Karaoke And The Criminal Justice System We Deserve

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52 Responses

  1. Kirk Taylor says:

    We asked for this media, by watching their s**t day in and day out.

  2. Kirk Taylor says:

    Now I have to go watch coverage of the Jodi Arias trial.

  3. Anton Sirius says:

    On the bright (?) side, Wayne Brady is now a lock to play Jackson Jr in any biopic.

  4. wumpus says:

    There is also the fact that once "the story" is made official, every other story has to build on that, and should revolve around karaoke. Should some journalist even attempt to write a story slightly different, it will be seen as "wrong" and "missed the story". It will also cause "consumer confusion" (something marketers so despise that they will scream at whoever is in charge of selling ad time).

    A story in motion will stay in motion until a bigger bit of news knocks it out. My guess is that if you are ever in this position again you should write entire newspaper articles detailing the story and ready to be submitted to an editor before going to court. Feeding these pre-written papers to "journalists" will beat the other meme makers. If you are dealing with a Jesse Jackson, expect a massive host of bloggers/think tankers/disgruntled tea baggers doing the same as well (although you will have a speed advantage since you wrote before anyone knew what you were going to say).

    The magic words are "on message". The techniques are as old as H. L. Mencken, and he described them in detail.

  5. wumpus says:

    PS. Google "churnalism" to see how widespread the above practice is.

  6. Bren says:

    What's even more depressing is that there are two layers of "Insipid Sensationalism". First there is the article itself, then there is the editor who writes the headline picking the most insipid and sensational line from the piece to characterize the whole. Institutionalized whoring for pageviews outperforms any individual pageview hustler.

  7. He really said that...?!? says:

    Ken, I'm joining you in wishing that they would shut the f*ck up.

    As usual, they ignore context and perspective in this sort of reporting. As has been said before, "never let the facts get in the way of a good story".

  8. Jack B. says:

    Total journalism fail. Not a single one of the linked articles informed readers as to what type of outfit Jackson was rocking at the sentencing hearing.

  9. Ross says:

    You mentioned press cozy with law enforcement. How about the White House press corps, that don't get invited back if they go off script? It is not just the obsolescence of paper media that is killing investigative journalism, but a complacency encouraged by the powerful who want to maintain their images. Media is overwhelming dominated by five mega-corporations which thrive on dumb headlines to boost sales. They stay away from substance, especially substance that could hurt corporate America.

  10. Bear says:

    I'm not exactly a fan of urinalists (David Codrea's term). I've never been interviewed when they didn't screw up at least one basic, and pertinent fact, or flat-out invented a 'quote'. That said… We're dealing Jesse Jackson Jr.

    It's entirely possible that was the only semi-positive thing the media could find to spin for him.

  11. En Passant says:

    Ken White wrote in OP:

    Insipid sensationalism is an old story. It was old in 1979 when the media lied to the public about "The Twinkie Defense" in Dan White's trial for murdering Milk and Moscone.

    Consequently from 1984 to as recently as 2012, the legislature has enacted statutes (Penal Code sections 28, 29 – 29.8) which hammered the defense of diminished capacity (incapacity to form requisite mens rea for specific intent crimes) to rubble.

  12. Shannon says:

    *Your client…

    Sorry it bugged me. I'm horrible at punctuation, just word mistakes get me.

    I know your people have no tradition……. :-)

    Great post!

  13. Savrain says:

    There is no journalism, there is only Zuul.

  14. Dan Weber says:

    He should change it "you're client" now.

  15. Sam says:

    Insipid Sensationalism would make an excellent band name.

  16. marco73 says:

    I really can't see Wayne Brady portraying Mr. Jackson in the biopic. Mr. Brady is an accomplished singer, and karaoke implies poor singers. I see the role going to Eddie Murphy; just enough of a singer, and you know it will have to be a comedy. Also, Eddie Murphy has never turned down a paycheck.

  17. I'm not sure what the problem is. The newsworthy item is that this notable figure, in the public eye for years, from the U.S. version of a politically privileged family, is having his lawyers selecting the best things people have been willing to say about him …. and those lawyers were so desperate for people willing to say something good about this convicted felon that they were willing to use this letter.

