Wingnut? Or Does Beck Just Play One on TV?

February 16th, 2010 at 12:55 pm | 36 Comments |

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In his newest book, pilule Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America, buy cialis John Avlon shines the spotlight on the extremists from the far-left and the far-right, from birthers questioning Obama’s citizenship to 9/11 truthers.

In the first in a series of excerpts, Avlon speaks with a former Glenn Beck producer who wonders if Beck truly believes the ideas he promotes on his show.


The Glenn Beck Program debuted on Fox News the night before Obama’s inauguration, and he came out swinging. Sarah Palin was among the first night’s guests. Within weeks Beck was pumping up “the Road to Communism” and offering “Comrade Updates,” declaring “the destruction of the West is happening” and that “the president is a Marxist…who is setting up a class system.”

Sometimes he pivoted his imagery to the right, saying “The government is a heroin pusher using smiley-faced fascism to grow the nanny state” and claiming that “the federal government is slowly drifting into fascism.” Other times he indulged both sides of the spectrum, as on April 2, when Beck asked, “Is this where we’re headed?” and showed images of Hitler, Lenin and Stalin.

Beck’s opposition to the health-care bill in the summer of ’09 hit all the bases. First there was fascism, as in the “[health-care] system is going to come out of the other side dictatorial—it’s going to come out a fascist state.” Then there was health-care as “good old socialism…raping the pocketbooks of the rich to give to the poor.” And finally, race: “The health care bill is reparations. It’s the beginning of reparations.”

Beck’s ratings soared, and his credibility was bolstered by on-air investigations into Obama personnel like “Green Jobs czar” Van Jones, who had in fact once described himself as a communist and signed a 9/11 Truther petition calling for an investigation into whether President Bush had known in advance about the attacks of September 11th. Beck hammered home the story while other news outlets resisted it. Jones ultimately resigned. Beck had both a scoop and a scalp.

Beck’s newfound firebrand politics and effectiveness in driving the news cycle had some old friends scratching their heads. “I never got the impression that Glenn is as naturally curious as he appears to be, to be bringing the information forward that he is,” said Jim Sumpter [Glenn’s former manager]. “I don’t know if Glenn’s being fed or if Glenn’s really the driving force. I have no idea. If he’s the driving force, that’s a Glenn Beck I never saw. If he’s being fed, then the showmanship that goes into all of this is classic Beck. Now if Glenn is the showman and the driving force behind bringing the information to the forefront, then, then I think we’re probably looking at a near genius in terms of what he’s doing…[but] I don’t think this is Glenn. The catalyst in this thing is not Glenn. Glenn’s the vehicle, not the catalyst.”

Catalyst or not, Beck was hitting all the Wingnut themes with perfect pitch. When Iowa’s court legalized gay marriage, Beck declared, “I believe this case is actually about going into churches, and going in and attacking churches and saying, “You can’t teach anything else.’” To nervous gun rights advocates, he asserted that Obama “will slowly but surely take away your gun or take away your ability to shoot a gun, carry a gun.” He brought avowed secessionists on his show and gave them an interested hearing. Beck drew the wildest denunciations when he called President Obama “a racist” with a “deep-seated hatred for white people.” An advertiser boycott began, but the zealotry of his advocates more than compensated as yet another Beck book went up the charts in 2009. First there was Glenn Beck’s Common Sense: The Cast Against an Out-of-Control Government and then Arguing with Idiots: How to stop Small Minds and Big Government, featuring Beck leering on the cover in a Soviet-style commissar’s uniform.

In the books, as on air, it’s always a wrestling match between the Good Beck—humorous, self-effacing and calling on a higher power for a sense of purpose—and the Bad Beck, peddling political apocalypse, The Onion equivalent of a horror film: “We are a country that is headed towards socialism, totalitarianism, beyond your wildest imagination.” “There is a coup going on. There is a stealing of America…done through the guise of an election.”

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36 Comments so far ↓

  • republicanblack

    You know Obama supporters can’t hate Sarah Palin, because in more ways than one she is just like Obama, check this story out

    http://bit.ly/bHesDn

  • sparty

    You know, conservatives can’t hate Stalin/Hitler/Lenin, because in more ways than one, they are just like them. Check this video out:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHg5SJYRHA0

  • JeninCT

    How nice of Mr. Avalon to shine the light on the wingnuts, but Beck’s not one of them. He’s simply a guy asking questions.

