Up to date information about children's entertainment – film, TV, DVD and more…. from founder and president of KIDS FIRST! Ranny Levy

Archive for February, 2008

Peter Yarrow, Puff, and Daughter Bethany – Participate in PBS Pledge Drive

Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul and Mary fame), his daughter Bethany and his one-year-old granddaughter, Valentina were visiting Santa Fe last week I had the pleasure of sharing a snippet of time with them.

Peter, a Grammy-award winner, has been a long time advocate for social change, reaching back to his involvement in festivals for peace and the 1969 anti-war March on Washington in which some half million people participated. In an effort to combat school violence, he has focused his energy on projects reaching out to youth and communities through Operation Respect, a nonprofit organization he founded in 1999 to combat bullying ridicule and violence in schools. It offers curriculum to children as young as pre-schoolers and continuing through grade school and later.

Peter and his daughter, Bethany Yarrow collaborated on a children’s picture book adapting his classic song, “Puff, the Magic Dragon” to print. “Puff, the Magic Dragon,” written by Peter and Lenny Lipton is one of the most beloved songs the world around. The book is accompanied with an exclusive CD featuring not only Puff, but several other songs performed by Yarrow, his daughter Bethany, and cellist Rufus Cappadocia. The book made the New York Times best-selling children’s book list for 16 weeks.

Beginning in March, public television stations around the country will air a musical special called “Peter, Bethany & Rufus: Spirit of Woodstock” as part of their pledge drives. The special features a concert of 17 songs and offers an intimate glimpse into Peter’s relationship to Woodstock and the famous musical tradition that evolved there. As Peter Yarrow noted recently, “This tradition lies at the core of this TV special which is about much more than music as entertainment. More importantly, this kind of music expresses the passions, hopes and dreams of each passing era. It is a tradition that is now carried forward by Bethany and Rufus, who in many ways define the cutting-edge of folk music in the world of today.” Peter, along with Bethany and Rufus, will personally host selected public television station pledge drive broadcasts (see schedule below at http://www.myspace.com/peterbethanyandrufus).

In “Peter, Bethany & Rufus: Spirit of Woodstock,” Peter returns to the Woodstock artist colony where he spent his summers as a child, to perform in concert with Bethany and Rufus. Together, the three musicians from two vastly different generations revisit the Woodstock of Peter’s youth, musically and historically. Filmed before an audience of Woodstock families and children, the concert offers moments of humor contrasted with deeply moving tributes to the music of the ’60s that changed the world.

As “Puff the Magic Dragon” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” meet the music of Bethany & Rufus, Peter is pulled into the vitality of today’s roots-music perspective, now fused with elements of contemporary jazz, groove and world music. Special guests appearances by Bethany & Rufus’ friends from around the globe make for brilliant instrumental exchanges featuring Mady Koyate on Malian kora, Bonga Jean-Baptiste on Haitian percussion, and Chuck Campbell of the renowned Campbell Brothers on pedal-steel. A convergence of vision and song emerges as Peter comes full circle to celebrate his early dreams, now transformed and carried on by the next generation.

Peter and Bethany also visit his long-abandoned cabin in the woods and, later, singing together on stage, they share the spirit and conscience of the music that has inspired all three of them in different ways. The cabin is part of the history of American folk music. It’s a tiny, quiet, place in the woods where Bob Dylan, Tim Hardin and others lived with Peter or as his guests, and where they each wrote songs that helped to inspire great change in the world of the 1960s. To hear Peter speak to Bethany of that remarkable time, standing there in his long-abandoned cabin, is as fascinating to watch in “Spirit of Woodstock” as is the transformation of the musical tradition they share on stage in this remarkable special.

These broadcast dates will feature a local, live appearance by Peter Yarrow, joined by Bethany & Rufus in most cities. Check local public television listings for other broadcasts.

