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Truth matters: Trump election lies and Fox News suit question for Kenyan media

An epic media trial that would have enthralled millions of people across the world was averted at the last minute in the US last week. Nevertheless, it remains a landmark case.

Dominion Voting Systems sued America’s most-watched cable network over claims that the firm rigged the 2020 election against Donald Trump.

On April 18, jury sworn in and hearing set to start, Fox and Dominion announced they had reached a $787.5 million out of court settlement. Dominion had sued for $1.6 billion.

Dominion lawyer Justin Nelson said the settlement represented “vindication and accountability”.

“Truth matters,” he said. “Lies have consequences. The truth does not know red or blue. People across the political spectrum can and should disagree on issues, even of the most profound importance. But for our democracy to endure another 250 years, and hopefully much longer, we must share a commitment to facts.”

Fox said the settlement reflected its “continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards”.

“We are hopeful that our decision to resolve this dispute with Dominion amicably, instead of the acrimony of a divisive trial, allows the country to move forward from these issues,” the statement said.

Ten days after the 2020 US election, Fox News’s fact-checking and research wing, called the Brain Room, went to work inquiring into claims that Dominion Voting Systems rigged the election for Joe Biden.

The Brain Room’s job is to verify information that goes on air at Fox News.

This inhouse truth meter established that the conspiracy theories swirling around Dominion were false. But Fox News published the lies anyway.

Dominion challenged repeated claims made by Fox on air that the voting services company switched votes, paid government kickbacks and was founded in Venezuela to rig elections for former President Hugo Chávez.

Last month, during a pretrial hearing Dominion tabled detailed internal communications from Fox showing everyone in the top ranks of the channel knew the claims were false.

In one of the Brain Room’s logs, for example, fact-checkers examined Trump’s claims that Dominion deleted 2.7 million votes for him nationwide. The Brain Room returned the verdict that:

“There is no evidence of widespread fraud in 2020 election, or of any major problems with Dominion’s systems. Election officials from both political parties have stated publicly that the election went well, and international observers confirmed there were no irregularities.”

Trump’s repeated lies led to threats against election officials, and ultimately helped fuel the violent attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. Nine deaths have been linked to the violence.

In an email to Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott on January 20, 2021, Fox Corp owner Rupert Murdoch expressed his shock that Trump insisted the election was stolen from him.

“Trump insisting on the election being stolen and convincing 25% of Americans was a huge disservice to the country. Pretty much a crime. Inevitable it blew up Jan 6th,” he wrote.

So, why did Fox News air information their own Brain Room had established to be false? The channel defended itself that it was reporting newsworthy charges made by supporters of Trump. But there was another motive.

CEO Scott suggested in an email exposed by Dominion that fact-checking was bad for business. She complained to Meade Cooper, the executive vice president of prime-time programming, about a fact-check on Trump’s voter fraud claims by news anchor Eric Shawn. Scott said she was worried it would alienate viewers.

“This has to stop now,” Scott wrote. “The audience is furious and we are just feeding them material. Bad for business.”

Kenya held its elections on August 9, 2022. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission chairman Wafula Chebukati, by law the presidential election returning officer, declared William Ruto of Kenya Kwanza coalition as the winner.

Azimio coalition presidential candidate Raila Odinga disputed the result and, together with other persons, petitioned the Supreme Court.

On September 5, 2022, the seven Supreme Court judges unanimously dismissed each of the nine points isolated for determination and upheld the election of Ruto. The court has original, exclusive and final jurisdiction over presidential election petitions.

But that did not settle the matter. To date, the media is still awash with claims of rigging of the 2022 presidential election, with accusations flying right, left and centre.

Whether the Fox News defamation suit holds any lesson for Kenyan media can be debated, but the truth remains facts are sacred. Lies have consequences.

See you next week!

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