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Monday, January 21, 2008

An Open Letter to the Liberal Media

posted by on January 21 at 12:05 PM

From: Erica C. Barnett

To: The New York Times, NPR, etc.

Re: Your coverage of the 2008 election

Dear liberal media: Please stop pretending Hillary Clinton doesn’t exist. I know the narrative you’ve written is one in which Barack Obama triumphs against all odds to defeat the baby boomers’ Democratic Party machine and achieve the American dream, but for fuck’s sake, this is an election, not a coronation, right?

Look at the evidence. Throughout this race, the media—NYT, I’m looking at you—has fallen all over itself to paint Obama in a favorable light, giving Clinton faint praise, at best, and ignoring her, at worst. For example, when Clinton won Nevada, the initial Times story began something like, “Obama struggles against Clinton juggernaut, heads to South Carolina.” I mean, they might as well have said “Obama finishes surprising second”! The followup story was a little more balanced, but the headline—”Vote of Women Propels Clinton in Nevada Caucus”—put Clinton in a completely passive role, as if victory was something that happened to her, rather than something she achieved. Same thing when she won New Hampshire, when the two post-primary headlines read “Retooled Campaign and Loyal Voters Add Up” and “Her Message and Moment Won the Day.” (See also: “Momentum Shifts to Clinton.” “For Clinton, Government as Economic Prod.” “Michele Obama Vs. Hillary Clinton”(!!!), etc.) I mean, seriously, could they be more tepid? Is Clinton a candidate, or an agencyless automaton?

Compare that to the Times’ treatment of Obama, which casts him as active, effective and engaged: “Obama Takes on Question of Religion”; “Obama Urges Unity”; “Obama Fights Back”; “Obama Giving Clinton a Race in Her Own Backyard”; “Obama Calls for Unity to Heal Divisions.” “Obama Tries to Stop the Silliness.”

When Clinton wins, she’s propelled by invisible forces; when Obama wins, it’s because he communicates to voters that he’s the better candidate. (As a corollary, when Clinton loses, it’s because voters perceive her vulnerability; when Obama loses, it’s because the Clinton Democratic machine was just too much for him.) The uniting factor isn’t logic (obviously!) but the narrative—a narrative the media decided to embrace way back in Iowa, when the headlines read: “Obama Takes Iowa in Big Turnout”; “Embracing His Moment, Obama Preaches Hope in New Hampshire”; and “Daring to Believe, Blacks Savor Obama Victory.”

Mark my words, when Obama wins South Carolina, the Times is going to play it as the story of the year: Miracle long-shot candidate comes back from near-death to triumph against impossible odds. (Never mind the fact that, as Josh noted below, he scored 79 percent of the black vote in Nevada—and half the Democratic primary voters in South Carolina are black.) One headline I can guarantee you won’t see? “Blacks Propel Obama in South Carolina Primaries.” The headline I predict: “Obama comes from behind to win surprising SC Victory with Black Support.”

See also: NPR (which mentioned Clinton in passing before playing a long excerpt from Obama’s “message of hope and unity”), Time “(A Great Speech!)”) The Politico, andSlog.

Update: Jay Rosen addresses some of this stuff in Salon today, noting the way the media completely wrote Hillary off after Iowa, even suggesting she should withdraw from the race! TPM, for example, wrote that “Camp Hillary insiders … are worried about the long term damage that could be done to Hillary if she decides to fight on after a New Hampshire loss, though there’s no indication they are yet urging an exit.” As Rosen says, “Campaign news in the subjunctive isn’t really news.”

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Who is this Hillary Clinton of which you speak?

Posted by J.R. | January 21, 2008 12:03 PM

The thing is, she is propelled by invisible forces. Those invisible forces are a formidable organization that's set up a huge number of state offices, and built up a base. It's not sexy, so it doesn't get written about. Plus, it's amorphous. What's a reporter gonna do, interview fifty precinct captains, seven county volunteer coordinators, and four superdelegates? Or is a reporter going to spend a couple hours having the pants charmed off him by the only politician in America more charming than Bill Clinton?

Posted by Gitai | January 21, 2008 12:08 PM

Hillary who?? Wasn't she one of the people that played Fallon Carrington for one season during Dynasty? Wow, and just to think she is running for the White House. I never heard about that.