Friday, February 29th and Saturday, March 1st – New York, WLIW
Tuesday, March 4th – St. Louis, KETC
Wednesday, March 5th – Minneapolis/St. Paul, Twin Cities Public TV
Thursday, March 6th – Denver, Rocky Mountain PBS
Saturday, March 8th – Los Angeles, KCET
Sunday, March 9th – Atlanta, WABE
Monday, March 10th – Tampa, WEDU
Tuesday, March 11th – San Antonio, KLRN
Wednesday, March 12th — New York, WNET
Thursday, March 13th — Detroit, DPTV
Friday, March 14th, Columbus, WOSU
Saturday, March 29th – Boston, WGBH
Saturday, June 7th – San Francisco, KQED
Sunday, June 8th – San Jose, KETH

For more information about “Peter, Bethany & Rufus: Spirit of Woodstock,” video clips from the production are available on Youtube. More information is also at http://www.myspace.com/peterbethanyandrufus.

View “Puff the Magic Dragon” at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FQV43mo_bCU
“Sail Away Ladies” at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IJvNcm2ZvnM
“Nobody’s Fault“ at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LRZAc2vtq8A . For more information about Peter, Bethany & Rufus, including current performance schedules, please visit: www.peterbethanyandrufus.com

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Sexist Stereotypes Pervade Children’s Media –

Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

Three years ago, while watching children’s television programs and videos with her then 2-year old daughter, Academy Award winner Geena Davis noticed a remarkable imbalance in the ratio of male to female characters. From that small starting point, Davis went on to raise funds for the largest research project ever undertaken on gender in children’s entertainment (resulting in 4 discrete studies, including one on children’s television). The research showed that in the top-grossing G-rated films from 1990-2005, there were three male characters for every one female – a statistic that did not improve over time.The concern was clear: What message does this send to young children?

Davis started her own nonprofit, and over the course of the next three years, with the help of USC Annenberg School of Journalism professor Stacy Smith, Davis began research to assess portrayals of males and females in children’s media. On January 30 and 31, 2008, at the University of Southern California, under the auspices of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Children in the Media (GDIDM) she presented the findings at a forum for studio heads, writers, educators and students. Here are links to the results of this conference:

GDIGM Releases New Findings (Press Release 2-1-08)

What follows are excerpts from the most in-depth content analysis of popular G-rated movies and gender in kids’ TV ever conducted.

G-Rated Movies
Dr. Stacy Smith and her team at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California analyzed the portrayals of male and female characters in 101 of the top-grossing G-rated movies from 1990 to 2005. They tracked the gender of 3,039 individual speaking characters, 1,210 characters who spoke in groups, and 47 narrators. The researchers also examined other variables including physical appearance, age group, role within the story, ethnicity or cultural background, and occupations characters held.
TV for Kids 11 and Under
Dr. Smith and her team randomly sampled 1,034 shows from 12 network, public broadcast, and cable outlets between June 12 and August 18, 2005 to assemble a typical week of children’s television programming. The researchers used more than 75 criteria to measure the story centrality, demographics, occupation, body/clothing, appearance, likeability, and personality of speaking characters.

G-rated movies and certain TV categories need more females as main characters, minor characters, narrators, and in crowds.
3 out of 4 characters in G-rated movies are male. This pattern remains steady even when the data is analyzed from multiple perspectives (major characters, characters in groups, movies released in the 1990s versus the 2000s).

In TV made for kids 11 and under, the bad news is that in TV-Y and TVY7 there are twice as many males as females, while the good news is, TVG is almost balanced at one for one.
G-rated movies and certain TV categories need more characters of color, especially female characters of color as main characters, minor characters, narrators, and in crowds.
In the 101 highest grossing G-rated movies 1990-2005 characters of color are most often sidekicks, comic relief, or villains.

In TV aimed at kids 11 and under, three-fourths of all the individual, speaking characters are white. Girls of color are least likely to see themselves reflected in media made for kids.
G-rated movies need to create more female characters with aspirations beyond romance.
In G-rated films, Dr. Smith and her researchers discovered that often female characters have no personal aspirations beyond romance i.e. romantic love or marriage.
G-rated movies need to create more women and girl characters that are valued for their inner character, too.
In G-rated films, Dr. Smith and her researchers discovered that most often plots with female leads revolve around physical appearance and ability to attract a mate.
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Timely News