  • rbottoms

    How nice of Mr. Avalon to shine the light on the wingnuts, but Beck’s not one of them. He’s simply a guy asking questions.

    Really crazy, paranoid, pants wetting, lunatic questions.

  • kevin47

    Why is it so important to determine what a panel show guy actually believes? My guess is that he believes most of it, but has fun with his shtick.

    I think he’s right about gay marriage. If gay marriage is legal, am I supposed to believe the gay power groups won’t set their sights on forcing churches to recognize it? Because that’s pretty tough to believe when they have already come out and said it is.

  • PracticalGirl

    As a former producer and media rep for several of Beck’s fellow “wingnuts” (at one point working with 3 of the top ten talk perspective hosts in the country) I can tell you definitively: These guys are , for the most part, 7 parts showmen, 2 parts contributors and 1 part curiosity.

    It is the job of the perspective talk show host to spin, to entertain. It is the job of his/her producers to inform based upon the perspective of the host and to maximize audience outrage. Every uber popular host is “fed” on a daily (and sometimes hourly) basis. I know of at least one host who shows up to the mic with a few minutes to spare, the show having been completely researched, booked and produced (including prewritten opening monologues) beforehand. Producers are masters at absorbing a host’s perspective and their voice so that materials can be culled and written accordingly. We know what will send our host into apoplexy, and we feed it to those with the gift of gab for maximum entertainment on the other side.

    Curiosity of most of these spin doctors extends only as far as their audience’s does. They are the vaudville actors of the airwaves. It’s why Beck (who I did not work for) has found such a solid ground for his particular nuttiness. His audience doesn’t want fact. It wants innuendo, controversy and-please, God!- conspiracy. Hosts like Beck care nothing about consistency or reason. How else can you explain how talk radio/Fox News was able to convince a large minority (30% at the height of the sleaze part of the ’08 election) that Obama was at once a Muslim AND a radicalize Christian? Sure, it seemed unreasonable, but what do they care as long as their message of hate is the one that resonated?

  • franco 2

    “Sometimes he pivoted his imagery to the right, saying “The government is a heroin pusher using smiley-faced fascism to grow the nanny state” ”

    That’s not “the right” that’s the left. Fascism is a legitimate, although not necessarily exclusive, leftist phenomenon. Hitler belonged to the National Socialist Party ( NAZI is the acronym in German) and when coupled with the words “smiley-faced” a nod toward Golberg’s book “Liberal Fascism”, and growing a “nanny state” it is unquestionably a reference to leftist fascism.

    This site is full of know-nothings.

  • Bebe99

    What disturbs me is the shower of terms of derision being flung by Beck. The blurring of the terms Fascist and Communist, for instance, as though there is no difference between the two. In fact fascists and communists are usually on opposite extremes of the political divide. Its hard to take as serious someone who can’t be bothered to notice the difference but just flings the terms in unison like a monkey with his dung.

  • PracticalGirl

    kevin47 asks:

    “Why is it so important to determine what a panel show guy actually believes?”…

    …Because there are millions and millions of people who will buy anything they are selling, and because the principles of vertical marketing are at work. The extremely popular spin doctors on radio all have TV presences, as well, and the lesser-known and local hosts mimic their perspectives. Plus the audiences have a large crossover factor. Thus, somebody who listens to talk radio and hears something, then watches Fox or listens to another program and hears basically the same thing begins to get convinced of the “truth” they are hearing, and that “all the experts are saying it”.

  • PracticalGirl

    franco,

    As you well know, the extremes on either side of the bell curve aren’t very far apart from each other. You can draw a straight line from Communist and Fascist. So it’s not surprising that there can be confusion.

  • Bebe99

    And franco 2, read up a bit on Hitler German history. Before the Nazis took over there was a communist party which was in opposition to the Nazis. They were not one and the same. The Nazis were “socialist” in name only.

  • Bebe99

    The “confusion” of fascist with communist is intentional.

  • PracticalGirl

    Bebe99-

    Agreed. And the talk show host feeds on this, as well.