Posted by Cato the Younger Younger | January 21, 2008 12:10 PM

The mainstream press isn't paying enough attention to Hillary Clinton?

Posted by NapoleonXIV | January 21, 2008 12:11 PM

Hillary is running? Man, I coulda sworn it was BILL Clinton campaigning.

I think Hillary is a great politician. Should she receive the nom, she will have my support. But I hope, and continue to believe, that Obama is the candidate to support.

The Clintons bring way too much baggage to the White House. I am not down with the same two families running the nation for such a stretch of time.

Change gonna come. It has to.

Posted by kerri harrop | January 21, 2008 12:13 PM

i bet the MSM totally changes its narrative now.

Posted by max solomon | January 21, 2008 12:13 PM

They really should pay more attention to Hillary, especially the blatantly false mailings she continues to send out.

Posted by Christian | January 21, 2008 12:14 PM

Until Obama started out-polling Clinton leading up to Iowa, I thought the coronation of Hillary was well underway in the MSM.

Posted by Mahtli69 | January 21, 2008 12:16 PM

hilary can suck my cock, only i'm certain she wouldn't be very good at it.

Posted by josh bomb | January 21, 2008 12:17 PM

Come on!

The media has never acted like there were more than three Democratic Party candidates in the race, and will not pay any attention to any third party campaigns other than Bloomberg's. Saying that Hillary "doesn't exist" to the NY Times, when she is one of the few candidates who it actually treats seriously, is completely insane. She's been a major media star for over 16 years, has had every day of her participation in the 2008 election covered for over a year, and represents a state that includes the incredible media market of NYC.

Sorry if the NY Times doesn't just mindlessly repeat Hillary's campaign's talking points, and treats Obama's candidacy like the unlikely, outsider campaign that it is. The fact is that the media was ready to just turn over the keys to Hillary, and has mainly expressed surprise AFTER Iowa that, lo and behold, there seems to be a real race after all and they aren't sure who will win. I know that may be difficult for Hillary, but she's hardly being oppressed right now.

Posted by Trevor | January 21, 2008 12:25 PM

erica, can't you see the terrible alternate reality where Hillary wins the nom, takes Obama as her VP, and then loses the election by about 1% of the national vote for the Dems AGAIN?

Posted by who? | January 21, 2008 12:26 PM

Now you see, No. 10, I wasn't going to call ECB insane for thinking that HRC is invisible in the mainstream media.

But only because one shouldn't pick fights with someone who buys their ink by the barrel....

Posted by NapoleonXIV | January 21, 2008 12:31 PM

Okay, ECB. I want to know when we're going to see the following headlines:

"HRC propelled to victory in Nevada simply because Mexicans hate Blacks!"

"HRC's alleged outrage over casino caucus sites hypocritcal when it was her that asked for them in the first place-- when she thought she would get the union's endorsement!"

"White women supporting HRC as a 'feminist act' are blinded by their own internalized racism and white priv!"

"Obama calls HRC on her bullshit and asks her, where, exactly are these 35 years of experience!"

"Competetion of the Opressed Championship Declared: BLACKS WIN!"


Posted by Get a Grip. | January 21, 2008 12:39 PM

My point is that what the media IS printing is as significant as what they're NOT printing, and if HRC was anyone else, they'd be having a field day with this shit. But they're not, because Obama hasn't resorted to playing dirty and because, at the end of the day, he's still Black and this is still America, a racist mother fucking country. HRC is a tool of oppression.

Posted by Get a Grip. | January 21, 2008 12:42 PM
Dear liberal media: Please stop pretending Hillary Clinton doesn’t exist.

Good Lord, you're so full of shit.

@12, I will call ECB insane for thinking HRC invisible. Indeed, ECB was complaining as loudly as anyone else about how they wouldn't shut up about the whole "tears" moment.

Posted by tsm | January 21, 2008 12:42 PM

Oh, I think I've heard this fairy tale before.

Posted by sprizee | January 21, 2008 12:44 PM

Writing letters to yourself again, ECB?

Posted by w7ngman | January 21, 2008 12:46 PM

Oh, this reminds me of another aspect of politics as usual that the Obama campaign has been such a refreshing break from: the incessant carping about media bias or, for that matter, an unfairly stacked deck of a process. You listen to Bill Clinton vent and you'd think Hillary is the most unfairly treated individual in the history of American politics.