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

The American Cinematheque in Hollywood will host a Tribute to DAVID GORDON GREEN from February 26th – 28th at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. Screenwriter/director David Gordon Green’s distinctive style of filmmaking has been described as Southern Gothic, a “poetic merging of realism and surrealism,” as Roger Ebert called it. For this tribute, The American Cinematheque will be screening Green’s first three features highlighted by the Los Angeles Premiere of Warner Independent Pictures’ SNOW ANGELS starring Kate Beckinsale and Sam Rockwell, Green’s fourth feature film. Green will be on hand each night to discuss how he went from directing his first $40,000 feature GEORGE WASHINGTON to making the anticipated Judd Apatow produced PINEAPPLE EXPRESS. For additional information, please call 323-466-3456 or visit The American Cinematheque. Advance tickets can be purchased at http://www.fandango.com/ (input zip 90028 for the Egyptian). SNOW ANGELS opens in New York City on March 7th and Los Angeles on March 14th. http://wip.warnerbros.com/snowangels/

Rescuing Recess (www.cartoonrecessweek.com)Rescuing Recess is a community-relations initiative from Cartoon Network that is trying to save recess for American school children. The site features information about Rescuing Recess, ideas and activities for recess, volunteer information, and more.

indieWIRE continues its ongoing series with Apple Store – SoHo that presents indie film professionals discussing various aspects of the filmmaking process. WHEN: Wednesday, March 5th, 7:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m WHERE: Apple Store SoHo, 103 Prince Street, NYC COST: Free, No RSVP required. Seats are first come, first serve. Seating is limited. Filmmaker David Gordon Green (“George Washington,” “All The Real Girls”) will participate in a discussion and show scenes from his latest film, “Snow Angels,” which stars Sam Rockwell, Katie Beckinsale, Olivia Thirlby, Amy Sedaris and Griffin Dunne. “Snow Angels” (based on Stewart O’Nan’s novel) is the haunting story of two broken families and two romantic relationships, one just beginning and one nearing its end. Warner Independent Pictures will release “Snow Angels” in theaters on March 7, 2008.

PBS KIDS is celebrating the Earth with “PBS KIDS Share the Earth Day,” a special programming and online event on Tuesday, April 22 (check local listings). Curious George, Clifford, Arthur and other favorite PBS KIDS and PBS KIDS GO! characters will explore fun and engaging ways to keep the planet beautiful. PBS Parents (pbsparents.org) will offer an Earth Day expert Q&A; with Jamie Durie, host of The Victory Garden, discussing how to introduce gardening concepts to kids and what they can learn by digging in the dirt.

On the PBS KIDS preschool block, Miss Lori and Hooper teach kids how to recycle their trash, while new stories from Dot’s Story Factory show how kids at home celebrate the planet. Earth Day-themed episodes from CURIOUS GEORGE, CLIFFORD THE BIG RED DOG, and IT’S A BIG BIG WORLD will air alongside themed music videos from the award-winning kids’ rock band, Milkshake.

PBS KIDS GO!sm, for elementary school kids, celebrates Earth Day with themed programming from ARTHUR, MAYA & MIGUEL, and CYBERCHASE. Throughout the late afternoon programming block, PBS KIDS GO! presents creative ideas of how kids can take care of the environment by recycling, cleaning up their neighborhoods and more.

To help parents connect these lessons back to kids’ daily lives, PBS Parents (pbsparents.org) will recommend ideas, resources and activities for parents to share with their children and encourage them to spend more time exploring nature and take an active role in protecting the planet.

New web content on pbskids.org and pbskidsgo.org includes a reduce, reuse and recycling theme for Dot’s Story Factory so kids can tell their own stories about saving the planet; a newly redesigned EekoWorld web site (pbskidsgo.org/eekoworld), where kids can build their own creatures and learn the basics of how life survives in different ecosystems; and a sustainability and green living site titled “Meet the Greens” (pbskids.org/meetthegreens). The Greens are an environmentally conscious family who explore different methods of saving power and reducing waste in a series of short animated episodes.

PBS KIDS Episodes for April 22.