    They didn't have to give that recommendation to the judge. They could have filed it in their trash beside the ones that said, "Hey, he's a criminally corrupt conniving feral rabid weasel, but he gets lots of money out of congress for us–and besides, he's no worse than the average Illinois publicly elected scoundrel."

    But the lawyers really were THAT desperate. So they filed this letter … even though it's from a person who couldn't find anything better to say than "hey, but he sings while he's picking your pocket."

    That's news. If his lawyers hadn't felt that they NEEDED the karaoke recommendation, they could have gone back to that friend and said, "hey, good letter, but lose the part about karaoke, it really doesn't add anything and IT MAKES IT LOOK LIKE THE JERK'S ONLY GOOD ATTRIBUTE IS HIS VOICE, which MAY NOT BE THE MESSAGE WE WANT TO SEND."

    I'd think this falls under the category of "people who say really stupid things because the truth just wouldn't do at all, at all"–and isn't that what the Prenda folk have been doing?

  18. Ken White says:

    @Stephen:

    It's like you didn't read my post, or any of the articles.

    Rep. Fudge didn't drop that sentence because she couldn't think of anything else to say. It was one sentence, in a separate paragraph of what he's like socially, after a strong paragraph about his mental health and service. No remotely rational reading suggests that she couldn't find anything better to say. Picking it out of context is pure vapid sensationalism.

    Plus, as a defense lawyer, it's dangerous and counterproductive to over-manage letters in support. First, if it gets out you are telling them what to say, it is devastating. Second, overmanaged letters sound overmanaged, not human.

  19. Ken Hamer says:

    Insipid sensationalism sells because that's what an insipid population will buy.

  20. Roscoe says:

    Comparing Rep. Fudge's letter with the LA Times story shows the reporterette who chose to mention the karaoke singing in the story's lede is nothing but a dishonest hack. I wouldn't trust her to accurately report the weather.

    I will go a step further. Every single time I have had personal knowledge of a newsworthy event, I find the news stories describing that event to be materially inaccurate. Needless to say, this doesn't give me a great deal of confidence that the other stories are being reliably reported. It may well be that the horoscopes are the most honest part of the daily paper.

  21. He really said that...?!? says:

    @Roscoe,

    You got that right. I was once interviewed by a local TV station. What I said and what their creative editing turned that interview into was quite breathtaking. They had an agenda coming in, and despite what I said, they made sure I went their way in the televised interview.

  22. Al I. says:

    Can we at least say, "LOL HER NAME IS FUDGE"?

  23. Steve says:

    @Roscoe,

    I'm fond of saying that every article I read in the paper is 100% accurate, except the ones that I know something about, which are 50% accurate. After a while it does sink in that most newspaper articles are really only reflections of the truth. From the movie Absence of Malice:

    Sarah Wylie: That's true, isn't it?

    Megan Carter: No. But it's accurate.

  24. Steve says:

    The letter is not much longer than @Stephen's comment, and IMHO supports Ken's view:

    The Honorable Robert L. Wilkins
    United States District Court for the District of Columbia
    333 Constitution Avenue, N.W.
    Washington, D.C. 20001

    Dear Judge Wilkins:

    I write to you as the Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and a dear friend of Congressman
    Jesse Jackson, Jr. I understand that Congressman Jackson has entered into a plea agreement
    and awaits sentencing. As you consider factors that may impact that sentence, I ask that you
    take into account his many contributions to America through his life of public service.
    During the four years we served as colleagues in the United States House of Representatives, I
    gained a great deal of respect for Congressman Jackson. Although some members of Congress
    and I saw Jesse exhibit what we now know were various signs of illness during the last 4 to 5
    years, we also saw him continue to work as a tireless advocate for the poor and underserved.
    He used his intellectual and legislative capital to ensure that his constituents, the young and the
    old, could have a better life and a future full of opportunity. It was Congressman Jackson's
    work on the Appropriations Committee that helped stimulate economic activity in the 2nd
    Congressional District of Illinois. From the redevelopment of decaying neighborhoods to
    ensuring healthcare access, his work improved the lives of many.

