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In season of madness avoid putting words in politician’s mouth

There shall be a lot of psychology going round this week. But too much psychology never hurt anyone. Maybe all journalism classes ought to come with basic psychology lessons – like the principle of closing gaps, which states that it is human nature to want to close gaps, especially those that seem so close that common sense or just plain impatience prods us to close them, go home whistling for doing whoever left the gap unfilled “a favour”. Right?

Wrong – not in journalism. In our profession we do not close gaps, no matter how small, with anything other than verified facts gathered straight from the horse’s mouth.

In our profession we let people speak for themselves. We do not put words in their mouths then go to the street tomorrow to report.

So, when A stands on the podium and asks the crowd, “Do you want me to be King?”, and the crowd responds with a thunderous “Yeesssss”, we do not report the next day that A has been endorsed to be king, do we?

No, we do not do that. We do not take it upon ourselves to “fill in the gaps”. Not for A, by assuming he or she had already made up his or her mind to be king (or queen); and certainly not for the crowd, which, taken as one voice, is rarely a trustworthy news source.

And so, when Mombasa Road runs to town shouting “Kanu delegates endorse Gideon for presidency” after covering Gideon Moi’s meeting in Diani, Kwale county, someone on the streets will be forgiven for saying: Wait! I am a Kanu life member, but I have not endorsed anyone for presidency – at least not officially!

Gideon himself, being wise enough to know when he is being serenaded, told the speakers to be calm. “Delegates will be called to Nairobi to decide the direction Kanu will take in 2022. It is the delegates who will decide and not me on the path that Kanu will take on 2022,” he said.

In short, Gideon was telling overzealous fellows demanding that he become king, and the overzealous reporters waiting impatiently with their pens trembling over their notebooks to make him king, to hold their horses; that it was not up to them to decide if he runs for president; that it was not their call.

But what did the reporters go and do? They ran to town screaming that Gideon has been “endorsed for presidency” by “delegates”, just to blow up a small story that ought to have been a meeting between Gideon and a small group of his supporters in Diani.

Incidentally, the headline changed the next day to, “Moi promises big announcement”. What big announcement? We thought you guys made the big announcement the day before?!

Coincidentally, there was another “big announcement” on the opposite page, this time declaring that Kirinyaga Governor Anne (yes, this is the way she likes her name spelt, but we, her chroniclers, just do not get it) had ditched the political party that made her governor.

Now, a good editor would have demanded that the two reporters who filed this story call Anne. Nay, a good editor would, after listening to the two breathless reporters eager to blurt: “Anne has defected!”, asked: “Says who?”

But no, herd psychology won the day and we, convinced that the voice of the mob was the voice of Anne, went to the streets shouting that she had defected.

This, even when Anne herself said, in a nutshell: “Nikiulizwa nitasema ni nyinyi mlisema”. Who’s the fala, now?

Anne is being wooed by different political suitors for whatever reasons and going to town shouting that the most sought-after girl in town has been taken is, well, like they say in street slang, kuchomea Anne picha.

That said, in our trade, we do not assume stuff, we do not close gaps, no matter how close they are.  This is not just simple logic – it is media ethics.

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