CURIOUS GEORGE #220 “The Times of Sand”
A hard hat, a shovel, a wheelbarrow and a ladder – George learns that all four items are necessary when digging a gigantic hole. But why are George and the Man With the Yellow (Hard) Hat digging in their own yard? It’s a surprise, and George will have to wait for the answer while the Man and Mr. Quint go help Flint Quint change a light bulb, taking the ladder with them. But when the hats fall into the hole after a run-in with Jumpy Squirrel, how will George retrieve them? After trying this hat rescue mission with several items which are not quite long enough to reach into the bottom of the hole, George decides that a water hose might do the trick. And when he accidentally turns on the water itself, the ensuing flood turns out to be a spark of genius – not only does the water float the hats to the surface, but George discovers the true purpose for the hole.

CLIFFORD THE BIG RED DOG #131 “Doggie Garden/Captain Birdwell’s Treasure”
It’s “Keep Birdwell Beautiful” month and the kids are doing their part by planting a flower garden. Seeing this, the dogs decide to create a doggie flower garden of their own. But when Cleo hears that almost anything grows in Birdwell Island soil, she decides she’d much rather grow a garden full of dog toys! In the second story, Clifford and his dog friends find the long-lost trunk of Captain Birdwell, filled with wonderful items brought to the Island by the explorer long ago.

IT’S A BIG BIG WORLD #124 “Fish out of Water/Burdette’s Nest”
“Fish Out Of Water” — While out looking for ants, Bob comes across a rock with an image on it that looks like Ick. Afraid that Ick is stuck in the rock, he hurries off to ask for help. Snook and Madge tell the worried Bob that the rock he found is a fossil and explain how fossils form.
“Burdette’s Nest” — There is a hole in Burdette’s nest so she thinks she may need to move. Smooch and Snook try to help by patching the hole with mud, but when this doesn’t work they consult Madge who teaches them that there are many different types of materials that birds use to make nests. They remind Burdette that she is the expert in what type of nest is best for her, and the three friends fix the hole together.

PBS KIDS GO! Episodes for April 22 (check local listings):
ARTHUR #1004 “Feeling Flush/ Family Fortune”
“Feeling Flush” — When Elwood City experiences a drought, Francine bets Arthur that her family can use less water than his. But Francine is shocked to learn that, despite her conservation efforts, her water meter levels are twice as high as Arthur’s! What’s going on at the Frensky household? Will Francine find out who’s behind the flushing frenzy?
“Family Fortune” — The TV show, Treasure Caravan, is coming to Elwood City! Arthur and D.W. are convinced that in Grandma Thora’s attic they’ll find treasures that will make them famous on TV – and rich beyond their wildest dreams. But what they really discover is that family history and cultural traditions are far more precious.

CYBERCHASE #504 “EcoHaven Ooze”
When Hacker discovers that the liquid ooze that feeds the animals of EcoHaven also gives him a super energy boost, he decides to drain the pond and take the ooze home. He builds a fort around the pond, so the CyberSquad must figure out a way to get in without being noticed. They take inspiration from the Greek myth of the Trojan Horse and build a giant “Trojan Ducky.” After testing a model of their invention to be sure it works, they hide inside the duck, and fool Delete into taking them to Hacker. But how will they stop Hacker’s nefarious plot?

MAYA & MIGUEL #163 “Every Day Is Earth Day”
“Every Day Is Earth Day” — For a school Earth Day project, the kids decide to clean up an old lot and plant a community garden. But as the deadline approaches, a rainstorm hits, turning the patch of dirt into a muddy mess. How will Maya get her friends out of the muck this time?

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Christopher Skala, Senior VP Programming, HIT Entertainment

Friday, February 22nd, 2008

Meet Christopher Skala, Senior VP Programming of HIT Entertainment. Recently, I spoke with Christopher about his work at HIT and their incredibly successful line up of programs.

Christopher joined HIT Entertainment in Autumn 2004 as Vice-President, Programming & Development and was promoted to his current position in December 2005. He refers to himself as a “late-bloomer” who worked as a secretary for longer than his father wanted to see. Yale educated, he took his time before he figured out his true niche. Obviously, he has done that and done it well. At HIT, his responsibilities include overseeing the creative and production of current properties such as Bob the Builder, Thomas & Friends, Pingu, Angelina Ballerina and perennial favorite, Barney. Additionally, he’s the MAN with whom the responsibility lays in developing new programming for HIT.

