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tv   Overheard With Evan Smith  PBS  April 28, 2018 4:30pm-5:01pm PDT

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- [announcer] funding for overheard with evan smith is provided in part by hillco partners, a texas government affairs consultancy, and by claire and carl stuart. and by claire and carl stuart. - i'm evan smith. she's a next generation journalism star who left a high profile gig at the new york times to become the new white house correspondent for pbs's newshour. she's yamiche alcindor, this is overheard. she's yamiche alcindor, this is overheard. yamiche alcindor welcome, nice to see you.
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- thanks for having me here. - i'm trying to think about your new job in this way. is being a white house correspondent at the moment the best job ever or the worst job ever? - in my mind it's not the best job ever because i think that there's a lot of jobs in journalism that are amazing, but this is one of the best gigs in town for sure. in dc i think it's the best job, because you have a front row seat to a history making president. before donald trump was elected, i said if we get him, he'll be the first reality tv president. i think that that's completely still true. i think if you are covering donald trump and have not watched the apprentice and do not watch reality tv, then you are absolutely doing yourself a disservice and you need to start doing that, because he is part of the culture and was born out of this culture. - that's like on the required reading list of the class, right? but i'm thinking, you know, we all grow up, well those of us who are in journalism think that being the white house correspondent is, if not the very top of the profession, then one of those jobs that you think, i'm aspiring to that, it would be amazing one day. but i wonder if this president and this presidency makes it kind of a weirder deal. because the nature of being a white house
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correspondent over time has been one way, and it's just different, right? it's different. - the beauty of being young and maybe a little naive is that you don't know what the last white house correspondent gig was like. i only know about the one that i have, and the one that i have requires - we sit here, you've been in the job for all of a couple weeks, right? - i've been in the job for two weeks. but i also think that being a journalist is completely different than what it was for most of my mentors. i wake up and i'm checking twitter. so i, it's normal for me to already have been checking twitter, now i have to really check twitter because the person that i cover starts tweeting at six am. - sometimes even earlier, right? - yeah, and as someone who because a journalist because i wanted to be a civil rights journalist, this is a great time to cover an administration that says that they want to do a lot of different things for people, want to essentially help african-americans out, he said. so i think i'm really interested to see what that actually turns into. - how's that working out so far? - how's that working out so far? - so far it's really tough to say because i think that he has said a lot
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about african-american unemployment, and the numbers are low, but to really peel back on what that means, unemployment numbers could mean the person's dropped out, or it could mean the person has actually gotten a job. it's pretty true that there are, in some areas of the country there are spikes in hate crimes. most poles say that americans are more divided than ever along race lines. so essentially we're a country that has absolutely found itself fighting over race and racial issues, but also confronting them in a way that we really haven't before. so for a journalist who's really interested in the white house and race, this is a perfect time to be a white house correspondent. - well we're having that conversation for sure, whether it's a good conversation or a bad one. and let's also say that for any president, one year is not enough time really to make a sufficient judgment on metrics. we don't know metrics yet, really, on this. but let me come back to the changes to journalism, and as you said, why you're doing the job, and let's stay with this president. so you actually wrote about donald trump for the years that you were, about three years that you were at the new york times. or two? - like two and a half. - two and a half years at the new york times.
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so you're not coming to this subject without a perspective. you have a sense of who he is. - i have a sense of who he is and i have a sense of who his voters are, because i spent time out on the campaign trail talking to his voters, talking to people when the access hollywood tape came out. i also only covered bernie sanders and donald trump, so i never covered hillary clinton, which to me helps me understand that there are a lot of americans that are angry for a lot of different reasons. - i agree, well the sanders and the trump people, it's often thought, had more in common with one another than with the people in their parties. - they have a lot in common. mainly, they're both very angry at kind of government and how it's worked. - they think they've been getting screwed by the system. - they think they're getting screwed by the system, they both think that the system is rigged. one group is largely blaming either the government or people of color for their problems. it's usually trump supporters who say, i don't think that all of them are blaming people of color, but there's at least a good number of them that are. on the bernie sanders wing it's the billionaires and millionaires and capitalism that's created the problems and that's why your town isn't doing as well as it used to do.
