical of Fox:
On the blogs, the fight was particularly fierce. Fox PR staffers were expected to counter not just negative and even neutral blog postings but the anti-Fox comments beneath them. One former staffer recalled using twenty different aliases to post pro-Fox rants. Another had one hundred. Several employees had to acquire a cell phone thumb drive to provide a wireless broadband connection that could not be traced back to a Fox News or News Corp account. Another used an AOL dial-up connection, even in the age of widespread broadband access, on the rationale it would be harder to pinpoint its origins. Old laptops were distributed for these cyber operations. Even blogs with minor followings were reviewed to ensure no claim went unchecked. [Murdoch's World, pg. 67]