Point of View: Lies are the enemy of democracy

“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.”

Mark Twain often gets credit for that quote, but regardless who said it, it rings extra true in our modern media world.

Timely and accurate information is the bedrock of our democracy. Without facts, we cannot make informed decisions. While it’s fine to differ and debate on policies and laws and rules, it’s impossible to have an honest debate about them without facts. Facts matter.

Yet in today’s fast and fluid information environment, a lie takes foot and leapfrogs across the internet and cable news in a flash. If the lie eventually gets debunked, it’s often too late; the damage has been done and the lie has served its purpose to mislead and confuse and divide its audience.

While there are daily stories in the national news about fake news, this very scenario has played out in our own backyard here in Homer, Alaska.

In 2022, Rep. Sarah Vance sponsored a showing at the Christian Community Church of a movie called “2000 Mules,” which purported to “prove” a widespread conspiracy to undermine the 2020 presidential election.

The film alleged that various liberal groups paid thousands of “mules” to illegally stuff ballot boxes in key swing states. The filmmakers said they used cellphone geo-tracking software and data to track the mules going from one ballot box to the next with phony ballots (they called it “ballot harvesting”). And they combined the film’s slick production with credible-sounding speakers and a dark, ominous tone to make it all seem believable.

Except there was one problem: It was all a lie.

Last month, the group behind the “2000 Mules” movie — a group ironically calling itself “True the Vote” — admitted in a state court in Georgia it had no evidence to support its fraudulent claims of a rigged election. None. Zero.

But that was really no surprise. From the outset, the movie was really just a shady enterprise produced by a convicted felon, designed to deceive a gullible audience and enrich the people peddling its lies.

The Republican Secretary of State’s Office in Georgia summed it up well when True the Vote finally admitted it made everything up: “Once again, True the Vote has proven itself untrustworthy and unable to provide a shred of evidence for a single one of their fairy-tale allegations. Like all the lies about Georgia’s 2020 election, their fabricated claims of ballot harvesting have been repeatedly debunked.”

When I learned the people behind “2000 Mules” finally admitted they had zero evidence to support their dangerous lies about the 2020 election, I wrote to Rep. Vance and told her so. And I asked her to publish a retraction in the Homer News — to the people of Homer — conceding the movie she showed and endorsed at the Christian Community Church in 2022 was false.

I know Sarah has a busy schedule in Juneau, so after I received no response, I wrote to her again. But she was either too busy or she didn’t care enough to respond. Either way, her failure to correct her false information is wrong.

It’s wrong because it’s vitally important for our elected representatives to stand up when they make a mistake and admit it. With power comes responsibility and as an elected official, Rep. Vance has an obligation to behave ethically and to tell the truth, whether that morality is grounded in her Christian faith or not.

It’s also wrong because the streaming firehose of lies about the 2020 election continues to undermine our elections, divide our nation and unravel the very fabric of our democracy. Today — despite mountains of evidence and court cases to the contrary — an alarming number of Americans continue to believe the 2020 election was somehow rigged, stolen or fraudulent. That’s largely because many of our political leaders have decided it’s better to spread lies and misinformation to attain their political or religious goals rather than simply telling the truth.

In a recent opinion piece, Rep. Vance rightly noted that “ … in a system of the people, by the people, and for the people, the people must be informed and empowered to scrutinize the actions of their public servants.”

I agree 100%. But it would be a lot easier if Sarah took her ethical responsibilities seriously and apologized for spreading lies in our community.

Because our very democracy is at stake. And our kids are watching.

Bob Shavelson is a resident of Homer.