ISSUE – NO. 554

13 August 2021

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As mentioned in Media Watch Dog’s “A Norman Swan Update” in this week’s Documentation segment, Norman (“Trust me – I’m Australia’s most trusted doctor”) Swan will be appearing – again – on Q&A next week.  This will be a “Youth Special” focusing on COVID-19 and all that.  So it makes sense for the ABC to engage the ABC in-house doctor to mix it with Australia’s youth.

After all, as Benjamin Law wrote in Nine’s Good Weekend Magazine on 3 July 2020, your man Swan is a mere 68 years old.  Young enough, indeed, to have told Comrade Law that “somewhere out there is an erotic story” about a woman getting excited on hearing his voice. Really. The lady in question must barely sleep – since your man Swan is forever talking and talking and talking.  But MWD digresses.

Last week’s ABC TV Q&A program, with Stan Grant in the chair, was quite useless from MWD’s point of view.  Your man Grant was happy to be the presenter and he didn’t attempt to score points against his panel as if he were engaged in a university debate of old.  And Mr Grant was prepared to listen to panellists and online questioners and preside over a discussion in which everyone had a chance to state their case.

In short, having Stan Grant in the Q&A  presenter’s chair is of no use to MWD at Post Dinner Drinks Time on a Thursday night.  Or any other time, for that matter.

Last night’s Q&A was more to MWD’s taste. On all the key issues – i.e. responses to climate change and the COVID-19 virus – the panel lined up 4 to 1 against Nationals backbencher Matt Canavan. The panel comprised Labor frontbencher Catherine King, journalist and long-time ABC commentator Alan Kohler, health economist and former Labor Party staffer Angela Jackson along with the Australian Retailers Association’s chief executive officer Paul Zahra.  And then there is the bloke who likes to be called Speersy – he was determined to state his views, especially in opposition to those of Matt Canavan.

Let’s go to the transcript where the following incomprehensible exchange took place – as Comrade Speers continually interrupted the Nationals senator from Queensland as he attempted to answer a question from the audience on the recent report by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC):

Matt Canavan : And I do agree with their [the IPCC’s] overall findings on climate change, but now it is – it has descended into something that’s much more like, like spin than science –

David Speers: [interjecting] Well, it probably does –

Matt Canavan: We saw –

David Speers: [interjecting] – scare people –

Matt Canavan: – that in the past week –

David Speers: – it probably does scare people –

Matt Canavan: – when they…

David Speers: – some of these projections –

Matt Canavan: But I mean why would – why would a scientist want to change people’s vote, I mean, this is – we saw the spin over the past week as they drip fed the fear-porn about this rather than just release the science?

David Speers: Hang on –

Matt Canavan: Indeed the question –

David Speers: [interjecting] Are you saying it’s, are you saying it’s fear-porn or are you saying you agree with the findings? Which I think you just said?

Turn it up. Matt Canavan was asked a 96-word question from a Q&A audience member. And the senator had only uttered 28 words before being interrupted by presenter David Speers as he valiantly tried to complete his comments under duress.

Which raises the question. Perhaps Q&A could be re-branded as S&A – i.e. Speersy & Audience. It would present a more accurate description of last night’s program.

Can You Bear It?


It was a rare moment of self-awareness when ABC TV Insiders presenter David Speers declared last Sunday: “So everyone agrees”. Yes, they did – and yes, they invariably do. These days, Insiders is an exemplar of the ABC as a Conservative Free Zone. The Insiders panel – along with the “Talking Pictures” segment presented by The Guardian’s  Michael Bowers – invariably leads to a situation whereby almost everyone agrees with almost everyone else on almost everything, in a left-of-centre kind of way.

Take the occasional clips of Labor Party Opposition leader Anthony Albanese which were discussed on Insiders  last Sunday.  Now, Mr Albanese is behaving the way a good Opposition leader should behave – he is making political points against the government.  It’s just that journalists should be able to correct exaggerations and critique policy with respect to both governments and oppositions. This did not happen last Sunday on Insiders.

The panel comprised Katharine Murphy (The Guardian’s political editor), Peter van Onselen (Network Ten’s political editor) and Niki Savva (columnist Sydney Morning Herald and The Age) – and the presenter was the ABC’s very own David Speers.  Not a conservative or a Scott Morrison supporter among this lot.