  • SFTor1

    Franco 2: Nazi is not an acronym, it is a typical German diminutive. Compare to Stasi (Staatspolitzei) and Gabi (Gabriella).
    The acronym for the Nazi party is NSDAP. Fascism is on the right of the political spectrum, emphasizing the symbiotic relationship between the State and the corporation (a.k.a the corporate state.) National socialism sounds leftist, but is not. It is fascism by another name, and a sworn enemy of Marxism and other types of socialism.

    Glenn Beck is a demagogue, an American Goebbels. He breaks down respect for the truth. He is an opportunist of the worst description. He cares for no one but himself, and will soon enough be relegated to the trash can of history.

  • teabag

    Franco is a typical RW ignoramus. Just spewing forth the rubbish that he hears from people like Beck and Limpballs. No sense off history, no knowledge, no interest in the truth, just lies and more lies.

    Facism is a right wing ideology 180 degrees opposite of Communism. It suits the wingnut fringe to confuse the two because then they can call their “enemies” both and avoid being labeled as Fascists themselves. As I said lies and more lies.

  • JeninCT

    Practicalgirl wrote: “His audience doesn’t want fact. It wants innuendo, controversy and-please, God!- conspiracy.”

    How do you know what his audience wants?

    PG also wrote, “How else can you explain how talk radio/Fox News was able to convince a large minority (30% at the height of the sleaze part of the ‘08 election) that Obama was at once a Muslim AND a radicalize Christian? Sure, it seemed unreasonable, but what do they care as long as their message of hate is the one that resonated?”

    Sorry, but this is Obama’s own family history, and his affiliation as an adult with Black Liberation Theology. Fox News didn’t make it up. And if Obama’s Church was so wonderful, why did his disassociate himself from Rev. Wright?

  • teabag

    JeninCT joins Franco in the race for Ignoramus of the week. It’s a tight race folks but they are really going for it now.

    Obama is not a Muslim though from your racist viewpoint you would love for that to be the case. Remember the crazy old lady at the McCain rally? You are just like her.

  • makjuyet

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    http://www.articlesbase.com/dental-care-articles/celebrity-white-teeth-review-get-free-trial-now-1851148.html

  • kevin47

    “As a former producer and media rep for several of Beck’s fellow “wingnuts” (at one point working with 3 of the top ten talk perspective hosts in the country) I can tell you definitively: These guys are , for the most part, 7 parts showmen, 2 parts contributors and 1 part curiosity.”

    As someone who has pitched guests and stories to such producers, I disagree with your assessment. But that’s neither here nor there.

    By and large, hosts want to talk to the most newsworthy people, and discuss the most newsworthy stories. As a producer, it is your job to make that happen. I fail to see how this gives you any definitive insight into what the “wingnuts” believe.

    “Because there are millions and millions of people who will buy anything they are selling, and because the principles of vertical marketing are at work. The extremely popular spin doctors on radio all have TV presences, as well, and the lesser-known and local hosts mimic their perspectives.”

    Beck may be a lot of things, but he is certainly not a spin doctor. Do you know what a spin doctor is? It’s not just a term for people who say things with which you happen to disagree.

    “Plus the audiences have a large crossover factor. Thus, somebody who listens to talk radio and hears something, then watches Fox or listens to another program and hears basically the same thing begins to get convinced of the “truth” they are hearing, and that “all the experts are saying it”.”

    I didn’t ask why Beck is important. I asked why it matters so much what he actually believes. The fact is that his message resonates with a lot of people. If he happens to be a liberal Democrat, then what of it? Liberal politicians pretend they believe something other than what they believe all the time (its called running to the center, but you know that because you produce so much stuff). Who cares? Let them run.

    “Facism is a right wing ideology 180 degrees opposite of Communism.”

    This is ignorant. Both ideologies require a highly centralized government in order to affect their respective initiatives. At a theoretical level, there are certainly distinctions, but in practice, the two are not mutually exclusive.

    Yes, I am aware that a fascist government was once at war with a communist government.

  • mike farmer

    Incredible. This has to be the most dishonest hit job I’ve seen posted in quit a while. Anyone who values honesty will have to condemn this whether you like Beck or not.

    Beck has condemned the beliefs of birthers and truthers — he’s explained why he thinks fascism and socialism are the same as far as economic results — Ludwig von Mises said the same thing.

    This is filled with lies and smears. It’s hard to believe FrumForum has gone this far — they are losing all credibility.