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- and so when you covered trump and sanders, that was during the context of the campaign, and then post-campaign, once trump had won, you began to cover, as i understand it, and as i remember, reading your coverage in the times, the impact of trump's policies on communities of color, among other subjects, right? - yes, and working class people. - focusing specifically on that. - focusing specifically on that. i wrote about climate change after he pulled out of the paris accords. i asked my question, how does this impact my beat? do poor people and climate change overlap? i found out that they of course overlap a lot. so i ended up going to houston and galveston, texas and talked to people that were day laborers about how hot it's getting. we talk about climate change a lot about polar bears and cities that might be underwater, but i found that there's a whole climate justice aspect that says that the people who should really be representative of climate change are refugee children and people running out of water. - would there have been a beat, yamiche, if hillary clinton has won, on the impact of the policies of the white house on communities of color? - i think so, because one of the first stories that i wrote for the new york times
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was about how haitian people, i'm haitian, both my parents are haitian - you're from a _ _ hole country. - you're from a _ _ hole country. - i'm trying to stay on set right now. so i will not do what my mother would have done, which is slap you. however. however. - this, by the way, this was the best moment in the whole history of this show, right? in the whole history of this show, right? - but, so knowing that, knowing that haitians did not like hillary clinton, they had real issues with her between the clinton foundation, between america's impact on who was the president of haiti or the alleged impact of that. so there was a real issue with clinton, so i think that this beat would have been there had clinton been elected. it would have been different, of course. - different. - for sure. but it probably, and for journalists of color like me and maybe other journalists as well, who always write about people of color, i would have always been writing about the impact of federal policies on people of color. - so when you say journalists of color always write about people of color, is that necessarily the case? i mean i think that, you know,
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you are clearly interested in a whole array of subjects, but have made this a focus. surely, and in previous generations as well, and maybe especially, this was not necessarily a focus of people, either journalists of color or not. - well, when i say journalists of color, - something has evolved in terms of the thinking of this as a beat, i guess is what i'm saying. - i think some journalists of color are very interested in people of color. i think that there are also journalists of color, like say, my fiancee that i'm gonna marry in a month, who likes writing about sports. he likes writing sometimes about race, but sometimes he just wants to write about the eagles and the superbowl. so there's this idea, when i say that, i mean the journalists of color who have taken the option to wanna write about people of color. i'm a journalist who started because i heard about the story of emmett till and said, i wanna be a civil rights journalist, i wanna be writing about civil rights. - this is your foundational story. - my foundational story is the story of emmett till and learning about his death, and learning about how the image of a young boy scarred, changed the country. and that's the kind of, that's who i wanted to be. - so on the subject of being a journalist of color, and particularly being a black woman covering the white house,
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i'm sorry i'm not gonna be in washington dc in a couple weeks. you're participating in an event with your colleagues in the press corps, april ryan, nia malika henderson, and there's an ap reporter as well. - yeah, darlene superville. - darlene superville, who are all black women who are covering the trump administration in some capacity, to talk about what it's like. again, amazing to think, first of all, let's talk about how great it is that there are so many reporters of color in the white house press room. but beyond that, the fact that we're having a conversation about the experience of being a black woman covering this white house tells you something about this white house and how the environment, the atmosphere, the tenor may be different enough that we have to have that conversation. - yeah, i mean, i interviewed some white supremacists before the, right before the cleveland convention who said for the first time in their lifetime they were excited about a presidential candidate. and that didn't mean that donald trump is a white supremacist, that's not what i'm saying, but i'm saying that there were definitely white supremacists who looked at him, heard what he was saying and said, this is my guy. i mean, that tells you that something's going on there and that the language that people are using
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in this administration is sending off notes, whether intentionally or unintentionally, sending off messages to people who think that people like me shouldn't be here. - and i think about april ryan's experience particularly, because she's probably the most visible black woman in the white house press corps in the room every day with sarah sanders, and i think about how she's been talked to and treated. and some people have said that april ryan has been treated differently by this administration in that room than other people. and i mean, it really is, it's terrible to have to be having this conversation. but the fact is, this is a moment. - it's a moment. this administration has also been an administration that has said that the media could be the enemy of the people, who has called my former employer, the new york times, failing, who has the fake media news awards. so there's this idea that, yes, april ryan was treated, i think it's arguably objective to say that no one else is being asked can they set up meetings with the cbc, the congressional black caucus, other than april ryan.