Early in the program, Insiders executive producer Samuel Clark put up a clip in which Mr Albanese declared “we’re still last in the developed world for the rollout of the vaccine”.  Comrades Murpharoo, PvO, Niki Savva and Speersy – as they like to be called – did not demur.  New Zealand – led by Labor Party Jacinda Ardern – is a developed country. And Australia’s vaccine rollout is well ahead of that of New Zealand’s.  Insiders’ panellists – along with the program’s presenter –  might be expected to know this. However, no one volunteered with such knowledge last Sunday.

And then discussion turned on Anthony Albanese’s proposal that Australians who get a COVID-19 vaccine before the end of December should receive a $300 payment from the Commonwealth government.  Like most policy proposals, the Albanese $300 plan has its pluses and minuses.  But you would not know this from watching Insiders last Sunday.

First up, Comrade Murphy agreed with Labor’s policy – declaring “we’re in this territory now…of incentives to increase the vaccination rate”. She described the debate over the issue as a “semi ridiculous conversation”. Whereupon Comrade Speers agreed that Mr Albanese is “trying to stay one step ahead” of the Morrison government. Then Comrade Speers criticised the Prime Minister for having described the $300 proposal as “an insult to Australians”.  Then Comrade van Onselen agreed and said that the Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly had “made it clear that he thought that incentives of some form were a necessary ingredient in the mix here”. He said that the Prime Minister was against the proposal because “he didn’t come up with it” himself.

Then Comrade Savva said that the Prime Minister’s response to the Albanese plan “certainly rings very hollow” and declared  that he “had delivered a very weak argument”.

And so it came to pass that Murpharoo essentially agreed with Speersy who essentially agreed with PvO who essentially agreed with Niki who essentially agreed with Murpharoo who essentially agreed with herself.  No other view was heard.  And this is what passes for debate and discussion on Insiders.  Can You Bear It?


While on the topic of Niki Savva and faux surprise, did anyone read her column in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age yesterday?  Titled “A cranky man in need of a plan”, Ms Savva reported that at a “virtual” meeting attended by Scott Morrison, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet on 29 July – the PM “hurled the F bomb at Perrottet”. Fancy that.  A senior politician used the F word in a private meeting.  How unusual. Clearly a case for resignation, don’t you think? – since such language would never have been used in such a context before.  Or so Niki Savva would have SMH and Age readers believe. Not even by Kevin Rudd, apparently.  But the SMH thought that this was a big story – announcing on the front page, next to a dinkus of the columnist, as follows: “Why PM Swore at Perrottet – Niki Savva”.

However, there was a BIG POINT to the column. Ms Savva provided evidence that the PM had cited Ronald Reagan as having said: “You get a lot more done if you don’t care who takes the credit.”  Now here is Savva’s news flash of yesterday. It wasn’t President Reagan who said this – it was President Harry Truman. Concerning this howler, the columnist wrote “Oops”.

Well at least Niki Savva is filling the vacancy of the opinion pages of Nine Newspapers each Thursday left by Scott Morrison antagonist John Hewson, as predicted by MWD.  Dr Hewson (for a doctor he is): Out; Niki Savva: In. But anti-Morrison rants remain in situ.  Can You Bear It?


In her final comment on Insiders on Sunday, Niki Savva saw fit to raise the issue that Scott Morrison’s friend Pastor Brian Houston of the Hillsong Church is “coming back to Australia to fight charges of concealing child abuse allegedly committed by his father”. So he is.  MWD maintains the position that individuals charged with offences have a right to a presumption of innocence before they face a fair trial. Presumably Ms Savva holds a similar view – in which case you wonder why she thought that the matter was relevant to Australian national politics.  But there you go.

Fellow Nine journalist, and fellow Morrison critic, Peter FitzSimons is on the same story.  As avid readers are aware, your man Fitz has abandoned the red bandanna which once adorned his pic which adorned his “Fitz on Sunday” column in the Sun-Herald.  But he has kept the red-rag-on-head pic on his Twitter account.  Here’s what the Red Bandannaed One had to say about the PM and Brian Houston:

As Fitz has conceded previously, he does not know much about the law.  To which it is now appropriate to add that he doesn’t know much about the New Testament either. What’s more, he does not know how to spell biblical names either. It’s Gethsemane – not Gesthemane.