    Let me tell you about Jesse Jackson the person. Not only is he highly intelligent, he is charming
    and entertaining. When things got tough or extremely difficult on the House floor, we could
    count on Jesse to bring levity to an otherwise daunting situation with a bad joke or a one-man
    skit. Jesse was the highlight of our karaoke nights and always made everyone feel like an
    integral part of, and not apart from, various activities. He made us realize that we could still
    have fun, while addressing important national issues.

    I love Jesse because he displayed love for all of us. He has much to offer with his keen intellect
    and undeniable love for family. He is a loyal public servant with so much more to give. As you
    weigh the fate of Congressman Jackson, please consider the many fine characteristics he
    possesses, and his dedicated and passionate service for the people he represented in the
    United States Congress for nearly 18 years.

    Jesse is worth saving and I know he can continue to have a positive impact on the lives of others
    as he has with my colleagues and me.

    Sincerely,

    Marcia L. Fudge

    Chair, Congressional Black Caucus

  25. jimmythefly says:

    @ Roscoe and @ He really said that…?!?

    Me three. I've had a couple of times where I had first-hand knowledge (I was there and personally also knew those involved) of an event later reported in the news. The level of inaccuracy was astounding.

  26. Shawn Young says:

    Put me on the opposite side of Ken White on this one. Politicians, celebrities, and other public figures spend their whole adult lives trying to manipulate the media in order to get themselves cast in the best light to further their careers. It works, until it doesn't work. When it goes sour, I have no sympathy for these people.

    As to poor journalism, sure there are lots of poor journalists out there. Lazy journalists. Apathetic journalists. There are good ones too, and great ones. The same can be said of trial lawyers, or people practicing any other profession.

    JJ Jr. lived by the sword of having the media build him up. Now he dies by it. Next, please.

  27. barry says:

    Evidence of groupthink is that half of that media didn't go with the 'Congresswoman Wants Mercy for Jackson Jr's Bad Jokes' headline.

  28. wgering says:

    @Shawn Young: not to be a pedant, but I think Mr. Jackson actually died by the sword of illegally using campaign funds for personal expenses.

    The issue at hand is that the journalism "professionals" at so many "reputable" and "reliable" mass-media sources are either too lazy or too stupid to realize that this one sentence in this one letter involved in the case has fuck-all to do with anything newsworthy.

    Perhaps "Congressman Lies to, Steals from American Voters" is too obvious?

  29. Shawn Young says:

    @wgering: go ahead, try to be a pedant. The media had soured on JJ Jr. long before the karaoke reportage, and have been circling the political carcass awhile.

    Politicians do illegal/improper things all the time. (Some of them aren't even from Illinois.) All too often, the urge of appointed higher-ups to push investigation/prosecution is dictated by whatever frenzy the media chooses to stir up or chooses not to stir up. This is a separate issue.

    I get that the journalism stinks here. All that I'm claiming is that I don't pity people who use the media to build themselves up only to find they're no longer flavour of the month and at the mercy of the hacks they were previously manipulating.

  30. naught_for_naught says:

    If you want more thoughtful coverage of important issues, consider this source. Of course you have to get past the reality that a small portion of their operating budget comes from the government.

    @Sean Young: you're biting your nose to spite your face. At no point should crappy coverage be ok. It's not J3 that's being misinformed. It's us. He already knows that he rocks the karaoke machine.

  31. a.s. says:

    @Shawn Young
    I don't think Mr. White is claiming that this particular politician should get any pity at all. I honestly don't know how much he cares about Jackson. The pity, if any is required, is for the reading public, not for Jackson. We/they are pityable because the vast majority of us read this sort of thing, if it didn't sell, it wouldn't be put on the shelf. We/they are also pityable because this is how we/they are informed about the world. This does not make for an informed public, it indicates a public which is in serious trouble and doesn't understand what is and isn't important. The fact that most people run their lives without absolute disaster is a miracle. The fact that they vote makes me nervous. The fact that this is the population from which future workers, scientists, philosophers, thinkers… are to be drawn, or that it is the population raising the said future workers, scares the crap out of me.

  32. ULTRAGOTHA says:

    Wow. Want to see an example of a story we all know about where the reporter makes several mistakes?

    http://abcnews.go.com/Business/lawyers-punished-porn-shakedown/story?id=19133465#.UYsRKFIleq8

    ABC writing on the Prenda case. If even half of ABC's stories have half that many errors, that's scary.