  • mike farmer

    quite

  • franco 2

    Bebe99 // Feb 16, 2010 at 6:01 pm

    “And franco 2, read up a bit on Hitler German history. Before the Nazis took over there was a communist party which was in opposition to the Nazis.”

    Because they “in opposition” does not make them opposites. Often in politics, and it was definitely the case here, close rivals have especially vitriolic and bitter battles since they are fighting over the same set of potential followers.

    The problem here is not so much of definitions, but of the landscape the definition is seated. It isn’t a right/left argument, but a freedom/slavery argument. Nowadays if you aren’t “left” you are considered “right”.

    To many leftists and other propagandized drones, “right” is code for fascism, or right leaning is closer to fascism than left leaning in their framework.. This is bunk. Modern conservatives and many Republicans (not all) are for reducing the role of government control.

    Fascism and Socialism are ALL ABOUT GOVERNMENT CONTROL.

    One of the distinctions leftists cite for the difference is that fascism is dictatorship by the rich and communism is a collective dictatorship by the poor. This may be fine to ruminate in political theory class at Berkeley but when implemented the two inevitably become the same. Once wealth is destroyed/redistributed/appropriated by communists, the new currency becomes political power. The resulting systems are nearly identical for the ordinary citizen.

    The difference between communism/socialism and fascism are small when juxtaposed with free-market (not crony) capitalism and rule of law that respects individual rights of privacy and property.

    Ayn Rand:

    “That fraud collapsed in the 1940’s, in the aftermath of World War II. It is too obvious, too easily demonstrable that fascism and communism are not two opposites, but two rival gangs fighting over the same territory—that both are variants of statism, based on the collectivist principle that man is the rightless slave of the state—that both are socialistic, in theory, in practice, and in the explicit statements of their leaders—that under both systems, the poor are enslaved and the rich are expropriated in favor of a ruling clique—that fascism is not the product of the political “right,” but of the “left”—that the basic issue is not “rich versus poor,” but man versus the state, or: individual rights versus totalitarian government—which means: capitalism versus socialism.”

  • PracticalGirl

    Jenin,

    I don’t have any particular insight into Becks individual choices, but after 6 years I know exactly what the conservative audience wants. I led two major shows and was a contributing producer to several others. I understand well what keeps a listener, and it’s not reasoned thought-it’s emotion.

    There was a very famous study (in radio circles) that detailed some very interesting things about audience response, down to the very minute that they make their decision to either stay with the program or turn the dial. All radio is constructed to take maximum advantage of this window. The other major “finding” (which to those in the business is just second nature) is this: Audiences don’t respond to content as much as they respond to negative emotion and tone in a host’s voice. That’s why 90% of what you hear and see in the perspective media is negative and argumentative. BTW: This applies to conservative as well as liberal perspective media, although liberal audiences tend to respond more to sarcasm than pure negative emotion. I worked with both, but mostly on the conservative side.

  • GOProud

    Mike farmer at #19 nails it: “Incredible. This has to be the most dishonest hit job I’ve seen posted in quit a while. Anyone who values honesty will have to condemn this whether you like Beck or not. Beck has condemned the beliefs of birthers and truthers — he’s explained why he thinks fascism and socialism are the same as far as economic results — Ludwig von Mises said the same thing. This is filled with lies and smears. It’s hard to believe FrumForum has gone this far — they are losing all credibility.”

    It is a hit job, MikeF. I join you in condemning it and I can’t stand Glenn Beck! It might be a new low except for the near fetish contortions around here to spin any story into a Sarah Palin bashing moment.

    I think it proves the Frum Forum is far more about given farLeft democrat trolls a home than it is about building a new conservative majority or returning the GOP to majority party status. FF is more like GOP Log Cabineers than it is about true conservatism.

    I guess this is what happens when “FF Editors” elect Scottie McClellan as their poster boi.

    By the way, can the weasel hiding behind “FF Editors” grow a pair and attribute his/her nonsense with a name? The American Spectator can get away with cute little attributions for ghost writers like Alexander Hamilton and JQAdams, et al.

    Here, at the FF, it’s just a weasely tactic to appear more cerebral than warranted.

  • PracticalGirl

    Kevin47:

    “By and large, hosts want to talk to the most newsworthy people, and discuss the most newsworthy stories.”