Character references are part of the criminal law – as Labor shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus QC has pointed out previously with respect to John Howard.  They are provided after – not before – a person is convicted of a crime and are intended to be used by a judge when determining the sentence.  That’s all. Consequently the Prime Minister would, if he decided to do so, only give a reference for Brian Houston if he is convicted.

Moreover, there is no likelihood of the Prime Minister denying Pastor Houston three times in the Garden of Gethsemane. It’s a long way to travel for any such declaration and there’s a shortage of crowing roosters there right now. In any event, the apostle Peter’s three denials of Jesus did not take place in the Garden of Gethsemane. This is a scriptural howler from Australia’s top-selling writer of (alleged) history books. Perhaps he didn’t pay attention during Bible classes at his alma mater – the Uniting Church’s Knox Grammar on Sydney’s (leafy) North Shore which he frequently writes about. Can You Bear It?



There was enormous interest in last week’s Media Watch Dog “History Corner” segment devoted to the four-part ABC TV documentary Ms Represented – presented and written by MWD fave Annabel Crabb.

To repeat the opening comment in this segment last week,  certainly there were some interesting moments in Ms Represented. But the essential fault with Annabel Crabb’s documentary (executive producer Frances O’Riordan) was its animosity to the Liberal Party/Nationals side of Australian politics.  As Parnell Palme McGuinness put it in her Sun-Herald column on 25 July 2021:

It is true that Labor men are not singled out for criticism in the documentary in the way Liberal and National Party men are. It has angered many Liberals that John Howard, the longest-serving prime minister since Menzies, is implied to have somehow wangled his way into Parliament because of his gender rather than on merit. No such charge is levelled against a Labor man. Also, the Liberal Party women who agreed to appear in the series – among them Julia Banks, Amanda Vanstone and Julie Bishop – are critical of conservative Liberal Party men, while the Labor women who participated are not specifically critical of Labor men.

MWD Issue 553 referred to the early part of Ms Represented which ran the familiar Green/Left put-down of John Howard. Namely that, before winning the relatively safe seat of Bennelong in 1974 for the Liberal Party, he was a “suburban solicitor”. Now, there is nothing wrong with being a suburban solicitor. However, after graduating from Law School, John Howard did his articles with a Sydney CBD law firm and then worked at three CBD law firms before entering Federal politics. If the Ms Represented team had bothered to ask John Howard about his legal days – he would have provided the correct information.

Also, Ms Crabb implied that John Howard had defeated a talented woman – Joan Pilone – in the Liberal Party pre-selection for Bennelong.  Not so. John Howard defeated Peter Coleman – the NSW State Liberal Party member for the area in the final run-off.  If Howard had not won – then Coleman would have become the Member for Bennelong at the 1974 election.  In short, Ms Represented’s big point was a myth. But it will live on for years on ABC’s iview as so-called history.

In short, as with so many ABC journalists, Annabel Crabb’s Ms Represented was light on research. Here are some other mistakes and omissions in the documentary.

What Is Not Reported In Annabel Crabb’s Ms Represented  Documentary

  • According to Annabel Crabb:

As a male politician, the daily decision about what to wear is uncontroversial. You stick on a suit and tie for business occasions, an open necked shirt for casual ones and high vis if you want to look infrastructural. But for women, wardrobe can be a minefield of unexploded ordnance.

There is considerable truth to this claim. But it’s not universally correct.   For example, former prime minister Tony Abbott was mocked for invariably wearing a blue tie – as was one-time prime minister Stanley Melbourne Bruce for his inclination to wear spats.  And in Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s hair is a matter for considerable public comment.

