Jim Quinn – 7/17/07
This page was last updated on July 21, 2007.
Gold Star family story; Jim Quinn; Quinn & Rose; July 17, 2007.
This critique is a bit different in that I believe it’s the first time I’ve critiqued comments made by a talk show host during a radio show.
Anytime I quote Mr. Quinn’s July 17th show comments, keep in mind I’m paraphrasing since I don’t have a transcript or recording available. If you have a transcript or recording of the relevant segment (just before 7:00 a.m. EDT) of the July 17th Quinn & Rose show, please contact me.
Here we go.
This all started with a Beaver County Times opinion column by J.D. Prose entitled “White House turns back on local Gold Star mom.” In my critique of an editorial based on that column, I questioned Mr. Prose’s version of the underlying story as well as Jim Quinn’s version. Mr. Quinn presented his version during his show of July 9th. In addition to the critique on my website, I also posted my comments about both versions of the story on the Times website.
On July 14th, Mr. Prose published a follow-up column entitled “Column fuels right-wing rant.” In that column, Mr. Prose detailed my doubt about Mr. Quinn’s version of the underlying story while glossing over my criticism of his own version. Mr. Quinn read or was informed about the 7/14 column and felt he needed to address it. Mr. Quinn addressed the follow-up column during the Quinn & Rose show of July 17th just before 7:00 a.m. EDT.
Regarding my skepticism of Mr. Quinn’s anonymous source, he simply said I should have no doubts because Son of Deepthroat (SoD) is a great source. Doesn’t just about everyone who uses an anonymous source make that claim? SoD may indeed be a great source, but sources unwilling to be identified must always be viewed with skepticism. Since we know nothing about anonymous sources, we have no way to assess their credibility, motives, et cetera. Does anyone believe Mr. Quinn would accept the facts of an anonymous source with whom he disagreed?
Regarding my comment that a Google web search found no evidence of the conspiracy Mr. Quinn alleged, he said there might be no hits if the other alleged attempts to embarrass President Bush had not been successful.
Finally, the Prose column correctly quoted me as writing, “Mr. Quinn claimed a Lexis/Nexis search uncovered contributions from the Boyers to Howard Dean and George Soros-related 527s. I checked FEC data on the Center for Responsive Politics website for the 2000 through 2008 campaign cycles and found no contributions to anyone under any of the Boyer names mentioned in the Prose column.” At this point Mr. Quinn disparaged my research with a comment something like I “didn’t check hard enough.” Mr. Quinn then went on to list contributions allegedly made by the Boyers to liberal groups and offered to provide the data to Mr. Prose for verification.
I was listening to Mr. Quinn’s show when he made these comments, so I immediately sent him an e-mail note saying, “I just heard you list a bunch of contributions the Boyers allegedly made to various political candidates/organizations. Since you offered the list to Mr. Prose for validation, I’d appreciate the same courtesy. … In any case, if my research into the alleged contributions was in error, I want to figure out why and correct that aspect of my critique. That’s why I’m asking for the list of contributions you enumerated this morning.” Mr. Quinn complied with my request and sent me a document listing political contributions allegedly made by Sandra Lee Boyer of Zelienople. Along with the document was a note saying, “you can’t rely on google or web sites when someone is moving around the country like she did. the lexis/nexis search is far more multi-layered which is why they charge big bucks for it.”
This is probably a good point to note a couple of things that become relevant later in this review. I referred to SoD as an “anonymous source” and to the best of my recollection, Mr. Quinn didn’t object to that description and he himself referred to SoD as a source. Second, when Mr. Quinn referred to the contribution data, he said, “We did a LexisNexis on the Boyers and, uh, big supporters of Howard Dean and George Soros 527s, not that that means anything, but just a bit curious.” Later you’ll learn why I emphasized “We” and “big supporters.”
