Talking Politics

Block’s book battles confirmation bias with facts

Posted 4/2/24

STORY OF THE WEEK: Add Ken Block to the lengthy list of people who’ve told Donald Trump or his campaign that his fake narrative about a stolen election in 2020 is a lot of baloney. In …

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Talking Politics

Block’s book battles confirmation bias with facts


STORY OF THE WEEK: Add Ken Block to the lengthy list of people who’ve told Donald Trump or his campaign that his fake narrative about a stolen election in 2020 is a lot of baloney. In “Disproven: My Unbiased Search for Voter Fraud for the Trump Campaign, the Data that Shows Why He Lost, and How We Can Improve Our Elections,” Block lays out his findings.

The former, two-time gubernatorial candidate writes that he welcomed the chance to review the election since it was an opportunity to perform a national audit with a big budget and the resources of the Republican National Committee. In the end, the findings reinforced Block’s conviction that the U.S. election process needs tightening up, and that despite that, voter fraud is rare and not substantial enough to change election outcomes.

Trump has nonetheless continued to double-down on his fake story about a stolen election — and lots of his supporters share that view. Election denialism remains front and center for the GOP candidate, as can be seen in how potential hires at the RNC are being asked whether the 2020 election was decided by fraud.

Lies from the White House are nothing new, and conflicts from Vietnam to Iraq have eroded confidence in government. Still, there’s little doubt that Trump is an outlier from the standards of American politics. How to move forward?

“The only way you can move past confirmation bias is with facts, and it’s one of the key reasons that I wrote the book the way that I wrote it,” Block told me this week on Political Roundtable. At the same time, it’s difficult to reach people misinformed by Trump. “I’ve struggled to get my message heard on almost any conservative media up to this point,” Block said, “and that is also itself a fallout from confirmation bias. Not only do the people who are listening to conservative media only seek out information that makes them feel better about their positions, conservative media on its own is kind of trapped because if they want to keep their viewership and listenership, they have to provide the information that their viewers want to hear.”

THE CRITIQUE: Block makes the point in his book that American elections would look dramatically different if they were freshly designed using contemporary technology. Instead, he said, “We have 5,000 different election systems because in most bigger states, the conduct of elections is pushed down to the county level. And in states like New York State, there are 62 different election systems, one for each county, and they do things differently from each other. And that is a problem, depending on what the thing is that gets done differently.”

For example, different states take different approaches to whether a vote counts if someone dies before election day after returning a mail ballot. Block also noted the inconsistency in how candidates and campaign workers are required to remain a certain distance from polling places, although many states, including Rhode Island, allow the practice of ballot harvesting in which people other than the person voting can gather and submit absentee and mail ballots.

MARTY’S MOVES: Former Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who left the job of labor secretary in the Biden administration to become executive director of the National Hockey League Players Association, is set to headline a Bellini rooftop benefit on Friday, April 5, for General Treasurer James Diossa. Suggested contribution levels are $500 and $1,000. The 5 p.m. event is billed as “a reception and conversation about Infrastructure Investment and Public Private Partnerships in R.I.”

THE PHILADELPHIA STORY: One year after two state officials, David Patten and James Thorsen, made a disastrous trip to Philadelphia, there were significant developments in the story this week. Patten agreed to pay a $5,000 fine to the state Ethics Commission to settle the case against him. Patten’s lawyer repeated the defense that Patten was suffering from acute stress and said that his behavior on the trip was out of character.

Thorsen continues to deny the behavior attributed to him. The Ethics Commission found probable cause for three violations by Thorsen, and those will be debated during a yet-to-be scheduled administrative hearing. Patten and Thorsen no longer work for the state. They went to Philadelphia to meet with officials with Scout, a company interested in developing the Cranston Street Armory. The company’s contract was later scrapped by Gov. Dan McKee.

MCKEEWORLD: Dr. Staci Fischer was named this week as the interim director of the state Department of Health, succeeding the previous interim, Dr. Uptala Bandy. DOH has not had a permanent director since Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott resigned in January 2022. (Disclosure: Dr. Fischer is married to my friend and former colleague Scott MacKay.)

BRIDGE TO THE FUTURE: With the governor expected to soon reveal a forensic audit on how the westbound Washington Bridge got into such disrepair, the House Small Business Committee plans to meet at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, April 3, to hear from businesses affected by the situation.

BUDDING PROSPECTS: Central Falls Mayor Maria Rivera, the beneficiary of a well-attended fundraiser Monday at The Guild in Pawtucket, remains an up-and-comer in Rhode Island politics. She’s first on the ballot for delegate candidates for the 2024 Democratic National Convention and has not yet attracted any announced challengers while preparing to run for her second four-year term. If Rivera wins, term limits would prevent her from seeking another term. It’s unclear for now if she might pursue a statewide run in 2026. For now, the Central Falls mayor is focused on three significant projects: the upcoming groundbreaking for a new high school, the goal of completing 300 new housing units, and building a new community center, with about $7 million already raised for that purpose.

WIND POWER: Rhode Island, along with Connecticut and Massachusetts, received bids this week for new wind farms, as the industry tries to battle back from hurdles posed by higher construction costs. As my colleague Ben Berke reports, “The bids seek to lock in higher electricity prices for offshore wind that manage to strike a balance between affordability for electricity consumers and viability for developers. Four developers — Avangrid, Vineyard Offshore, Orsted and SouthCoast Wind — submitted bids through the tri-state solicitation process. Collectively, the new wind farms proposed by the developers could generate up to 5,500 megawatts of electricity. All of them are located in a contiguous stretch of federal waters south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket and east of Block Island and Montauk.”

MEDIA: Back in 2001, Darrell West, at the time a professor of political science at Brown University, published a book entitled “The Rise and Fall of The Media Establishment.” It presciently identified how the internet was fracturing the media spectrum, lessening the influence of the media giants who possessed more market share when a printing press or TV station was needed to disseminate information. Now, more than 20 years later, Axios points to how “our media attention has shattered into a bunch of misshapen pieces,” with 12 distinct bubbles ranging from TikTok kids and New-age grandmas to MAGA mind melders and liberal warriors. The same tool that puts valuable information at our fingertips is also a way of spreading misinformation.

In Rhode Island, we’re fortunate to still have a critical mass of public interest reporting, even if outlying areas generally get less coverage than in the past. Outside of a communal event like the Super Bowl, however, the difficulty of reaching a large segment of Americans speaks to our divided times. And Walter Cronkite has left the room.

CLIMATE CHANGE: My colleague Cheryl Hatch reports on how the Common Fence Point neighborhood in Portsmouth, mostly built during the 1920s, is facing the threat of global warming, with three choices: mitigate, elevate or relocate.

STAFFER NEWS: Erlin Rogel is leaving as chief of staff for Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos to become chief external relations and revenue officer at the YMCA of Greater Providence … Matt Sheaff, a former senior communications adviser most recently to Gov. McKee, has landed a new gig as director of U.S. regulatory communications for Philip Morris International.

KICKER: “Scandal finds money,” as former Rhode Island state Rep. Robert Watson once noted. So the idea that the merging of pro sports and gambling would lead to scandal is about as surprising as, er, the discovery of betting at the casbah. It was bad enough when you couldn’t watch an MLB post-season game a few years back without being buffeted by commercials for FTX, now bankrupt and its founder sentenced to 25 years in prison. Spots for DraftKings and FanDuel were all over the Sox opening broadcast Thursday night. And now the situation involving a former interpreter for Shohei Ohtani — the most exciting player in baseball — points to more side effects from the growing intercourse between sports and gambling.


Ian Donnis can be reached at

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.