  • Annabel Crabb spent considerable time on talking about Edith Cowan – Australia’s first female parliamentarian. Cowan won the seat of West Perth in the Western Australian House Assembly in 1921. But Ms Represented did not see fit to mention that Edith Cowan was a member of the Nationalist Party – a predecessor to today’s Liberal Party.
  • Annabel Crabb mentioned that “Enid Lyons and Dorothy Tangney became the first women to be elected to Federal Parliament”. She failed to mention that Enid Lyons won a seat in the House of Representatives for the United Australia Party in 1943 in a highly contested field of candidates. The UAP is the predecessor to today’s Liberal Party.  Dorothy Tangney won Labor Party pre-selection for the Senate.  It was not until 1974 that a Labor Party woman – Joan Childs – was elected to the House of Representatives.
  • Ms Represented covered Joan Childs’ career in some detail – including her role as Speaker of the House of Representatives. But the program completely ignored the Liberal Party’s Margaret Reid – who entered the Senate in 1981 and was President of the Senate between August 1996 and August 2002.
  • Annabel Crabb referred to Nancy Buttfield’s entry into the Senate in October 1955 to fill a casual vacancy. She retired in 1974. No mention was made of the fact that Nancy Buttfield was a Liberal Party senator for South Australia.
  • Julia Gillard told Annabel Crabb that, when she became prime minister in 2010, “all reporting was about my jacket”. This is somewhat of an exaggeration but true in part. In fact, Prime Minister Gillard experienced positive media reports at the time. However, Annabel Crabb failed to mention that the person who most criticised Prime Minister Gillard’s dress sense was none other than the feminist Germaine Greer on the ABC TV Q&A program on 19 March 2012.  This is mentioned in Chapter 6 of Julia Gillard’s My Story (Knopf, 2014) – but ignored in the ABC’s Ms Represented. Here’s what Dr Greer said on Q&A – Tony Jones was the presenter:

Germaine Greer: There are lots of good things about her [Julia Gillard]. She’s an administrator, she gets things done, she understands that she has to constantly get people on side – give people jobs to do, make sure that they do them. It’s unglamorous, it’s not star material but it’s what she’s been doing. What I want her to do is get rid of those bloody jackets!

Tony Jones:  She should go to him [Kevin Rudd] for political advice and you for fashion advice?

Germaine Greer:  No, it’s not even fashion. They don’t fit. Every time she turns around, you’ve got that strange horizontal crease which means they’re cut too narrow in the hips. You’ve got a big arse, Julia, just get on with it.

Tony Jones:  Ben Law, I’m going to go to you on this….

Clearly Germaine Greer’s public comments about Julia Gillard are the kind of remarks which viewers of a program on women in politics would be interested in hearing.  But no.  Ms Represented’s narrative was that it is men who cause problems for women in politics and there was no reason for hearing from a feminist like Dr Greer talking on ABC TV about Prime Minister Gillard’s (alleged) big backside. It did not fit the (feminist) narrative.

  • What’s also missing from Ms Represented is the fact that in My Story Ms Gillard criticised the ABC for “commissioning and airing a full comedy series about my prime ministership – something never done before and with no signs of it being done again now we have a male prime minister”. The self-declared comedy titled At Home with Julia – was promoted by the ABC with a look-alike Julia Gillard on the floor, under an Australian flag, with a look-alike Tim Mathieson (her partner). Again, no mention of the ABC’s comedy At Home with Julia in the ABC’s documentary Ms Represented.

As is common with ABC programs, At Home with Julia  mocked the Coalition and the Labor Party – but not the Greens.  For example, the likes of Julia Gillard, Paul Keating and Wayne Swan – along with Tony Abbott – were targeted.  But not the Greens’ Bob Brown or Adam Bandt.

  • In Episode 4, Annabel Crabb looked back to 1994:

It’s 100 years since Australia became the first nation on Earth where women could both vote and run for office. On the surface, things are looking promising. For the first time ever, a woman [Bronwyn Bishop] is being touted as a possible Liberal leader and Prime Minister.  On the other side of politics, Australia’s first female Premier, Carmen Lawrence, is being billed as Labor’s anti-Bishop missile. And in the middle, the influential Australian Democrats are led by a woman, Cheryl Kernot.

What’s missing from Ms Represented here is that ABC fave leftist Bob Ellis (1942-2016) ran as a Labor Party supported Independent in the by-election for the seat of Mackellar – when Bishop sought to move from the Senate to the House of Representatives.  The by-election was held on 26 March 1994.  Ellis launched a vicious, sexist attack on Ms Bishop throughout the campaign. Ms Bishop won the by-election with a swing to the Coalition of about one per cent – a poor result for a party in opposition at the time of the Keating Labor government. Her career was damaged. The was the first – and possibly last – occasion on which a prominent candidate, like ABC fave Bob Ellis, has launched an unrelenting misogynist attack on a female candidate.  But it did not rate a mention in Ms Represented – a documentary on women in Australian politics and their professional relationship with men.