Posted by cressona | January 21, 2008 12:49 PM

Wow. Just wow. A good psychologist could maybe help with that persecution complex. They might even be interested in studying our friend Erica; most people who have the affliction believe that *they* are the ones being persecuted. Going all vicarious and frothing at the mouth over imagined slights of *someone else* may be Erica's ticket into psychology textbooks everywhere.

The media is pretending Hilary Clinton doesn't exist. Really.

Posted by also | January 21, 2008 12:52 PM

you seem to be a-okay with the media pretending john edwards doesn't exist. wasn't he your candidate of choice up until, like 2 weeks ago?

anyway, i think what you mean to ask, "please stop pretending obama is the odds-on favorite for the nomination." no one is pretending she doesn't exist. they just *wish* she didn't. i can't say i blame them.

Posted by brandon | January 21, 2008 12:53 PM

Yep and when she becomes the nominee we will have plenty more of this...(lifted from Sully)

"Pete Abel makes a good deal of sense to me:

1. McCain raises the ire of the contemporary Republican establishment because he rejects their meaner instincts. As I've written before, McCain decries torture while the Establishment excuses it. He fights pork-barrel spending while they enable it. He calls for policies to combat global warming while they deny it. He seeks reasonable compromises on immigration policy while they stoke fear and prejudice.
2. McCain represents for Republicans what Obama represents for Democrats: a meaningful step away from the last 15-plus years. I'm not saying either man will revolutionize partisan politics as we know it, but both promise (at a minimum) evolutionary progress toward a different America. And if we truly believe country is more important than party, then we owe it to ourselves to boost the two candidates who (among all their peers) represent the best hope for moving us in a post-partisan direction, regardless of our individual party loyalties."

And all the folks who don't particularly like HRC will feel it won't be so bad to vote for McCain. So tell me, what will the McCain presidency be like cause I suspect we'll be needing to know?

Posted by Jersey | January 21, 2008 12:54 PM

Dear Liberal Media,

Your tongue is insufficiently far up my candidate of choice's ass this election. Please rectify this immediately, or I will whine at you even more.


Every Single Fucking Person with a Strong Preference in the Presidential Primaries, Apparently

Posted by stfu, all of you | January 21, 2008 12:55 PM

Totally agree. So sick of Obama-Mania. He's OK. That's it. HRC's the real del. Boring national media, stop being so Bonkers Over Barack already.

Posted by agreed | January 21, 2008 1:05 PM

squealing like stuck pigs.

ECB hang in there and for god's sake do not stop speaking out.

yes let's look at the record in winning presidential electionsl.

Obama: none. Never even helped.

Clinton: won two at a time when it seemed the Democrat would NEVER win again in my lifetime.

Hillary: Bill's no. 1 top advisor for oh 35 years. Helped win in Ark. repeatedly despite mudslinging that they were out of touch ultra liberals. In fucking Arkansas. Includling a come back.

Helped Bill win twice despite mudslinging that they were out of touch ultra liberals. Twice. These are 2/3 of all Democratic victories for pres. since....freaking 1968. The other one was a fluke, Carter after Watergate.

Then she goes on to win NYS Senate seat twice. Despite all her negatives and being tagged as an out of touch ultra liberal.

Now look at Obama's record:
--never won a tough fight against the GOP before he ran for US Senate. I do believe his Chicago State Senate district was rather "safe" for Democrats probably about 75% Democratic.

--never won a tough fight against the GOP WHEN he ran for US Senate.

Alan Keyes was a carpetbagging joke.

--never has been hit with the right wing smear machine.

--never participated in any meaningful way in any presidential campaign.

A big record of zero wins against a tough as shit right wing GOP smear machine.

So calm down about Hillary, you're drinking the right wing kool aid.

After the GOP gets through with Obama he is going to be perceived for exactly what he is:
an urban, Harvardish, northern, foreigner-loving, formerly drug using, peacenik, ultra liberal.

Which is why so much of US love him, BTW!!!!

Problem is, he won't know how to win in the face of that.

Hillary does.


Posted by unPC | January 21, 2008 1:12 PM

erica is yearning for the good old days when the only coronation the media was talking about was clinton's.

seriously. coronation? did you really use that word?

for someone to use that particular word about someone OTHER than clinton and not see the blinding irony either has a good sense of humor, or is astoundingly dense.