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no one else got that question when they asked about that. but this is an administration that is treating the media differently on a whole host of different areas. - have you interviewed the president yet? - i have not. - do you have any desire to interview the president. of course, who wouldn't, right? - yeah, i would definitely be interested in interviewing him. - what is your sense of him personally? i mean, you have colleagues, certainly, who have interviewed him. i keep asking people who have interactions with him, what's he like, what's he like, and i wonder, is that a weird thing to ask? but i'm really curious as a citizen. like, how much of what we see is an act? and how much of who he actually is in the room is different than the person we see on tv? - well if you watch the interviews that he's done and listen to the recordings of interviews that he's done, he seems to be a really personable person. if you watch the apprentice, he's also kind of entertaining, kind of wants you to really like him so he's saying things that maybe is trying to flatter you. even if he doesn't like the new york times as a whole, he still is giving you access to him. so i think there's that aspect
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that definitely, he is someone who is probably a charming kind of charismatic person. but then if you look at the historical donald trump, you look at the person who took out the ad on the, with the central park five, if you look at the person who was sued by the justice department because he was discriminating against people and saying that african-americans shouldn't be living in his building, i think then you get a clearer picture of who he is in terms of policies and his views of people of color. i interviewed his ex black girlfriend or multiracial girlfriend, she's part african-american, and she said that he would talk about african-americans and be surprised that they like tennis. but he also really liked hanging out with african-american celebrities. he liked hanging out with russell simmons, he liked hanging out with al sharpton. jesse jackson told me that he gave his organization space in his building for free. so there was this part of him that was going to these meetings where people were trying to get more black people on wall street and was interested in that topic. there weren't cameras there, there weren't people edging him on, he was genuinely like, yeah jesse jackson, come to my tower.
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- and he wasn't running for office at the time. - he wasn't running for office at the time, so a complex person is essentially who the president is. - if you got the opportunity, in the context of the particular beat that you're on or the interest that you have in civil rights journalism as you described it, to sit down with him and to talk about race with him, what would you wanna ask him? - the first question i would ask is why do you think white supremacists are excited about your presidency? what is it about what you said that you think hits a chord with people who wanna discriminate against people of color? and should they not be excited about you? and people say that you're a racist, what do you say to those people who call you a racist? it's one thing to say, i know you've said in the past, you're the least racist person ever, why? - he said it just like, two weeks ago, right? - you said you're the least racist person ever, explain to me why that's the case. where's the evidence for that? - do you believe he's racist? - i am a reporter that's covering, so i can't - but you're also a human. - yeah, and i feel like for me, i'm punting on that question because i don't think that as a reporter
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we should be talking about that. i don't think that as a reporter, i should be out there saying donald trump is one way or the other. i think i can lay out for people what he said and they can make their decision, which is what my job is as of right now. - haven't the goal posts, though, changed for journalism? it wasn't too long ago that news organizations would not call a president, this president or any other, a liar. now the word liar appears in chyrons on television and appears in headlines, including in the pages of your old employer the new york times, on a semi-regular basis. so hasn't the whole conversation around how we asses people like this president changed? - i don't think that it's changed in that, or maybe it's changed because the presidency has changed, but i as a person think a lie is a lie. so if you say a lie, you could call it an untruth or call it something different, but it's really just a lie. there's, so i think that if you say something that's racist, you could just say that it's racist. even if you're not a racist you could say, saying that mexican are criminals
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and rapists is a racist comment. - but that doesn't make the individual, in your mind, a racist so much as you have to call them out for that. - yeah i think you have to call them out for that. we have family, i have family members that say stupid things. does that mean that you're a complete idiot? maybe not. but it means that you really have to stop saying stupid things. to stop saying stupid things. - and just leave it at that. - and just leave it at that. alright so, this kinda gets to this question of journalism and how journalism has changed, because again, i'm thinking about this new job you have as the white house correspondent for the newshour and i think, this president's different, being a white house correspondent itself is not the job it once was. there's a conversation now about whether access journalism or being that close to power necessarily produces good reporting, or if you would be better off in houston and galveston talking to day laborers about climate change. is journalism better done on the ground where it affects people's lives or is being in that room necessarily productive? do you have a point of view about that? - i was thinking about that because i left the new york times, which is an amazing job
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and it was like a dream job for other people, to come to a place that is another dream place for people, which is pbs newshour. - but different. - but different. but i thought to myself, the presence of that room, i'm one of the only people, maybe, that has an afro sitting in the presence of sarah sanders who she has to look at and answer questions to. i think that there's, i was very inspired by gwen ifill just by her presence. and my presence, i think, means something to people in that room. but the other thing is, i like pbs for what they've told me the job is gonna be because they said, part of your job is going to be going out into the country and telling stories about people, talking to people, asking yourselves, what do these policies mean? if you said something at the state of the union like, black unemployment is so amazingly low and african-americans are doing so great, okay, let's go talk to the black people that live in detroit and see how great their lives are. so i think that's part of the job. and if you're a white house correspondent, i think you have to be out in the community. - you can't be wedded to that room. - i don't think you can be wedded to that room. i'm two weeks on the job
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but i don't think you can be wedded to that room. - journalism itself, of course, in our lifetimes, has changed, although i'm a littler older than you and so probably i have a different perspective on how things used to be, maybe, than you do. i sometimes see you on television at the crack of dawn. i sometimes see you on television right when i'm getting ready to go to bed. because you're also an nbc and msnbc contributor and so i might see you on morning joe or i might see you on that brian williams program late at night. your workday is not a workday of journalists of a previous generation. there's no off switch. - there's no off switch, but there hasn't been an off switch for me for a while. i covered ferguson, i covered the death of trayvon martin, i covered the protests in baltimore. i've never had a job where i could just clock in, clock out. that's never been something i, my first full time gig was at newsday in long island, and i remember i used to get woken up at seven o'clock in the morning 'cause some cat was in a tree and something had to happen or a dead whale watched up on hampton beach. - glamorous journalism. - and i had to run to go do that.