▪ As Australia’s first female prime minister Julia Gillard features prominently in Ms Represented. And rightly so. However, what is missing from this documentary, is any reference to the fact that when Kevin Rudd defeated Julia Gillard in a party room ballot on 26 June 2013 and resumed the prime ministership – a number of prominent female Labor MPs voted for Rudd and against Gillard.  None are named in Annabel Crabb’s Ms Represented.

▪ The only part of Ms Represented that is critical of the contemporary Labor Party occurs in Episode 2.  One-time Liberal Party parliamentarian Kathy Sullivan told Annabel Crabb that, during a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives in October 1989, Labor minister John Dawkins “shouldered” her with such force that he “damn near dislocated my shoulder”.

Now, anyone who watches football or basketball would know that for someone’s collarbone to be nearly dislocated, considerable force needs to be applied.  It is all but impossible to imagine that such a force could have been inflicted during a division on the crowded floor of the House of Representatives.

John Dawkins, who was not approached for comment by Ms Represented before the program went to air, has denied that such a collision took place. He says that he was advised that, at the time, he had accidentally bumped into Ms Sullivan – for which he apologised soon after when the matter was brought to his attention.

In this instance it would seem that Annabel Crabb believed what she wanted to believe about the alleged incident.  She seems unaware that recollections of what took place some decades earlier can be confused.  Some people have “recollections” of events that never happened, others exaggerate.  No doubt Kathy Sullivan believes what she told Ms Represented to be literally true – but this does not mean that this is, in fact, the case.

  • No reference occurs in Ms Represented to the fact that the Greens were remarkably slow in pre-selecting female candidates for winnable Senate seats. As is the ABC’s practice, Ms Represented criticised both the Coalition and Labor from the left.
  • One final point. There is considerable evidence that the former Labor Party parliamentarian Emma Husar was the victim of misogynistic attacks by some Labor Party members which, in time, led to her not contesting her seat at the 2019 Federal election. Ms Husar appears on Ms Represented but no comment is made of her unfair treatment by the Labor Party.

On ABC TV’s Offsiders a couple of weeks ago, The Age’s Caroline Wilson described Ms Represented as “brilliant”.  Demonstrating, once again, that many journalists believe what they want to believe.


Viewers who made it to the close of last night’s Q&A (see Stop Press) were treated to a preview of next week’s episode by guest-presenter David Speers:

David Speers: Now, thank you for all of your questions and stories tonight. Next week I’ll be back with you from Melbourne, for a Q+A youth special. They’re increasingly catching this virus, so should we be vaccinating our kids in all the states? Plus we’ll look at the impacts of lockdowns and home schooling. On the panel, Norman Swan and Anthea Rhodes – joining students Petria, Petria Houvardas and Arth Tuteja. See you then, good night.

Dr Anthea Rhodes is a paediatrician with The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne – her inclusion on a youth special focused on health issues is sensible. The same cannot be said for Norman Swan, the ABC’s in-house COVID expert who has spent most of the pandemic stumbling from one alarmist prediction to the next. Dr Swan did specialise in paediatrics decades ago, before embarking on his career in journalism. But whatever Swan still remembers about paediatrics can be better covered by Dr Rhodes. Surely the inclusion of a doctor with a specialty in infectious diseases would be more beneficial to any young people tuning in to seek medical advice. [Here’s hoping Q+A can avoid the temptation to politicise the episode by adding newly-minted Labor candidate for Higgins Dr Michelle Ananda-Rajah to the Q+A panel. – MWD Editor]

David Speers mentioned last night that the issue of vaccinating kids against COVID will be discussed on the show. Regular readers will recall Dr Swan’s tortured relationship with the AstraZeneca vaccine. In December 2020, he referred to it as a “second rate vaccine” on Twitter and in March and April 2021 he dedicated a great deal of airtime to discussion of its rare clotting complications. In May 2021, Norman Swan received his first dose of the vaccine on News Breakfast and admitted in an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald’s Michael Koziol that he “probably did cause some vaccine hesitancy”. In June, after the death of a NSW woman who had received the vaccine, Swan fretted that by receiving the vaccine on ABC TV he may have encouraged others to do so – and claimed that under normal circumstances the vaccine would have been taken off the market.