    Not really. Perspective hosts want to talk about the stories that they can make people believe are the most newsworthy, a far cry from what is actually newsworthy. They want to talk about the topics that will get people talking and will capitalize on emotion. Period. Thus, Terri Schiavo took over the airwaves, and guess what took a back seat? Proposed mortgage reform (also shopped to shows in the same period) that was NOT getting the attention it deserved. You tell me: Which ended up being more newsworthy: One woman’s family fight or proposed legislation that would have begun to deal with Fannie and Freddie and the eventual collapse of the mortgage sector? The point is that the perspective hosts don’t make news, they make noise on behalf of their ideology, their audience and-bottom line-on behalf of their wallets.

    As far as your experience as a booker…This give you absolutely no insight into the job of a producer, only into the job of a guest booker on the other end. The play as to which subjects a host will be talking to is handled before any booking is done. If you repped people who had timely books or were big names and could talk about the subjects at hand, great. If not, you were most likely shined on or booked for a slower news cycle. A booker with a pitch never makes programming decisions. That’s the job of the producer, and it’s handled without booker input. For the best producers, it’s all about host perspective, not what shows up in a producer’s inbox or voicemail

    You are right-I was arguing why Beck et al are important. But this also speaks to why its important to ask what somebody with millions of listeners/viewers each week believes. They are leading people to a conclusion and telling them that it is the “truth”. That they may come up with a different “truth” next week (and sell it just as hard) is exactly why I call them spin doctors. And I do it without rancor. I fully understand the goals of perspective media, as do the hosts. But the hosts also understand that their jobs have very little to do with consistency of message,, except for the big ones i.e. Liberals suck or Conservatives are nuts. If you really listen to these guys from week to week, you’ll see the big holes in many of their arguments. Show me a perspective host who doesn’t contradict his own words relatively often, and I’ll show you one who doesn’t have a very big audience share.

  • JeninCT

    Practicalgirl, I asked a rhetorical question. I don’t partivuarly care where you worked and what famous study you’ve read. Beck’s viewers can decide for themselves to either watch, listen or change the channel, and they’ve decided, in record numbers, to stay.

    I agree with Mike Farmer’s #19 as well.

  • PracticalGirl

    Jenin-

    You are the poster child of a great P1. You don’t care about being educated, only entertained with what fits your agenda, and are disdainful of anybody who might have experiences that challenge your thoughts. It’s why Rush makes $38 million a year and keeps thousands umployed. Of course, people can decide for themselves what to watch and listen. But you are a fool if you don’t understand that those listeners/viewers are being captured through pure emotion-facts are unnecessary.

  • PracticalGirl

    Jenin-

    I have also neglected to say that I admire Beck (like the people I worked for) for his talents as an entertainer. The biggest problem I see is how seriously these folks are taken. They are not political leaders, they are opinionated commentators. For those caught up in the perspective game, it never ceases to amaze me how they can distinguish this difference in the ones with whom they disagree, yet find only “truth” in the ones with whom they closely identify. The game is the same on both sides of the perspective. And it’s about money, not politics or even, in some cases, ideology.

  • kevin47

    “You tell me: Which ended up being more newsworthy: One woman’s family fight or proposed legislation that would have begun to deal with Fannie and Freddie and the eventual collapse of the mortgage sector?”

    The former. We are operating from different perspectives on what it means to be newsworthy, but we both agree that producers are responsible for lining up guests and providing information that people want to hear about. My point is that this doesn’t give you any special insight into what motivates Beck, and what motivates his audience. You don’t have to be a producer to know that the Terry Schiavo story was overblown.

    As to the argument that pr people don’t shape the news, that really doesn’t gel with my experience, but that’s neither here nor there.

  • JeninCT

    practicalgirl wrote:” You don’t care about being educated, only entertained with what fits your agenda, and are disdainful of anybody who might have experiences that challenge your thoughts.”

    No, I care deeply about being educated, just not by you.

  • PracticalGirl

    kevin47:

    You and I really don’t diagree on a whole lot, but this one?

    “As to the argument that pr people don’t shape the news, that really doesn’t gel with my experience, but that’s neither here nor there.”