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journalism that taught me how to be a really good reporter that says yes a lot. and then, the night would almost be over and they'd say, well now there's gonna be this multicultural thanksgiving dinner at this college that we really wanna cover, you're gonna go do that too. so that's been the journalism that i came up in. - so this world today, where it seems like it's all day, every day, every minute, that's not really that much of a change, at least for you. - not for me, no. - 'cause it just feels like it's a long day. - it is a very long day. - i sympathize with all of you who are on television at 11 o'clock at night. the pbs thing, so we're both very fortunate in our lives to have known gwen ifill before she passed. anybody who could take a job at a place where gwen ifill worked, as far as i'm concerned, that's a great job. because if you get to be in the same environment where he walked the halls and inspired people, great. pbs and the new york times are not the same. as you point out, the new york times is a dream job. most people end their careers at the new york times. they say, that's the thing i'm aspiring to. you were at newsday and then you were at usa today before going to the times,
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but still at a relatively young age, you got there in 2015. so you were still in your 20s when you got to the new york times. but then you leave the times. no one leaves the times. we love pbs, right? that's like, what are we doing here? but but but, that's not a job you leave. so what was it about new york times to pbs that made you make that change? - well you know, gwen ifill left the new york times. - correct, that's true, good point. check mate. - so if you're someone who's a student of gwen ifill and a student of, she was a mentor of mine, and we met because we had the same hairdresser because that's how that happens, and that's how the universe, so great. - that is, by the way, not how we met. - that is, by the way, not how we met. - so seeing that, and seeing that she left before there was a gwen ifill is really powerful because when she left, what you just said, no one leaves the new york times, was super true. it's not so true anymore.
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there are young people who leave the new york times to go do all sorts of different things. - but you stipulate the point, though. - yeah. but for me, the idea that i could go be the white house correspondent at my mentor's show was an amazing opportunity. and if you're, there are young journalists out there, you know not to burn bridges, you know not to kick people on the way out and say, oh, you know, that was you know to talk to people and to say, and to think through and to tell people what your thinking was. my thinking was, i'm not looking for a job, but this amazing opportunity fell in my lap, and why would i not try it out? why would i only stay at the new york times? and that's a great job, but i'm in my 30s. - plus you could always go back. - i could always go back. - in the end, right? - i mean dean left and went back, and now he runs the place. - he did. - so you know, there's that. - there is that. not that you're necessarily setting that. and as you point out too, you know, the president attacked the new york times regularly for the last 12 or 13 months. it's failing and terrible and everything else. as far as i know, he hasn't attacked, to be fair, he probably doesn't watch pbs.
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the president doesn't seem like a pbs guy to me. is that true? don't know. he could be super into antiques roadshow and we just don't know it. i'm just not assuming that that's the case. but the great thing about pbs, though, and we can both agree with this is that pbs is this sort of down the middle, solves the riddle kind of brand, right? people look at pbs and they think, they're just doing non-partisan work, they're sort of just doing reporting. and for someone such as yourself who has serious aspirations for the impact of her work, a place like that probably affords opportunities that you really can't pass up. - yeah, pbs, it affords me the opportunity to sit back and think, now that i'm getting farther into my career, what do i want my impact to be? where are my strengths best used? and can i do this broadcast journalism thing? it's one thing to be an msnbc contributor, i love being on tv and talking about my story. it's another thing to think through visual storytelling, to learn to track a piece,
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to learn to get people to be comfortable with you while there's a camera in your face. that's a completely different skill that i'm either gonna have or not have. and i hope that i have it. and i hope that i like it, because there is something also about being in ferguson, scrappy with a notebook and being able to kind of one story that i broke was that darren wilson wasn't gonna be indicted for the killing of michael brown. i didn't have a camera with me. i had my notebook, and i was sitting next to michael brown's mother and her lawyer in a room. that's a completely different thing than if i had asked them maybe to say, can i have my whole camera crew in your hotel room. they might have said yes or no. or they might say yes because i've learned to have those skills. but i'm gonna see what that difference is. - and that actually gets to another point about how journalism is different. the fact is that in the old days, you would have been the reporter with a notebook in a room. today, you're a reporter with a notebook, you're a reporter with a camera crew or with your own device, recording something. you're on social media. you're having to live across a whole lotta different channels of distribution and platforms.
