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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

The big lies

How do we hold politicians accountable when they spread misinformation?


How do we achieve accountability for politicians who tell big lies? We’re not talking about the little white lies that people tell every day without much thought. We’re talking about the big ones, the intentional ones, the kind that impact the lives of real people and can alter public opinion through constant repetition, often told to the benefit of the teller.
We ask in connection with the story we reported on last week about the role of Roger Skraba in bringing the propaganda film “2000 Mules” to Ely’s Historic State Theater in 2022.
As we reported last week, the group, True the Vote, whose “investigation” into the 2020 presidential election formed the basis for “2000 Mules,” recently had to acknowledge in court that they had no evidence to back up any of their claims that ballot drop boxes had been stuffed in an organized effort by groups in Georgia and several other swing states backing then-candidate Joe Biden. Their denial was complete. In a seven-page court filing, the group’s attorney ticked through item after item, including recordings, witness and expert testimony, documents, notes, and a laundry list of other evidence that the group had claimed to have in their possession. But when faced with the obligation to produce all that evidence in court, the group finally acknowledged the truth. They had made it all up. Every last bit of it.
Some folks in Ely had told Mr. Skraba and his supporters at the time that this was the case. The film itself was full of gaping holes (as we reported at the time), not that many of the more than 100 area residents who turned out for the propaganda fest appeared to notice or care. In 2022, as is true today, claims that the 2020 election were stolen remain an article of faith in many Republican circles. Skraba undoubtedly recognized that and saw the airing of a flat-out lie as a good way to launch his campaign for the Legislature. It was a chance for Skraba and his rogues’ gallery of also-rans like Chad Walsh and Doug Wardlow to prove their allegiance to the cause and hand out dozens of lawn signs at the same time.
While Walsh and Wardlow were, thankfully, defeated, Skraba narrowly beat Rep. Rob Ecklund, as solid a lawmaker as we could hope to have, from District 3A.
As a sitting member of the state House, we wanted to know if Skraba had any second thoughts over the tremendous disservice he committed against the people of his district for bringing obvious misinformation to area voters. As we always do with stories such as this, we offered Mr. Skraba an opportunity to talk about his decision. We also asked whether he still believes that the 2020 election was stolen. We asked how the showing of propaganda benefitted the people of the district he now represents. We asked, finally, if he had any regrets about bringing the film to Ely. We sent questions to his legislative email and left a phone message with his legislative aide, indicating we wished to speak to him about the matter.
As of last week, we had received no response, and that was still the case as of this week. Skraba’s lack of response speaks volumes about his views on accountability. He doesn’t believe he should be subject to it, regardless of his actions.
Mr. Skraba may tell himself that spreading propaganda to voters is a victimless act, but that’s far from the case. If elections were rigged, exposing that would be critical and something that newspapers would happily investigate and report on. But telling the public that elections are rigged, when in fact they are not, undermines the public’s already slipping support for democracy. Telling the public that “fake news” won’t report on election fraud, and that they need to turn to propagandists like the producers of “2000 Mules,” undermines the public’s already slipping support for its professional new sources. That further isolates many voters from sources of information that are reliable and which try to present varying viewpoints.
As journalists here at the Timberjay, we recognize that giving Mr. Skraba an opportunity to address his actions and our concerns about them is important, not only because it improves our reporting but because we have an ethical obligation to present his views.
As an elected official, Mr. Skraba has an obligation as well, and that is to explain himself. If he has an explanation, or an apology, for his actions, he should make it publicly— that’s accountability. We have far too many politicians these days relying on falsehoods to make their political case and refusing to accept responsibility for their actions. Today, we’re calling out Roger Skraba as one of them.