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Morning news brief

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Residents in Sudan's capital are sheltering inside their homes, trying to protect themselves from the bombardments and artillery fire outside.

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LEILA FADEL, HOST:

It's a battle for power of the North African nation, a battle between the country's military and the paramilitary group, the Rapid Support Forces. The fighting has already killed nearly a hundred civilians since it began Saturday. Hundreds more are injured.

MARTÍNEZ: Journalist Zeinab Mohammed Salih is one of those sheltering in place. She's in Khartoum, and I spoke with her early this morning.

ZEINAB MOHAMMED SALIH: There is a heavy gunfire all over the city. Military jets are over us all the time. There's a small market nearby, but there's a shortage in food, and you can't go out.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Emmanuel Akinwotu is following this from Lagos, Nigeria. He's on the line with us.

We heard from a reporter there in Sudan. What else are you hearing, and what can you tell us that led to the fighting?

EMMANUEL AKINWOTU, BYLINE: Good morning. You know, when I've been talking to people in Khartoum who've been kind enough to talk to me in such tough circumstances, they've shared about how, you know, places they used to eat, buy groceries, see family and friends have basically been turned into a battlefield right before their eyes. This is truly the nightmare end to a power struggle between the army and the RSF. You know, the RSF are a brutal paramilitary force created by former military leader and the president, al-Bashir. They became a key part of the security infrastructure in Sudan. And the army and the RSF really were allies. They helped actually bring Bashir down after the stunning Sudanese revolution in 2019. And the RSF have helped the army take power again in 2021, in October.

And since then, there's been a fragile - you know, some argue, flawed - transition to democracy, a process that was meant to mean both forces were actually supposed to integrate. But that set the stage for a power struggle between them and their leaders - the leader of the army, General Burhan, and the leader of the RSF, General Dagalo, often called Hemedti. This, many people who I've spoken to say, is a battle between the two unfolding across Khartoum and Sudan.

MARTÍNEZ: And that battle - any sense right now over who has the upper hand right now, so far?

AKINWOTU: It's not entirely clear. It's a very murky picture. Something that people have told me over the phone is that, you know, during civilian protests and coups, often what we see in Sudan is the internet being shut down. But actually, that has been not exactly the same case this time. You know, internet services have been affected, but on the whole, there is still access. And people think, and people I've spoken to say, it's because they think there is also a propaganda war going on alongside the actual battles. And both sides are really claiming to have the upper hand, claiming to have taken over key sites. And the army have said, you know, they are close to victory, but the fighting is still going on.

MARTÍNEZ: And that political process to put a democratic and civilian government back in control, where does that stand?

AKINWOTU: You know, to put it mildly, it's extremely remote. Ever since the revolution, you know, the will of the Sudanese people who trooped out onto the streets so admirably that we all saw in 2019 has been something that we made very key, very technocratic demands for the kind of democracy that they wanted to see. But both forces that were key in shaping Sudan since then - the army and the RSF - have effectively subverted that will. And the transition process was meant to be a kind of pragmatic solution to create a civilian government that would create a new normal in Sudan. But that has not happened. And what we are instead seeing is both of these forces fight for supremacy on who will shape Sudan going forward.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Emmanuel Akinwotu. Thank you very much.

AKINWOTU: Thank you.

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MARTÍNEZ: There was a mass shooting in the town of Dadeville, Ala., on Saturday. Police say four people died, and at least 28 others were injured.

FADEL: It happened at a dance studio that was hosting a sweet 16 birthday party. And authorities have given very little information about what actually happened, why it happened or even if the suspect is dead or alive.

MARTÍNEZ: Kyle Gassiott of Troy Public Radio joins us now from Montgomery, Ala.

Kyle, what do we know about what happened?

KYLE GASSIOTT, BYLINE: Well, A, as you said, not much. The shootings happened inside a rented dance studio just past 10:30 p.m. Central Time on Saturday. The studio often hosts big community events like birthday parties and other festivities and celebrations. It's right on the town square in a popular place. Now, we know that many kids were in attendance, but police have released no information about any of the victims, their age ranges or how they died or their injuries. Authorities gave two brief news conferences during the day on Sunday, but took no questions and ignored shouts from reporters, like me, to just get the simplest of details, like if the community should be worried about a suspect on the loose or if that person was among those who died.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, you were there in Dadeville yesterday. What are people saying about this uncertainty and this lack of information?

GASSIOTT: Well, A, they're frustrated and don't understand why the police are being so tight-lipped. As you know, in other mass shootings, by this point, a day or two after the event, there's typically a good idea about the circumstances and some clues about what happened and why. And in this case, we really have none of that. The frustration bubbled up during a community vigil last night. I spoke with Teneeshia Johnson, who said she'd heard some things but didn't want to discuss with a reporter and is frustrated that the police aren't saying more.