When asked what his favorite HIT show is, Christopher gulped. I guess it’s like asking a Mom or Dad which of their kids is their favorite. “Actually, I had a favorite when I first came here but after you work with the properties, each one takes on its own special characteristics.” Today, he sees the value in every property, from Barney which “appeals to that kid who needs unconditional love” to Pingu in which the characters speak their own brand of language – penguinese.

I have to admit, I have my own HIT favorites: As a former dancer and avid reader, I was a die-hard Angelina Ballerina fan from the get go. This literature-based animated film tickles my funny-bone. And, my grandson loved Thomas so much when he was four that we thought he’d never outgrow it. But, enough about me. What makes HIT tick and where is it going? Christopher has certainly found many animated hit properties, no pun intended. So, I asked him if they were only going to focus on animated shows. He quickly pointed out that Barney is not an animated show and neither is Thomas. What they are really looking for are excellent properties that can be wholly-owned, wholly-funded or partially funded properties. Literature-based properties are a plus.

What about digital platforms, online presences, all the buzz things that everyone is talking about. How important is that to HIT? What is most important is that they make a great TV show first and foremost. All of those other things weigh in but if they can’t pass criterion #1, they won’t get out of the starting gate. They are looking for new properties, so all you indie producers out there, keep your heads up.

HIT Entertainment PLC is a children’s entertainment company. Its portfolio includes Bob the Builder, Thomas the Tank Engine, Barney, Angelina Ballerina, Pingu and Guinness World Records. The Company has developed into a mini studio with activities spanning television and video production, publishing, consumer product licensing and live events. With operations in the United Kingdom, the United States, Japan, Germany and Canada, approximately 45% of its revenue comes from home entertainment sales, with another 45% deriving from consumer product licensing. With over 1,000 episodes of young children’s programming, it sells programs to over 180 territories worldwide.

The latest HIT show that is playing in the KIDS FIRST! Film Festival circuit this quarter is ‘Pingu: On Thin Ice.” Created by Swiss animators Otmar Gitman and Harold Muecke, Pingu is a charming, cheeky young penguin who connects with kids of all ages and has a knack for mischief and a flair for flippered fun. Pingu spends his time playing with his friends and family and gets into all sorts of comical situations. Part of his unique appeal lies in his hilarious “penguinese,” and his exceptional ability to turn his beak into a trumpet to express feelings.

Check out these snippets on YouTube:

Pingu is currently seen in the US on PBS KIDS Sprout. The show has received numerous awards and honors including Best Animated Short at BAMKids Film Festival, a Finalist Certificate at the New York Film Festival and the Audience Award at the New York Int’l Children’s Film Festival. For more information on Pingu visit www.hitentertainment.com or http://www.pingu.net/.

About HIT Entertainment
HIT Entertainment, owned by private equity investment group Apax Partners, is one of the world’s leading independent children’s entertainment producers and rights-owners. HIT’s portfolio includes properties, such as Barney™, Bob the Builder™, Thomas & Friends™, Pingu™, Fireman Sam™, Angelina Ballerina™ and Rainbow Magic™. HIT represents Fifi and the Flowertots™ in North America and Japan and acts as a worldwide representative for The Jim Henson Company’s library of classic family brands and as representative for The Wiggles® in the UK. HIT also owns the Guinness World Records™ publishing and television property. Launched in 1989, HIT’s lines of business span television and video production (including studios in the US and the UK), publishing, consumer products licensing and live events. With a catalogue of more than 1,000 hours of young children’s programming, HIT sells its shows to more than 240 countries worldwide, in more than 40 different languages and has operations in the UK, US, Canada, Hong Kong and Japan. In 2005, the Company joined Comcast Corporation, PBS and Sesame Workshop to launch PBS KIDS SproutSM, a 24-hour digital cable channel and VOD service for preschoolers. In 2007, HIT and Chellomedia, the European content division of Liberty Global, Inc and its subsidiary ChelloZone, announced a joint venture to launch and distribute JimJam, an international preschool TV channel (excludes the US, UK and China). For more information, visit http://www.hitentertainment.com/.