Posted by some dude | January 21, 2008 1:28 PM


That is exactly what will happen. It seems most HRC supporters here refuse to acknowledge that detail...

You are all in for an earth shattering disappointment or else you thrive on the drama that is HRC's presidential bid.

Either way you are setting yourselves up for He said/She said whining come the day after election day, and the Republican President John McCain is sitting in the White House.

Don't say I didn't warn all of you.

You sleep in the bed you make.

Posted by Reality Check | January 21, 2008 1:35 PM

one other thing: you clearly fail to see the real, big picture story here. that is, a virtually unknown candidate has come from out of nowhere to challenge the favored candidate, who has both the name recognition and the backing of the party establishment, and who had been the presumed winner for months - "coronated," if you will, by the media.

the fact that anyone - let alone a black man with a muslim-sounding name who virtually no one knew of until a year ago - is presenting a serious challenge to the clintons is kind of a big deal, even if he loses.

also, the fact that even after 2 consecutive clinton wins, and after riding on the support of the democratic party establishment for months now, you still feel compelled to whine about inequities and double standards, speaks volumes.

Posted by brandon | January 21, 2008 1:43 PM
also, the fact that even after 2 consecutive clinton wins, and after riding on the support of the democratic party establishment for months now, you still feel compelled to whine about inequities and double standards,

No shit. You'd think that, after public sympathy over some media coverage drove Hillary to victory (and plenty of gushing "Comeback Kid" coverage) in NH, that she'd get over it.

(Oh, but wait - ECB was evidently convinced that the sudden, last minute swell of support for Clinton was solely driven by women voters' careful consideration of issues. Yep, that's what changed in the 48 hours before the primary.)

Posted by tsm | January 21, 2008 1:47 PM

I suppose watching ECB make up reasons why all of a sudden she thinks Hillary is so great is better than having to read her write "Libby Dole: Evil, Yet Female" or "Barbara Bush: Against Everything I Believe, But Also Vagina Having." Thank god you're at least selling out for a Democrat. Seeing you support a Republican just because she is a woman would have been pathetic. I mean, even more pathetic than this.

Posted by elenchos | January 21, 2008 1:58 PM

You think HILARY CLINTON is being ignored?


Why do you think Ron Paul supporters are so obnoxious in their publicizing of his campaign? It's because, despite beating both Guiliani and Thompson in the caucuses, they refuse to even put his fuckin name in print.

That's why they feel the need to buy BLIMPS. Blimps!!

Posted by Hannah | January 21, 2008 2:11 PM

"Libby Dole: Evil, Yet Female" or "Barbara Bush: Against Everything I Believe, But Also Vagina Having."

THAT is funny stuff!

Posted by Clint | January 21, 2008 2:19 PM

Oh, boohoo! The "liberal" media is unfair, and to a Clinton. How dare they! I mean really, this is bullshit. You sound like a republican or that old faker Bill who needs to find himself some young pussy and just chill.

Posted by Johnrl1 | January 21, 2008 2:47 PM

Thanks for that. I think the same thing every morning when listening to NPR. It's almost as if Obama is the lone candidate. Anyone who's educated enough on where she stands with the environment, healthcare, (not just the cute and trendy wheatpasted Obama posters) would know that she is the most qualified candidate. It's time to step back and look at what these candidates are really going to do for the country and not just play the lemming and go for what's popular.

Posted by Maria | January 21, 2008 2:56 PM

until dennis kucinich actually gets a chance to participate in a televised debate, HRC & ECB can both suck a dick.

Posted by j-zeezer | January 21, 2008 3:03 PM


You yourself nail it:

"Barack Obama triumphs against all odds to defeat the baby boomers’ Democratic Party machine and achieve the American dream."

The bias you detect, I think, is real. But, it's driven by that fabulous narrative. So often, journalism, sometimes the best journalism, is driven by a good narrative as opposed to some so-called objective view of the truth or by incisive analysis. Obama offers a narrative like no one else in the race, like no one else in any recent presidential race - at least since 1992 and Bill Clinton himself.

To me, that narrative rings true. So, while I think HRC would be an extra-competent, effective president, and her election would offer a meaningful advancement of women in a sexist society, she leaves me thoroughly uninspired.