Since the alleged superiority of LexisNexis data is a recurring theme of Mr. Quinn’s responses to me, I’ll address that issue now. I went to the LexisNexis website to determine the FEC data it makes available. Based on the Source Information for Campaign Summary Reports, the LexisNexis website notes the publisher of its data is the FEC and lists the data provided. The data description is identical to that provided on the FEC website and there’s no indication LexisNexis augments that data with any ability to identify unique contributors. If LexisNexis did offer this extended data, as a former product manager I can tell you this important feature would be highlighted. That said, it’s not confirmation that LexisNexis doesn’t provide this capability. Finally, it’s important to note the FEC website is the authoritative source of this data. Whether it’s the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) or LexisNexis, any source other than the FEC is a one-off copy. By definition, when a one-off source of the data disagrees with the original FEC data, the FEC data is correct.
Before I describe my review of Mr. Quinn’s data, I’ll describe my original search. Since there’s no apparent way to confirm John Doe #1 is the same person as John Doe #2 in the FEC contribution data (other than the imperfect matching of mailing addresses and employers), I limited my search to Arizona (Beverly Boyer) and PA (Allys & Sandra) because those were the states of residence noted in the Prose article. As noted previously, that search returned no hits on the CRP website. Though, as LexisNexis, the CRP uses a one-off copy of the FEC data, I tend to favor the CRP website over the FEC website because its querying capability is more flexible. After I heard Mr. Quinn’s assessment of my research, I repeated my search directly on the FEC website to make sure there were no data differences and received the same results I received on the CRP website.
The first thing I noticed about Mr. Quinn’s data was that it listed only one Boyer, Sandra. If you recall, Mr. Quinn asserted the “Boyers” – not a single Boyer – were “big supporters of Howard Dean …,” as in plural. Unless Mr. Quinn held back data on the other Boyers mentioned in the Prose column, Mr. Quinn’s show reference to the Boyers as a group was misleading at best. The second thing I noticed was that none of the addresses were for Zelienople (or even nearby), where the Prose column and an AP article said Sandra Boyer lives.
Below are the results of a search of the FEC data via the both CRP and FEC websites. I searched for any contributions by Sandra or Sandy Boyer from any address going back to 1990.
I wanted to link directly to my search results on the CRP and FEC websites, but that was not possible. The FEC site doesn’t let you link directly to search results and the CRP’s direct link is valid for only a short time. Regardless, you can reproduce my searches by going to the search pages on the CRP and FEC sites.
The data provided by Mr. Quinn had quite a few discrepancies with the FEC website. Mr. Quinn’s data showed five contributions from one or more Sandra/Sandy Boyers since 3/20/02. The FEC website lists only four since 6/29/02, and it’s not because FEC data doesn’t go back to 3/20/02. FEC data goes back to the 1990s. Only one (contribution to Heather Wilson) of the listed contributions matched the FEC records.
Here are the discrepancies in detail.
1. The FEC data lists no contributions from a Sandra or Sandy Boyer in West Mifflin to anyone. Mr. Quinn’s data listed two.
2. The 11/19/03 Dean for America (Howard Dean) contribution Mr. Quinn attributed to Sandra L. Boyer of West Mifflin, the FEC attributes to Sandra L. Boyer of Laguna Beach, CA.
3. The FEC data indicates the 1/13/06 ActBlue (a PAC contributing 100% to Democrats) contribution Mr. Quinn attributed to Sandra L. Boyer of West Mifflin (ZIP code 15122) didn’t happen. In fact, FEC data (via CRP search) says no one named Boyer has ever contributed to ActBlue regardless of address. Beyond that, no one from West Mifflin has ever contributed to ActBlue regardless of name, and I checked all three West Mifflin ZIP codes (15122, 15123, 15236).
4. Mr. Quinn listed the date of a contribution by Sandra L. Boyer of Onarga, IL, to be 4/20/03; the FEC data lists the contributor as Sandra (not Sandra L.) and the date as 4/20/06.
5. Mr. Quinn listed the date of a contribution by Sandra Boyer of Lake Odessa, MI, to be 3/20/02; the FEC data lists the contributor name as Sandy (not Sandra) and the date as 3/20/07.
