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Interesting thing about newspapers.

Fair warning, I'm going to rag on newspapers. If you're wondering why I would do that, seeing as I'm writing in a newspaper, I'm wondering the same thing.

The only reason I can come up with is I am not a journalist but a creative writer. Meaning just like you, not in the newspaper business, I pretty much have the same outside view of newspapers.

With that rationalising out of the way, let us begin.

'If you don't read the newspaper, you're uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you're misinformed.' - Mark Twain.

I discovered the quote above to be true a long time ago. It was in the 90s, I was in my early 20s, and that first newspaper story that reflected Twain's views on newspapers was about gangsters, the police and a most famous shootout.

Some background. In the 90s, there was this trio of gun-toting gangsters, whose notoriety was legendary. More widely known by their aliases (Wacucu, Wanugu and Rasta) and alleged to have committed murders, robberies, bank heists and carjackings, the three men had evaded police for years.

Cut to the beginning of their end. Two of the gangsters, Wacucu and Wanugu, were cornered by police in Ongata Rongai in early '96, and a gunfight ensued. Wacucu was shot and killed but Wanugu escaped. The details of the escape as read in that newspaper story, however, were dubious. This is how the newspaper story went, and I quote '...Police bullets harmlessly bounced off Gerald Wambugu's (alias Wanugu) bulletproof vest.'

Bullets don't bounce off bulletproof vests. The vest just stops the bullet from penetrating all the way through. People wearing such vests, however, still get injured. The impact alone, say from a 9mm bullet that travels at 1,500 feet per second, will knock you off your feet. As for the injuries, they range from minor (bruising) to moderate (cracked ribs) to major (the bullet gets through and you die).

Now the 'harmlessly bouncing bullets' may seem like a small factual error, but think about it. If, according to the laws of physics, Wanugu could not have escaped the way the story so graphically described he did, did the gunfight go down as reported?

The only information you'd have gleaned from this story was that two men believed to be Wacucu and Wanugu exchanged gunfire with police and one of the men died. You would, however, be misinformed about the sequence of events leading to the other man escaping, and severely misinformed about how bulletproof vests work.

Let's now skip to the present, to a short newspaper story I came across in one of the dailies on May 4. This one was about Governor Dhadho Godhana of Tana River, urging PSV operators in the county not to carry passengers without a Huduma Namba.

Again, reading that, you'll be informed that Governor Godhana misspoke. But skittish Kenyans would be misinformed about the powers of Huduma Namba; that it's for access to government services only, which do not include matatu services.

What's more, this is not 1953 colonial Kenya, or the American South in the 19th Century, where black people couldn't go anywhere without pass papers or else they'd get lynched. Yes, it was in the newspaper, but no, we don't need a pass anymore to travel freely in-country.

Interesting thing about newspapers, you're damned if you don't read, you'll be uninformed. You damned if you do read, you'll be misinformed.

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Publication:The Star (Nairobi, Kenya)
Date:May 11, 2019
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