According to yesterday’s news, HIT Entertainment is the latest company to join the rush to lend its IP to a theme park based in the oil-rich kingdom of Dubai. (more)

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Pat the Bunny Comes to DVD March 4

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

You loved the book when your kids were growing up and now, Genius Products and Classic Media are releasing the DVD of “Pat the Bunny” this Spring. I have not seen this DVD yet but it promises to be as engaging as the original books and includes special “touch-and-feel” packaging as well as an interview with child education expert Jean Kunhardt, the granddaughter of the original author, Dorothy Kunhardt. The 62-minute DVD features four, 15-minute shorts with the iconic rabbit and will be available starting March 4, 2008.

I remember reading “Pat the Bunny” to my children when they were babies. Created by Dorothy Kunhardt, it was truly the first of its kind, as an interactive book for babies and toddlers, when it was published in 1940. As a perennial favorite, it has sold more than seven million copies worldwide. The book encourages interactivity with our child as you pat the soft fur of the bunny, play peek-a-boo, look in the mirror, and feel Daddy’s scratchy face. I remember how my daughter read it so many times that the sandpaper for Daddy was worn smooth, the bunny’s fur mangled and the mirror smudged with her little fingerprints. She would read it over and over throughout the day and then again at bedtime.

“Pat the Bunny” was known as baby’s first gift for more than 60 years. Dorothy Kunhardt, a pioneer in early child development and an established children’s author, started experimenting with adding interactive elements to children’s books. The results of those experiments was “Pat the Bunny,” which she wrote for her 3-year-old daughter, Edith. Dorothy felt that there was more to books than just words on paper and that added elements could increase a child’s love for reading and learning. The interactive elements of the book – bunny’s fur, daddy’s scratchy beard, smelling the flowers, looking in a mirror, peek-a-boo blanket, reading a miniature book, poking your finger through a die cut of mommy’s ring and waving bye-bye – have been the keys to its success. In fact, the original book was so successful that Edith Kunhardt, the inspiration for the original book, wrote three companions to the original.
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PBS Kids Go! Presidents’ Day Programming

Saturday, February 16th, 2008

PBS KIDS GO! will be offering a collection of age-appropriate entertainment for Presidents’ Day that teach elementary school-age kids the basics of civics and government through fun, curriculum-based entertainment. Featuring a two-hour block of ARTHUR, CYBERCHASE, MAYA AND MIGUEL, and, in a special Monday premiere, WORDGIRL, kids’ favorite PBS KIDS GO! characters learn what it takes to run their class, local and cyberspace government.

Monday, February 18 (check local listings):
WORDGIRL (New episode) – “Mr. Big’s Big Plan” WordGirl must get to the bottom of Mr. Big’s plan to steal the local election when he claims he’s reformed and runs for Mayor.

ARTHUR – “The Election” ‘I, Muffy Crosswire, do solemnly swear to uphold the office of the President of the United …’ Actually, it’s only a mock election in Mr. Ratburn’s class, but Muffy takes it just as seriously. How far will she go to win?

CYBERCHASE – “True Colors” – A new, reformed Hacker runs for election against Motherboard, claiming to have done five good deeds, and promising to turn over a new leaf. Can the kids find a counter example that proves his claims to be false – or will Hacker be elected the new ruler of cyberspace?

MAYA & MIGUEL – “Politics Unusual” – Maya has a bright idea to support her friend Maggie’s campaign for Class President in order to reorganize the upcoming School Assembly Day show. Unfortunately, someone else decides to run, an unassuming kid named Simon. Can Maya and Maggie out-glitz Simon’s campaign? Or is Simon the right choice because he listens to the concerns of the other students?

In addition, pbskidsgo.org offers online resources to continue kids’ learning while online. Supporting material is also available on pbsteachers.org.

The Democracy Project (pbskidsgo.org/democracy/)
Kids can explore being President for a day, learn how government affects each person, and go inside a voting booth to learn how a small number of votes can have a big impact on history.

Presidents: The Secret History (pbskids.org/wayback/)
Kids can hit a fictitious campaign trail to check out historic and unusual campaign memorabilia from American presidential campaigns, as well as explore a dossier of little-known “presidential secrets.”

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