The date discrepancies in items #4 and #5 are likely simple transcription errors on the part of Mr. Quinn or his researcher.
Mr. Quinn’s implication that the contributions represented a pattern of giving to liberals is in question based on the data. First, Heather Wilson is a five-term Republican U.S. rep. from NM with an 80% American Conservative Union (ACU) lifetime rating and, for the two years immediately before the 6/29/02 contribution, had a 5% Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) rating. Second, the PAC recipient of the Lake Odessa and Onarga contributions, Independent Community Bankers of America, contributed in excess of 2:1 in favor of Republicans since 2000. I didn’t check to see if those Republicans were conservatives or RINOs. Regardless, I believe it’s unlikely a person leaning to the left would make these contributions.
As noted above, of the two alleged contributions to liberal campaigns/orgs, the FEC data confirms the contribution to Howard Dean (though from Laguna Beach, CA, not West Mifflin) but not to ActBlue.
The fact the corroborated contributions went to both Republicans and a very liberal Democrat would argue against all of these contributions being from one person, unless she is very conflicted politically. <g> The far-flung nature of the mailing addresses (CA, IL, MI, NM) is also something to consider. As noted above, Mr. Quinn alleged Ms. Boyer was “moving around the country.” It’s possible the same person lived in these four different locations working for four different employers over the five-year span of the corroborated contributions, but is it likely? Even if the same person made all the contributions, it’s hard to assert a liberal bias when over 83% of the contributions went to a Republican U.S. representative and a Republican-leaning PAC.
To confirm the results of my searches for contributions by Sandra or Sandy Boyer, I also worked backward and searched based on the recipient. I got the same results.
Now that I’ve discussed the data discrepancies, we get to the central question. How does Mr. Quinn know the Sandra/Sandy Boyers in these records are all the same person, let alone the Sandra Lee Boyer of Zelienople mentioned in the original Prose column? (As noted above, none of the alleged contributions came from a Boyer with a Zelienople or nearby address.) Based on the data submitted to the FEC by campaigns/organizations, there’s no way to make this determination except when all contributions happen to be from the same mailing address, and to a lesser extent when the employers are the same. For each contribution, the FEC website links to an image of the specific form [FEC Form 3X (Schedule A)] submitted by the campaign/organization to the FEC. There is no unique identifier (Socialist Security number, tax ID, etc.) on this form to identify a contributor. That is, there is no piece of data on the FEC form that would allow you to determine if John Doe with a PA address who made a contribution is or is not the same person as the John Doe with a Texas address who made a contribution. As I noted above, the contributions themselves argue against them being from a single person.
At this point, it seems Mr. Quinn must be able to prove “Sandra Lee Boyer of Zelienople” mentioned in the Prose column 1) is the Sandra L. Boyer of Laguna Beach, CA, who made the Howard Dean contribution in 2003 and, 2) that she was not the Sandra/Sandy Boyer(s) who made contributions to Republicans before and after the Dean contribution. Normally Mr. Quinn wouldn’t need to prove #2, but he’s already on record claiming Ms. Boyer made the contributions. You can’t say “never mind” without explaining why you made the claim in the first place.
Late in the afternoon of July 17th I sent the above analysis to Mr. Quinn. Mr. Quinn’s reply expressed confidence in his “researcher,” but he agreed to forward my review to his “researcher.” This reply is also where I started to read spin. Mr. Quinn asserted the political contribution aspect was only “a side bar to the story.”
Maybe I read too much into Mr. Quinn’s response, but I interpreted this as beginning to back away from his claim. A point that was important enough for Mr. Quinn to mention in his first comments on this story, important enough to defend in a subsequent show, and which he challenged Mr. Prose to verify, suddenly became “a side bar to the story.”