The spread of the Delta variant in Sydney (where the good doctor happens to live) appears to have finally pushed the dithering doctor fully into the pro-Astra camp. He tweeted about receiving his second dose early on 11 July and has since promoted AstraZeneca on 7:30 and News Breakfast. However, Dr Swan undercut his support for the vaccine in a 3 August appearance on News Breakfast by bizarrely claiming that the residents of Greater Sydney were being treated as “guinea pigs” in the effort to limit the spread of the virus in Sydney by rapidly vaccinating the population.

Swan will in all probability, use his appearance on Q+A next Thursday to make some sort of alarmist prediction about the trajectory of COVID. Given the topic of the episode, he may even repeat his 3 July 2021 prediction that “Unless we vaccinate kids under 12, within 18 months or sooner, depending on 12yrs and older vaccination rates, COVID will be a childhood disease. And not a trivial one”. Remembering the success rate of his previous COVID predictions, viewers would be wise to be sceptical.

In view of his past practice, Norman Swan is also likely to bash the New South Wales and federal governments’ handling of the current outbreak. He is fond of quoting the opinions of “many epidemiologists”, who are inevitably critical of whatever Coalition governments are currently doing. David Speers is unlikely to point out that previous gloomy predictions and opinions Dr Swan has ascribed to these anonymous epidemiologists have been proven false.


In the inaugural edition of this segment in Media Watch Dog  last week, it was revealed how Sydney-based life-coach Adrian May related to the ABC TV News Breakfast co-presenters Lisa Millar and Michael Rowland how tough last year’s COVID-19 lockdown had been.  He said how one of his associates had been traumatised – or something like that – by no longer receiving “pyjamas from Qantas” due to the cancellation of overseas travel. Oh yes, the person in question was also deprived of “champagne on the tarmac” – which, when you think about it, is a dangerous place to partake of alcohol.  Unlike, say, a Gin & Tonic inside a pub or at home.

But MWD digresses, yet again.  Last Friday, the team at ABC Melbourne Radio 774’s Mornings with Virginia Trioli decided that it would be a you-beaut idea to “find some joy” in lockdowns – rather than regard such impositions as “drab” – by wearing some sparkles.

And so that Twitter types could get an idea what Sparkles Day looks like at the ABC’s inner-city Southbank headquarters in Melbourne, there was also this pic featuring the masked Mornings team – with Comrade Trioli up front on the left.

The ABC Mornings with Virginia Trioli comrades – all of whom are regarded as essential workers and, consequently, entitled to go to work – were telling listeners locked down at home to find “some joy”. By wearing sparkly clothes, no less.

So there you have it.  Here’s an out-of-work single mother at home trying to home school three young children – while living in a small flat with no access to the outside – being told by ABC types who enjoy steady employment (including pay increases) and are not confined to their homes 23 hours or so a day to “sparkle up” and not to regard her lot as “drab”.

[Fascinating, in so far as out-of-touchness is concerned.  Perhaps you should have placed this item in MWD’s hugely popular Can You Bear It? segment. Just a thought. – MWD Editor.]

Jackie, Dip Wellness, The Gunnedah Institute, comments for MWD:

Being, on occasions, a contrarian canine – I beg to disagree.  Speaking from a wellness point of view, I believe that  there is a lot to be said for members of the ABC Melbourne Soviet throwing the switch to sparkles and encouraging the locked down hewers of wood and drawers of water in Melbourne to go-for-sparkles-and-glitter and so on to lift their morale.

I tried this in my kennel yesterday and it worked a treat.  After putting some sequins on my winter coat, I found that life looking at four walls all day (apart from exercise with my co-owners) improved remarkably.  Indeed, it brought me lotsa joy.  Here’s hoping La Trioli and company dismiss any criticism about their insensitivity and Go-for-Sparkles again next week.  If nothing else, it will provide copy for my (male) co-owner to use in his obsessive Media Watch Dog blog next Friday.

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Until next time.

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