  33. Chris R. says:

    Shawn Young, I doubt you get it. You are arguing it seems that since Jackson did a bad thing, he deserves this media bluster. However you fail to acknowledge the fact that I, as a media consumer, who can't read every transcript and letter referenced in every article I read, do not deserve to be blatantly lied to.

    My fellow citizens depend on the media to be at least a check on government corruption and abuse, but when the media makes one half a sentence into the whole story, I cannot reliably count on them to preform this function for me.

    Yet you seem preoccupied with the fact that Jackson had some fame before his fall and probably loved the attention, so now that the attention is bad he totally deserves it. He deserves whatever sentence he is given, but I do not deserve to be misled by the journalist covering his fall.

    No one pities Jackson as you said, we demand intellectually honest reporting.

  34. Rich Rostrom says:

    Sorry, but I think the LATimes article is a fair cop.

    If one strips away the boilerplate, Fudge's letter does focus on Jackson's karaoke performance as his chief personal virtue.

    The rattle about his voting record is of course irrelevant – "I agree with his votes" isn't a positive character factor.

  35. a.s. says:

    @Rich Rostrom
    I mean no disrespect, but are we reading the same letter? The karaoke reference is the shortest part of the shortest paragraph of the letter. That paragraph is about Jackson's charm. Personally, I wouldn't have even bothered with it, it's a throw-away filler paragraph. As for agreeing with his votes, I daresay the writer does, I think she's in the same party, but I could write any of that even if I disagreed with every vote the man had cast. There are lots of politicians who do great good for their particular district/riding and who at the same time make a mess for everyone else. I would disagree with every vote they cast, they're making a mess for their countries, but I would probably still write most of what Fudge wrote. Now I don't know this man from Adam, have no idea how he voted, and honestly don't much care. The point, though is this foolishness with the karaoke. If that sort of headline is the way to get readers/viewers, God help us.

  36. NickM says:

    This letter came from a Congresswoman. She has a staff (which we pay for) whose job is to massage every statement she makes to best take advantage of media sensationalism. She's writing to help out a disgraced former Congressman, who, according to her "continue[d] to work as a tireless advocate for the poor and underserved" even when he completely disappeared last year for months.

    There's a word for the press falling in love with the karaoke reference: Karma.

  37. GreenKnight says:

    Imagine a major newspaper or magazine publishing a book review based on the book's dust jacket.

    Imagine an editor knowingly allowing such a review to go to press.

    That is how it is with newspapers and magazines and science reporting. The journalists read the abstract and summary, then produce an catchy article. The journalists are seldom capable of understanding basic statistics, let alone an article involving engineering, medicine, chemistry, biology or physics.

    Book reviews are important serious matters to newspapers and magazines — they assign subject matter experts to do them. Whereas for scientific papers, including those with massive life and death implications, they generally assign people with below average scientific knowledge.

    How many journalists reporting on legal matters have law degrees, parts of law degrees or paralegal certification? How many have even taken 2 or 3 business or family law courses for non-lawyers?

    That is what sets The Economist apart from other publications: It uses reporters and journalists who are trained in the subject matter, rather than merely possess journalism degrees or other BAs.

  38. GreenKnight says:

    It might be getting lost due to the number of posts, but before supporting or attacking the LA Times, note that Steve posted the full text of the letter concerned on May 8, 2013 @2:16 pm.

    My reading of the congresswoman's letter fully supports Ken's view, but people can read it and make up their own mind.

    —-

    Professional journalists?

    Would you go to a physician or dentist who understood real life situations so poorly as journalists typically do?

    How about a bridge designed by engineers who read over 10 page soil and foundation study and focused on the issue of dandelions on the river bank, ignoring the issue of unstable bedrock?

    Or an engineer who designed a bridge based on someone else's opinion of the soil and foundation study (reporting what other reporters reported)?

    People make mistakes, but (excepting specialist industry publications and a very few others) TV news, newspapers and magazines seem to routinely "misunderstand", "misconstrue" or "misrepresent" almost any legal or scientific issue to an extent greater than one would expect, even from a typical high school graduate.