Thursday July 19th rolled around and neither Mr. Quinn nor the researcher he mentioned had answered the question, “What leads you to believe the Sandra/Sandy Boyers in these records are all the same person, let alone the Sandra Lee Boyer of Zelienople mentioned in the Prose column?” As a result, I sent Mr. Quinn a note stating, “Since I haven’t heard back from either you or your researcher, I’m going to go ahead and write up and publish my findings as I detailed them to you. If I receive a response from you prior to publication, I’ll incorporate that input. Otherwise, I’ll issue a follow-up to address any comments you may have. As reminder, the central question is, ‘What leads you [or your researcher] to believe the Sandra/Sandy Boyers in these records are all the same person, let alone the Sandra Lee Boyer of Zelienople mentioned in the Prose column?’”
Mr. Quinn’s reply said “we have access to resources you don’t,” reiterated his position that the contributions weren’t “central to the story,” and said I was “less than honest in presenting [my] motives for [my] inquiry.” Mr. Quinn also stated he thought his researcher did get back to me, “but if he didn’t he doesn’t have any obligation to prove to you the validity of his work.”
A few comments about Mr. Quinn’s response. First, the resources to which Mr. Quinn referred are once again LexisNexis. Second, the comment that the alleged researcher “doesn’t have any obligation to prove to you the validity of his work” sounds way too similar to the position taken by former CBS News producer Mary Mapes regarding Rathergate, though Mr. Quinn may have been referring to me specifically instead of his listeners as a whole. If you recall, when an interviewer told Ms. Mapes she never proved the Rathergate story was true, she simply replied, “no one has proved that the documents were not authentic.” Finally, Mr. Quinn appears to believe I have an ulterior motive. I suspect most of you who have read my website, letters to the editor, and my comments on the Times website may get a chuckle out of that.
Here was my response to Mr. Quinn.
“My motives are purely personal. You disparaged my research by asserting I ‘didn’t check hard enough.’ When someone attacks my credibility/reputation, especially in a very public manner, I defend myself, just as you did when I wrote that I questioned your version of the Prose story and provided my reasons. Rather than a knee-jerk response, however, I considered the possibility of holes in my research technique (which I detailed to you). I’m pretty good, but I don’t list infallibility as one of my traits. That’s why I asked to see the data you claimed I ‘didn’t check hard enough’ to find. I wanted to figure out how I missed it, if I did. I still do.
“I’ve been nothing but honest and upfront with you from the beginning. If you want to believe otherwise, that’s your prerogative. If you do believe otherwise, what do you believe is my motive and upon what do you base that belief?”
Mr. Quinn’s reply indicated he believed me to be “an investigative reporter of some kind.” Mr. Quinn also said his researcher didn’t want to discuss the review with me because “his position is sensitive” and I might be something more than I seemed. The researcher also determined I was “a registered democrat.” Mr. Quinn also asked why I didn’t just call the Boyers and ask, something Mr. Quinn apparently didn’t do himself.
Let’s say I took Mr. Quinn’s advice, contacted Sandra Boyer, and she told me she didn’t contribute to anyone. Would Mr. Quinn accept her word? After all, if Ms. Boyer didn’t contribute to anyone, there’s no way for her to prove it. No one keeps track of non-contributors. I could be wrong, but I suspect Mr. Quinn would simply reiterate his trust in his “researcher,” “sources and methods,” and LexisNexis. Let’s turn this around. If I alleged Mr. Quinn contributed to Howard Dean, could Mr. Quinn prove he did not? No. The best he could do would be to show the FEC had no record of the contribution.
Those of you familiar with my work must be laughing out loud that Mr. Quinn’s renowned researcher determined I’m “a registered democrat.” The fact that Mr. Quinn at this point referred to his researcher’s position as sensitive leads me to think the “researcher” is really Mr. Quinn’s anonymous source, Son of Deepthroat. Until this note from Mr. Quinn, I assumed the “researcher” was show staff or someone on staff at WPGB. When Mr. Quinn originally mentioned this on his July 9th show, he said, “We did a LexisNexis on the Boyers …” The use of “We” rather than saying “SoD did a LexisNexis on the Boyers …” is what led me to believe Mr. Quinn or someone on staff performed the search.