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what journalism is is just different. and the expectations for somebody in your position is that you're gonna be platform agnostic or platform devout, whichever the appropriate one is, in terms of being able to do content here, here, here, here, here, however you reach people. and that's a burden on people today. - i'm lucky that i came up where it's all very natural to me. we have to hologram ourselves into stories, and when that starts happening, i'm gonna be like, what is this, i can't handle that. but as of right now, i wrote, i was writing stories on my smartphone when i was an intern for the washington post. and i had just gotten the first iphone and i had been texting my friends for a whole year in college, so we just felt normal to write a story on my iphone. i remember an editor being like, you type this out on that little device, and i mean like, yeah, it's like sending a text. i once snapchatted while following bernie sanders. true story, i had, it was like months into covering him, i thought i was doing great, i was on tv, i was writing great stories that were making the front page. i snapchatted from the back of the bernie bus, or actually from that hotel going to the bernie bus.
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i had all these cousins, like 17 years old, that were like, are you a reporter? you're covering bernie sanders? they had no idea that i was a reporter until i got on snapchat. that to me gives you perspective that says, oh you think you made it because you're on the front page of the new york times or you become a white house correspondent for pbs newshour. does the 17 year old know what you did? and are they, they're gonna be the person who you hope buys the paper and hope tunes in. - well they're not brand loyal. that's exactly the point, they need to be reading this stuff. - yeah, and they need to be brought into the fold, and you have to go to them and don't expect them to come to you. - i love that. we have just a couple minutes, yamiche. i wanna quickly do the yamiche story, 'cause we've touched on a little bit of it. so you grew up in miami, parents are both immigrants from haiti. - well my dad still lives in haiti, my mom lives in miami. - mom lives in miami. you interned at an early age at the miami herald. did you not? you were still in school. - i was a high school senior essentially.
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- okay. georgetown for undergraduate. - yes. - and nyu for graduate school. - yes. - you worked other internships. you mentioned the washington post. - washington post, seattle times. i did a paper in botswana 'cause i had an eight month period where i was gonna not leave africa ever. i was gonna not leave africa ever. then my mom came and told me i have to graduate college. - come on back, yeah. and your first job was on the beached whale and cat in tree beat at newsday, as you said. and then you went to usa today where you were a breaking news reporter. and then it was there that you covered ferguson and trayvon martin. and then you went to the new york times in 2015, and now to the newshour. and you knew you wanted to be a journalist the whole time? - i knew i wanted to be a writer since i was probably three. - [evan] why? - it just naturally came to me. - not the family business. - it's not the family business. my mom has a phd in french literature and social work and is a social worker in miami, school social worker.
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my dad runs a large non-profit in haiti for disabled people, he's blind. so that's his life's work is helping blind people in haiti. and i just popped out in the world and was a writer. and my first memorable thing that i wrote was an angry essay about george washington carver, because i'm allergic to peanuts. and i remember laying out how he was not actually great for society, and that he had made my life so much harder. and that was in third grade, and i remember thinking, i really like doing this. - and from there to here. it's great to meet you. any time i think about the future of journalism and i meet somebody like you who is younger but also seems old for her years or his years and has experience that is beyond the actual experience, i think the world's gonna be fine and journalism will be fine. so i'm really happy to have the opportunity to talk to you. - thank you. - [evan] and good luck in your new job. - thanks. - yamiche alcindor, thanks so much. - yamiche alcindor, thanks so much. - [announcer] we'd love to have you join us in the studio.
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visit our website at to find invitations to interviews, q&as with our audience and guests and an archive of past episodes. - my grandmother lived to be 94 and i picture myself sometimes as an old woman sitting in my rocking chair saying, did i live my life? if i die tomorrow, would i have never even tried to fill-in anchor for judy woodruff. like, that's a big thing that could happen. why not try? and then if you fail and it's terrible, you just tell people, oh my god, i was so terrible at that. so sorry. - [announcer] funding for overheard with evan smith is provided in part by hillco partners, a texas government affairs consultancy, and by claire and carl stuart. and by claire and carl stuart.
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