    Newspapers and journalists are neither lawyers nor PR representatives defending clients. With newspapers and journalists purport to be reporting the truth to the subscribers who pay them. What is the problem?

    Lack of expertise or lack of professionalism? Take your pick.

    I think the solution is for publications to hire or contract relevant professionals or academics to write or edit articles on professional topics.

  39. Ron Larson says:

    You see Ken. You made the classic mistake of assuming that the media is news. It is not. It is entertainment designed to benefits the media owners, either through sells ads, or furthering a political, financial, or military objective for themselves or their affiliates.

    When you you consume "news" delivered by the medias' news organizations, remember that. When you do, a lot of what you read and hear will make much more sense.

    It has always been this way. And it will always be this way.

    This is the reason I no longer own a TV at home. Nor to I subscribe to cable TV. Nor do I get the newspaper at home any more. Instead, I consume a wide variety of online news sites, blogs, and podcasts, from domestic and international producers.

  40. Rich Fiscus says:

    I think Michael Crichton explained it best in a speech he gave more than a decade ago.

    Media carries with it a credibility that is totally undeserved. You have all experienced this, in what I call the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. (I call it by this name because I once discussed it with Murray Gell-Mann, and by dropping a famous name I imply greater importance to myself, and to the effect, than it would otherwise have.)

    Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect works as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray's case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward-reversing cause and effect. I call these the "wet streets cause rain" stories. Paper's full of them.

    In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story-and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read with renewed interest as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about far-off Palestine than it was about the story you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.

    That is the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. I'd point out it does not operate in other arenas of life. In ordinary life, if somebody consistently exaggerates or lies to you, you soon discount everything they say. In court, there is the legal doctrine of falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus, which means untruthful in one part, untruthful in all.

    But when it comes to the media, we believe against evidence that it is probably worth our time to read other parts of the paper. When, in fact, it almost certainly isn't. The only possible explanation for our behavior is amnesia.

    For purposes of simplification, though, I usually just stick to the conclusion he mentioned later in the same speech.

    Like a bearded nut in robes on the sidewalk proclaiming the end of the world is near, the media is just doing what makes it feel good, not reporting hard facts. We need to start seeing the media as a bearded nut on the sidewalk, shouting out false fears. It's not sensible to listen to it.

  41. Lizard says:

    @GreenKnight

    Would you go to a physician or dentist who understood real life situations so poorly as journalists typically do?

    Ah, but here's the thing… and it's part of why this mess is intractable. Your dentist may chat with you about computers or sports or politics or, most likely, quote the works of Xiang Yu, but he is trained in, and hopefully competent in, dentistry. Likewise, a journalist may write an article about computers, sports, or politics (very rarely Xiang Yu), but they are trained in *journalism*. Assuming they're competent, their article will reflect the things *journalists* are trained to do well — grab eyeballs and hold them long enough for the advertisers to get their money's worth. There are relatively few people who are both trained journalists AND trained in another subject; there are certainly not enough, given how many things newspapers cover, to be sure that anything a newspaper writes about will be covered by someone with a moderate level of expertise in that subject, as opposed to expertise in "writing news articles about that subject", which is NOT the same thing. There is a difference between "someone who knows computers and who also knows journalism" and "somehow who knows computer journalism". (Most of the time, we don't even get that; we just get "someone who knows journalism and can write the same article on Windows 8, the war in Iraq, or the latest football game, changing a few nouns and adjectives as needed.")

  42. Extravaganza says:

    Journalists like to pretend they're some kind of noble breed, the "fourth estate", but in reality their job is purely providing a superficially attractive product that can be used to sell advertising space to their real customers, or (in the case of PBS journalists) to sell tote bags.

    They have no worth in today's world, where real experts can give us the truth in their blogs. And while I don't always agree with Popehat's politics, at least the bloggers here are open and honest about their beliefs, without any of the false neutrality that "real" journalists love to feign.

    In short, fuck journalists and long live bloggers.

  43. Lizard says:

    I happened on one of the articles of the type mentioned here, and
    noticed the writer had a public contact email. I asked them for their
    reply/rebuttal, and they responded. I then asked if I could repost their
    response here. I am posting this text by their permission, and following
    their request that neither their paper nor their identity be specified.