Anyway, here was my response to Mr. Quinn.
“What was that you wrote about those who assume?
“That I didn’t explicitly note I would publicize whether or not I was right was not an attempt to sandbag you. If you check, you’ll see that I even sent you a link to my critique of the original Prose column about 40 minutes after my first note to you but over two hours before you first replied to me. If I learned your public disparagement of my research was unfounded, did you think I was going to keep that to myself, especially since I had already published one critique of the Prose story and posted two comments about it on the Beaver County Times website? My publishing will be to my website and as a comment to Mr. Prose’s 7/14 column just as I’ve done before. If my original research turns out to have been wrong, I plan to note that and explain what went awry. If my research turns out to have been correct all along, I’ll make sure readers know that as well.
“I’m no ‘investigative reporter of some kind.’ In 2002 I got fed up with local liberal columns, editorials, and letters to the editor going unchallenged except by writers and others who resorted to the same name-calling tactics as the people who wrote the original column, editorial, or letter. I started by writing letters to the editor and defending my positions with logic and facts easily verified by anyone with a web connection. In 2004 I decided to do most of my work via my website, TheBirdsEyeView.us, because it gave me complete control over content, format, et cetera. I recently began posting abbreviated versions of some of my critiques on the Times website in the form of comments to specific columns, editorials, and letters. That’s where Mr. Prose picked up my comments about your and his versions of the Boyer story.
“Regarding your belief that no one else has the name of the donor because you ‘didnt [sic] disclose her name,’ reread Mr. Prose’s 6/30 column and you’ll find it’s the alleged ‘saga of Ellwood City resident Allys Boyer, 84, and her two daughters, Sandra Lee Boyer of Zelienople and Beverly Boyer of Arizona.’ Isn’t that where you found the names to check? You’ll also find the names/residences were mentioned in the AP story on this subject (Lawmaker: Vietnam-Era Mother Denied Tour) published three days before Mr. Prose’s column. I have no intention of bothering the Boyers.
“You may want to research your researcher. I’ve always been a Republican -- both registered and voting. Weather permitting, I’m playing 9 holes this afternoon. One of my playing partners is a friend since childhood and he’ll get a kick that anyone would mistake me for a Democrat. Don’t be too tough on your researcher, though. Robin is my nickname.”
In Mr. Quinn’s reply, he conceded his researcher “screwed up” regarding my political affiliation, but asked me to trust that the researcher is “good.” Mr. Quinn also reiterated that his researcher didn’t want to risk getting into a dialogue with me on this subject because he is “very under the radar.” Finally, Mr. Quinn wrote, “I think the simple answer is Lexis/Nexis.”
I guess this confirms what I began to think above. Mr. Quinn’s anonymous source, Son of Deepthroat, is also his alleged LexisNexis whiz. The same whiz who determined I’m “a registered Democrat.” As I noted previously, I found no indication LexisNexis can identify unique campaign contributors.
After all of this, where are we? Did “Sandra Lee Boyer of Zelienople” make any of the political contributions alleged by Mr. Quinn? I don’t know. While the preceding review leads me to a logical conclusion of “unlikely,” I can’t prove she did not and, frankly, no one can. As I explained above, you can’t prove a person didn’t make a contribution. If Ms. Boyer made any of the contributions, Mr. Quinn should be able to prove it, but so far he declines to do so.
Here’s the bottom line. Mr. Quinn wants us to accept his story completely on trust, yet my attempts to verify his alleged supporting facts were met with accusation, evasion, and spin. As the reporter, it’s Mr. Quinn’s responsibility to prove his story and supporting facts are true. As consumers of his radio show, it is not our job to prove him right or wrong.
I’ve heard Mr. Quinn reference the Ronald Reagan philosophy of “Trust, but verify.” Hmm.
Was Mr. Quinn correct when he asserted that I “didn’t check hard enough” regarding the political contribution topic? You now know all that I know to this point. You make the call.
© 2004-2007 Robert W. Cox, all rights reserved.