I want to be inspired. I want a candidate that I can be excited about, who has the ability to inspire people disaffected by the DC process, who doesn't owe too much to the powers that be, who can attract throngs of young people to the polls in November, who offers a break from the past, who can signal and inspire a profound shift in the way our entire history has been driven by the oppression and exploitation of black people, and who is not related by blood or marriage to any previous president. Our generation needs its JFK. And, honestly, I think Obama could offer a lot more to this generation than JFK did to his.

Hillary, especially with a Democratic congress, has the potential to be a great president, but I don't think she offers that seismic break from the past that is so badly needed. While I think Obama's a bit in over his head running for president after only 4 years as a US Senator, and 7 as a state senator, he is all about breaking from the past.

I think a lot of reporters at the NYT, etc. also buy into this narrative. It's a good one and if your job is to tell a good story, there's a lot of appeal to Barack Obama doing what still in many way seems impossible - getting elected president of the US. Even though you'd really like HRC to get the nomination and become president, I think the way you so easily encapsulate that narrative shows that the journalist in you also responds to it.

Posted by Bill LaBorde | January 21, 2008 3:30 PM

OK, I've been sympathetic to the negative media portrayals of Clinton and skeptical of all the Obamamania, but this post is just a load of bullshit from start to finish. Clinton invisible? Hardly. She and Obama are the story, and the media abandons and besieges whichever one has had a bad day most recently, and then builds them back up to stoke up the ratings again. Edwards gets a few words but is basically treated like he's Kucinich, and Kucinich is utterly ignored. I really think Clinton has gotten the most mainstream coverage, with Obama getting a bit more play in left-leaning media (like The Stranger, which as far as I can tell posted all of Obama's MLK Eve speech and none of Clinton's.)

People need to step out of their candidate preference reality distortion fields once in a while and smell actual reality, because the rhetoric is verging on the delusional. It's times like this that I'm glad I'm undecided.

Posted by Cascadian | January 21, 2008 3:30 PM

Bill @35:

Well said. And I say that as an undecided currently leaning toward Hillary or Edwards over Obama.

Posted by Matthew | January 21, 2008 3:41 PM

Hillary would be an excellent president unfortunately she is the only thing that can unify the fractured right wing right now. Judging from our past performances I will bet the dems will nominate her and we will lose again. So seriously its probably about time to see what McCain is proposing, for abortion or gays or the war, cause at the current rate thats where we're headed. I mean I'm a diehard Dem but in terms of temperment even I prefer McCain to her, not policy-wise but the majority of americans don't care about policy anyway.

Posted by Jersey | January 21, 2008 3:56 PM

I read both Obama's and Clinton's MLK speeches, and I have to say, only one of them was newsworthy. Similarly, many media outlets featured Obama's 2004 National Convention speech and neglected the speeches of the many others who spoke that day. The issue is more clear in that context, where Obama was not running for national office: the man gives newsworthy speeches, in a time when most speeches are not worth much more than a soundbite. I don't think that Hillary is getting less coverage (though that is an empirically verifiable claim, so why don't you hit Nexis and crunch us some numbers?), but I agree that the narratives being told about the campaigns are strikingly different. But then again, the implications of their campaigns are strikingly different, given the strength of the Clinton organization and the broad, improbable grassroots support Obama has created.

Posted by Exile in West Seattle | January 21, 2008 4:09 PM

Erica feigned neutrality before with respect to Clinton, but it's become obvious that she now apparently feels that flag-burning is such a risk that the champion of outlawing it must be elected president. Perhaps her union-busting Svengali Mark Penn can be labor secretary and push NAFTA 2 to finally rid our nation of manufacturing jobs. Didn't Hillary's husband used to be president?

Posted by Brendan | January 21, 2008 4:47 PM

I hereby vow to donate $50 to the Obama campaign for every time ECB whines about how the media covers Hillary between now and Super Tuesday. I'm afraid I may hit the campaign finance law ceiling within 48 hours, though.

Posted by sick of this shit | January 21, 2008 4:50 PM

I'm with ECB.

Posted by onion | January 21, 2008 5:00 PM

Erica, @24 -- I agree completely. I've been wondering why more people haven't been calling attention to this. I'm in favor of HRC because she's spectacularly capable. Here in SF it's so hip to be an Obama supporter, but isn't it time to be pragmatic and get someone into the White House who has a plausible chance of repairing some of the damage wrought by the Bush Administration? We need more than a bunch of trite 30 second sound bites of hope and rainbows that sound so pretty in a narrative piece of journalism.