    News is news, opinion is opinion and spin is spin. Perspectve media is not news. Any efforts you make to advance a story within it as a PR person on behalf of a client is accepted only as far as it advances the show’s perspective. A media rep may bring somebody new to the table, but if a host isn’t interested, they’re not booked. Takes very little to put a client who has perspective on the in-the-news or showcase issues of a host. That’s not shaping news, though. It’s advancing an opinion, which, in turn, influences the opinion of the audience but again, doesn’t change or shape the news any differently.

  • GOProud

    JeninCT, you should know by now that when one of the lecturing, hectoring trolls on FF’s Home for the Disaffected FarLeft starts in with lines like “I’m an expert. I produced these shows for entertainers just like Beck”… it’s going to be a stinker you can’t get out of even with the most honest revelation: you don’t care about PracticalGrrrl’s opinion.

    Frankly, when I read her intro and “expert” qualifications from inside the industry I thought “fake”. Maybe she is, probably she is; who knows in this anonymous world?

    But one thing is clear: she’s here to discredit Beck’s ability and capacity to hold an audience. Ratings be damned! To her, the audience is full of idiots who are there only to have their emotional nerves stroked raw with overuse.

    And, when the BS is carved away from the other threads where FF bloggers opine that Beck is emotionally blackmailing his listeners… well, it becomes easy to see where that argument is heading. No suprise.

    I don’t consider Beck an entertainer. Jon Stewart or StevieColbert are entertainers and comedians –it’s just their listenership can’t discern their show isn’t a newscast or opinion journal. Beck, of the few times I’ve watched him, spends a lot of time sharing his explanation of why things are as they are with a strong historic, constitutional, economic or psychological emphasis.

    And usually his take on the historic and constitutional and economic underpinings of today’s events are usually dead-on. Harsh partisanship was evident at the Nation’s first and second foundings. Jefferson’s people started the kind of partisanship where personal destruction is the aim, not policy advancement. And that’s a theme of Democrat politics that continues to this day.

    I may not like Beck. I sure don’t care for others on his cable network, either. But they are more educators than entertainers. Stewart, Colbert, Black, Franken ARE entertainers. Maddow and Olbermann and Matthews are just opinion spinners who are on the wrong side of history, public opinion and party advocacy. And their ratings prove it; overwhelmingly.

    PracticalGrrrl is still in the la-la-la land of news isn’t biased, only opinion or commentary is… she’s wrong of course. And she isn’t as smart as even the Beck viewers she might like to dismiss –because they know better; the liberal media is biased and it comes across strongly in the news… ie, choice of what to cover, how to spin it, what to focus upon, how to frame the report, who reports it. Dan Rather was king at the game of spinning the supposedly “objective” news. Until he got eaten alive in his own game of duplicity against the President.

  • JeninCT

    GOProud wrote:”JeninCT, you should know by now that when one of the lecturing, hectoring trolls on FF’s Home for the Disaffected FarLeft starts in with lines like “I’m an expert. I produced these shows for entertainers just like Beck”… it’s going to be a stinker you can’t get out of even with the most honest revelation: you don’t care about PracticalGrrrl’s opinion.”

    Yes, thanks. I should know that by now. According to PracticalGirl I should take the word of ‘someone in the biz’ who is an ‘expert’ (and of course, smarter than me!) but I should never take the word of Glenn Beck, who ALWAYS tells viewers to do their own research. Hmmm….

  • GOProud

    and he’s just an entertainer… according to FF’s newest expert on talk shows. LOL.

  • kevin47

    “Takes very little to put a client who has perspective on the in-the-news or showcase issues of a host. That’s not shaping news, though.”

    Insofar as the host has a perspective (and all of them do) it is certainly easier to get your message across. That said, I was always amazed at how quickly I got responses when pitching left-leaning topics to “mainstream” outlets.

    At any rate, people are pretty familiar with how the business works. The idea that hosts have no intellectual curiosity is a bit ridiculous. There is a balance between personal curiosity and doing your job. Beck has a job to do, and his listeners take his shtick with a grain of salt.

    I’m tired of political paradigms that require us to assume everyone who disagrees with us is some sort of moron. Why can’t we aim to present arguments that challenge core assumptions and compel our opponents to examine issues in a new light? I understand why politicians are disinclined to do so, but this is a comments section on a friggin’ blog.