TENEESHIA JOHNSON: I really thought that more was going to come out from that because there's way more information they can give, OK? There's way more information. I just don't want to be the one to do it.

GASSIOTT: During this vigil, pastors and others talked about the need for hope and understanding. Pastor Ben Hayes spoke at the service. Here's what he had to say.

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BEN HAYES: I was handed a candle, and I'm assuming many of you were as well. And it's still daylight. But what good's a candle if you don't light it?

MARTÍNEZ: All right. So despite not having much information so far, has there been any attempt to try and piece together something, anything, about the victims?

GASSIOTT: Yeah. One of those who died is Phil Dowdell. He was a star athlete at Dadeville High School. Just this past Friday, he actually competed and won at a track meet. He'd been accepted at Jacksonville State University and was going to play football next year. His coach-to-be at JSU tweeted about his death, saying he was a great young man with a bright future. I spoke to his grandmother yesterday who said he was the older brother of the girl celebrating her 16th birthday. She was heartbroken and angry about his death, complaining about the prevalence of guns in this country. She also said that her daughter, his mother, was also shot, but she survived the shooting. A, this is just one of the many victims we'll learn about in the coming days.

MARTÍNEZ: What kind of a place is Dadeville?

GASSIOTT: It's one of those typical small Alabama towns, population around 3,000. It's about an hour from the state capital of Montgomery and not too far from Auburn University. It's a majority-Black city, one of the places where most folks know each other. Obviously, this isn't easy for the community, particularly the young people of Dadeville. The superintendent of the county school system has said classes will start today like normal, even though the day will be anything but that. He's already said that counselors will be on hand at schools to help students and staff manage the stress, grief and anger about what happened at this birthday party.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Kyle Gassiott of Troy Public Radio.

Kyle, thanks.

GASSIOTT: Thank you, A.

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MARTÍNEZ: The biggest media trial in decades was supposed to start today in Wilmington, Del.

FADEL: Yeah. Dominion Voting Systems is suing Fox News over lies it broadcast about the company and its voting machines in the 2020 election. And everything seemed ready to go, and then the judge put the trial on pause for at least 24 hours.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's David Folkenflik joins us now from Wilmington.

David, what's been going on with this?

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Well, we've been able to confirm from two sources that, in fact, there are talks going on between the legal team for Fox Corporation, Fox News on the one side and Dominion Voting Systems on the other. Dominion, of course, is seeking a ten-figure sum from Fox for what it says were defamatory statements made about it, saying it was trying to toss the election to Joe Biden back in 2020. Fox was, voluminous evidence show, trying to curry favor with Trump voters who were alienated by Fox's reports.

You can bet that Fox is trying to reach a settlement. It has shown in past times of legal challenges that when things get tough enough, particularly right towards the moment of greatest legal perils, they're willing to pay, particularly if it's going to get close to the Murdoch family that really controls, ultimately, the network and its parent company.

Now, Dominion has a strong hand, according to all the lawyers I've talked to. And yet even if it wins, proving damages will be tough. You know, we've done reporting on that very question, and some of it's pretty nebulous and ambiguous in terms of the losses they suffered. In addition, even if they win, this will be appealed for years by Fox. It could be tied up in court. And you could imagine appellate court reducing how much money they win. They're seeking 1.6 billion. The Wall Street Journal is reporting they've agreed to soften how much they're asking for by about $600 million, according to court documents they've obtained. We're going to see how that plays out.

MARTÍNEZ: If they were to settle, David, what would that sound like?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, there are two key elements here. I mean, you've got to imagine what is to any reasonable person, a galactically large number, in the many, many hundreds of millions of dollars to settle this, they, you know, would love to have a billion dollar over in Dominion. This is something, whatever it is, that Fox could easily fork over. They have billions of dollars in reserve, and they make billions of dollars a year in profit because, largely, of Fox News Media.

The second element may be tougher. It's an acknowledgment of wrongdoing by Fox, which, in a sense, would be an apology. Dominion has wanted that to be presented to the public as prominently as a lot of these lies were, which would mean on major shows and more than once to their viewers. That's not something that they might get from a jury, but that's something they'd want from a settlement. The more stingy the apology, I think, the higher the dollar figure would have to be for Dominion voting systems to settle.

MARTÍNEZ: David, how important is this case to understanding Fox News and the media?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, we've been reporting on this for quite some time, right? I mean, the lawsuit was filed back in spring of 2021. And as we've gotten closer, the more media lawyers I've talked to suggest that this is one of the most important in about four decades. It'll indicate how much running room the press has to get things wrong and for there to be free speech, but also how - to what degree the media can be held responsible. And additionally, it tells us a ton about Fox News, a huge news organization, really a huge political and cultural presence in our country, and the citizen that ran through it. Obviously, at this point, Fox desperately wants to stay out of court, keep Rupert Murdoch and others off the witness stand.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik.

David, thanks.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.