Posted by Holly | January 21, 2008 6:37 PM

Erica -- Thank you. At a moment when Obama is creeping me out with his religious pander, which comes on the heels of his "Repubs have ideas" and "Reagan was transformative" and Donnie McClurkin panders, I find myself persistently wondering why the media hates HRC so damned much.

Posted by Jonathan | January 21, 2008 7:00 PM

Get yer ass back there and mix me a martini, you fuckin' wining pussy.

Posted by hunterII | January 21, 2008 7:58 PM

Oh, for fuck's sake.

This is stupid.

Posted by Ryan | January 21, 2008 9:12 PM

I don't understand the Sloggers' crediting HRC for Bill Clinton's wins and time in office. Umm, HRC has never been elected president. Or governor of Arkansas. Really, it's true, you can look it up. She's not "experienced" at being a governor or president. And if she is, would you be comfortable pulling the lever for Laura Bush? And when did being an advisor count for anything? Who ever ran for office saying he or she had years of experience as someone's advisor? It's really just bullshit. She should run on her own record but not try to claim her husband's as her own.

Posted by kk | January 21, 2008 9:27 PM

Paging the vast right-wing conspiracy: your up-until-now successful scheme to purge all references to Hillary Clinton from the American media has been dealt a fatal blow by ECB. Please devise a new insidious plan to stop the Clintons.

Posted by HRC ALERT | January 21, 2008 9:31 PM

I'm not really seeing the point of the update. You write this:

"the media completely wrote Hillary off after Iowa, even suggesting she should withdraw from the race"

Then as your example, you cite TPM (?!)

First off, TPM is a *blog* that, in my 3 years of reading, has never tried to hide their liberal bias. (Hell, if you think TPM is big media then you need to reposition your TFH. But I digress...)

Second, the quote actually says that the *Hilary camp insiders* were the ones thinking she should drop out, but you attribute this sentiment to TPM? Two paragraphs later TPM writes: "another camp of insiders ... is urging her to fight on in the event of a defeat in New Hampshire". Why would you think that TPM thinks HRC should drop out? Because they reported on that first? Because Jay Rosen says so? Not following...

Posted by w7ngman | January 21, 2008 9:34 PM

@43 Right on. We need more spectacular Hillary Clinton successes such as our fabulous national health care plan and a replacement war to supplement our stunning victory in Irag. Time to show those damned Republicans that we know how to run things!

Posted by make war not love | January 21, 2008 9:35 PM

"Clinton was similarly vague about how she would handle special interrogation methods used by the CIA. She said that while she does not condone torture, so much has been kept secret that she would not know unless elected what other extreme measures interrogators are using, and therefore *could not say whether she would change or continue existing policies.* 'It is not clear yet exactly what this administration is or isn't doing. We're getting all kinds of mixed messages,' Clinton said. 'I don't think we'll know the truth until we have a new president. I think [until] you can get in there and actually bore into what's been going on, you're not going to know.' We know about waterboarding. We know a lot of things. Apparently, policies condoning those things are OK with Clinton, since she says that whether or not she needs to change our policies depends on all those other, unknown interrogation techniques, not on the knowledge we already have."


Posted by torture? what torture? | January 21, 2008 11:00 PM

So the feminist line is now that being First Lady counts as important experience towards being President? Huh.

Posted by bob | January 21, 2008 11:59 PM

Pre-emptive whining. Nice. Thanks for reinforcing the stereotype about feminists being unbelievably petty and stupid.

Posted by Phoebe | January 22, 2008 3:52 AM

The MSM treats Hillary with kid gloves; they've never asked her what her 35 years of experience amounted to. They don't ask her why she didn't stop NAFTA or welfare elimination, what her role was as a director at Wal-Mart, her lack of initiative in the Senate, or anything else.

And her chief responsibilities regarding Bill's election were covering his bimbo eruptions, and popping out Chelsea.

As far as her politics go, Hillary is Giuliani in a pantsuit.

Posted by ECB=Grrl Pwr! | January 22, 2008 8:56 AM
Posted by lnhtt | January 23, 2008 8:03 PM

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