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The problem with fly-on-the-wall stories? You can’t quote a fly

September is the anniversary of William Ruto’s presidency. The Nation commemorated it by telling stories of the hotly contested election that culminated at Bomas of Kenya, the national tallying centre.

The stories read like exposés. They brought you into rooms nobody let you into before. Except, they were grounded on, well, hot air.

The headlines:

  • Sept 11: “2022 polls: 48 hours of high drama from Chebukati team at Bomas”, by Moses Nyamori and James Smart.

  • Sept 12: “2022 polls: How court ruling, Azimio agents fiasco cost Raila Odinga presidency”, by Benard Mwinzi.

  • Sept 13: “Raila vs Ruto: The untold story of the chaos at Bomas and the field bid to calm tensions”, by Samwel Owino.

  • Sept 14: “Revealed: How Ruto donated members of his elite security detail to protect Chebukati”, by James Smart.

The first story by Nyamori and Smart was attributed to “personal accounts and multiple interviews corroborated by court documents” that painted a picture of “tension-packed, life-threatening 48 hours for poll officials preceding the declaration of the presidential results a year ago.”

But the story did not quote any of the “multiple interviews” or name a single interviewee.

Instead, the story was a running, single voice of the reporters on what supposedly happened at Bomas.

The second story by Mwinzi was commentary.

The third story by Owino repeated that this chronology of “the untold story of the drama” at Bomas was pieced together “from various stakeholders”. But only one “MP from Nyanza serving his first term” was cited.

By the time we got to the fourth story, the Nation didn’t bother to tell readers the source of that narrative.

Was a reader who picked up the paper on this day expected to know this was part of a running compilation?

The story made astounding claims, all unattributed.

It started out that by the time electoral commission chairman Wafula Chebukati got to the podium to announce William Ruto as the President-elect, Deputy Inspector General of Police Noor Gabow had “taken command”, cleared the auditorium and asked all police officers guarding their VIPs to stand down.

No attribution. Did Gabow shout this command, so that it is public knowledge?

The story painted a choreographed scheme by Ruto’s side to distract the public and steer outcomes.

The story said: “In the back end, we cannot reveal, as soon as the President-elect took his certificate, his security detail informed him that it would be a mistake if he left Bomas with only that piece of paper.”

Who is we? Reveal from what sources?

And that moment, a plan was quickly hatched… low-ranking staff received instructions from Garbow… ‘don’t sleep in your homes to night.’ They didn’t.”

Again, who told the reporter these things? How did the reporter know these staff didn’t sleep in their homes?

The sum is that the stories are told as if by a drone. Or by a fly on the wall that saw and heard everything at Bomas. Not a reporter. Without a single attribution, on what are these stories grounded? Who should believe that a narrative is true if you cannot properly attribute where or how you got claims made?

The problem with fly-on-the-wall stories is that they puncture credibility. You can’t quote a fly.

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