    There is nothing wrong with using an interesting tidbit to draw readers into an article, as long as its context is fully explained. My blog item accurately summarized Fudge's letter to the judge. It even included a PDF of Fudge's full letter so readers could read the whole thing and form their own conclusions. And readers did click on that link to read the full letter. One of them even noticed that Fudge's name was misspelled on her own letterhead. He brought it to my attention so I updated the blog item.

    The author of this Popehat thing appears to be an attorney with the self-serving desire that the media frame everything the way he wants, so it will benefit his clients. Fortunately for the public, most members of the media aren't the toadies he desires. I disagree with his points about "insipid sensationalism," and think there's a reason more people read the mainstream media than the law journals his fusty fans applaud. It's the ability to frame a story in a way that non-academics will want to read it.

  44. naught_for_naught says:

    The author of this Popehat thing appears to be an attorney with the self-serving desire that the media frame everything the way he wants, so it will benefit his clients.

    After reading this, here's what I know now: (1) Popehat is a noun, and (2) Ken represents Jessie Jackson Jr.

  45. Ken White says:

    And we have fusty fans.

  46. Lizard says:

    I assume "fusty" is a portmanteau of "frumpy" and "musty"?

  47. naught_for_naught says:

    Explicatin' it here boss…

    most members of the media aren't the toadies he desires.

    I did not read that. What I read was a scathing critique of journalism that reduces a story to its most absurd and sensational elements in an attempt to inflame the prejudices of the public. I'm not sure how sycophant comes into this.

    I disagree with his points about "insipid sensationalism"

    Me too. Insipid, meaning flavorless, is not the right word. Flavor after all is the whole point, albeit coming in the form of empty calories. Fatuous sensationalism , that is a more appropriate term to describe this particular story.

    There's a reason more people read the mainstream media than the law journals his fusty fans applaud.

    There's a reason why people believe that the world is 6,000 years old too, but I doubt that's something that going to get them through community college either.

    It's the ability to frame a story in a way that non-academics will want to read it.

    non-academics: another term for people believe that the world is 6,000 years old.

  48. Babettchen says:

    I sang a duet with Jesse Jackson Jr. at the DNC clubhouse a few summers ago ("Empire State of Mind" fwiw). The thing about that event is that congressfolk, interns, interest-group advocates and their random guests (like me) go there with little context to bring them together except the business of legislative advocacy and legislators. Therefore, when someone like JJJr. puts word out that he needs a partner to sing Alicia Keys's part in that song, it brings the room together and gives people something to talk about other than the usual "what do you do" D.C. crap that is usually followed by either incredibly boring job-related banter, snide putdowns and movings-on, or the high-angst nerdy awkwardness that is the hallmark of social gatherings in the nation's capital.

    Sure, I saw firsthand that he was arrogant and full of himself. But those little gatherings are where my host friend lubricates his advocacy for veterans, for one. Having an un-self-conscious "big man on campus" like JJJr. probably meant a lot for people who felt like they were about to endure a job-related necessary evil. All it means, like Ken points out, is that one of the little things he did as a normal human being is help a roomful of people blow off steam and have fun together.

    (I also sang "Big Spender", to my host friend's chagrin, but I once sang it to a roomful of whores at the former Mustang Ranch in Sparks, NV, so it's become a thing for me.)

  49. Lizard says:

    Humanizing someone puts them more within your monkeysphere. (http://www.cracked.com/article_14990_what-monkeysphere.html) This is often opposed because we don't want to think of people on "the wrong side", whatever that is, as human.

  50. En Passant says:

    OK, after due consideration of the risk to my doggerel license:

    Poor Jackson! He thought it no joke he
    Could serve five long years in the pokey.
    When he nudged his friend Fudge
    To budge the sentencing judge,
    She mentioned he sang karaoke.

    Like a freight train derailed, press fell on it,
    Found that silly detail, boned it, honed it,
    Flapped their gums for a day,
    Despite nothing to say.
    But the flap makes fun limericks, don't it?

  1. May 8, 2013

    [...] to add: Ken over at Popehat has a post up flaming the LAT and other newspapers (and, sort of by implication, your obedient servant) for seizing on the karaoke angle and taking out of the context it was [...]