“Echo Chambers” – An Alternative To The BBC Feature

Last November, the BBC website created the “Echo Chambers” feature, and assigned one of their experienced editors and journalists, Anthony Zurcher to curate it. The mission statement as he originally stated it is this:

Welcome to Echo Chambers, a new blog about opinion and commentary in the United States and around the world.

The purpose of this blog is to discover and present quality opinion journalism wherever it may be – to find value amid the noise. We’ll unearth interesting material and underreported views from the BBC, on the world’s newspaper opinion pages, and in think tank reports, magazines, blog posts and scholarly journals. The venue isn’t important; the content is.

A condensed version of this is permanently in the upper right corner of the Echo Chambers page.

Unscrambling the noise of the global debate, from social media to scholarly journals, Kansas City to Kathmandu.

As has been pointed out many times, I’m not a professional journalist and so cannot understand the arcane arts, but to me, this means that the blog is meant to make some sense of the chatter on both sides of an issue. After all, we’ve been told countless times by journalists and defenders of the indefensible that this blog is just a Right-wing echo chamber, and we often complain that the BBC functions as a Left-wing echo chamber. We all know the drill about Fox News or the Guardian, each often described as an echo chamber for their own side of the political spectrum, and intellectually lazy people who want to stifle debate simply dismiss any point made or evidence offered from either as invalid, simply due to the source, relieving the accuser of the need to address the actual point itself. Media in both the US and UK have become highly politicized, from local newspapers and obscure blogs all the way up to national papers and network and cable news. There’s far more opinion-mongering going on everywhere these days than actual objective newsgathering and reporting. In fact, even the top outlets like the Washington Post and the BBC are moving more and more towards opinion journalism.

One would think it’s a good idea to try and sort through the noise and attempt to distill it down to some semblance of reality, to point out merits or flaws in arguments coming from each side of an issue. The question for the BBC’s Echo Chambers feature, then, is does it meet its remit?

Zurcher’s opening mission statement was that he intends to “find value amid the noise”, and the permanent mission statement is to “unscramble the noise”. In practice, it seems that, with the exception of a weekly list of links about various topics, the installments are  mostly an exercise in Left-wing editorializing. Much of the time, Zurcher is basically presenting stuff from the mainstream Left-wing echo chamber as value in reaction to an issue which seemed to be momentarily gaining traction from the Right. His choices of who writes quality opinion is revealing. One has to give him credit for being one of the more industrious BBC journalists. He sure cranks out a lot of these in a short space of time. A list of links to my analyses of several of his pieces can be found in the comments section of this post about it by Daniel Pycock. Personally, I’m sick to death of opinion journalism, and I think it’s done far more damage to public discourse than help crystalize any ideas. But again, I’m not a professional journalist, so not qualified to judge the priest caste.

With this in mind, I’m going to try a little experiment. For the next five Echo Chambers installments (not including the next simple list of links), rather than do my usual long-winded parsing and complaining, I’m going to attempt an alternative version of what I think it says on the tin. That is to say, I’ll try to actually present a few opinion pieces on whatever topic catches Zurcher’s fancy. I won’t read his piece, just check the title and the opening lines to see what the issue is. I’ll even use his title. Then I’ll curate my own collection of “value”, adding my own brief (I promise) comments so the reader gets the idea of what I think is going on. Each one will include a link to the BBC Echo Chambers piece, and everyone can view them side-by-side and judge for themselves not so much if I’m doing a great job, but whether or not Zurcher is really doing his properly, and just how much of a Left-wing echo chamber he lives in. I may or may not link to the same things he does. Without reading it in advance, I’ll have no idea. If I do, it’s purely coincidental. This whole thing is nothing more than opinion journalism on that level anyway, and anyone who has read two or three of these things will know in which bubble Zurcher lives.

So, below is my first installment. Four more will follow as and when.


Senator Ted Cruz, still Canadian

One of the most prominent politicians on the Right these days is Ted Cruz, the Republican junior Senator from Texas. He was elected on the strength of Tea Party backing, and in these days of desperation for a fresh face is already being touted as a possible presidential candidate in 2016. Many on the Left see him as a possible threat because he is Hispanic, and identity politics is a very important tool for them. So he’ll most likely get more attention early on than a junior Senator with no experience would otherwise. Sounds familiar, somehow. Cruz is also hated on the Left because of his support for last year’s government shutdown. In other words, there’s a big target on his back.

So it was inevitable that people would start looking for something on Cruz. As it happens, he was born in Canada. His mother was a US citizen at the time of birth, so US law says he’s a citizen at birth, regardless of where he was born, even though his Cuban father was not. Cruz claims he didn’t know because he was told in his youth that he had to make some official affirmation to finalize his Canadian citizenship, and since he never bothered, he forgot all about it. It’s actually automatic, no need for him to do anything. Of course, it’s impossible to prove he’s lying.

The noise first started, really, back in March 2013, after he introduced Sarah Palin as keynote speaker at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). One of her main topics was gun control and the Obama* Administration’s press for more and stricter background checks in the aftermath of the mass murder of children at a school in Newtown, CT. At one point, she made quip about maybe we should have started checking his background first.

You can guess what happened next. Rick Ungar in Forbes saw support for Cruz as “Birther Hypocrisy”.

While Palin’s return to birtherism accomplished the intended laugh from the appreciative crowd, there was someone in the room who was likely not laughing.

That would be Senator Ted Cruz—the man who so glowingly introduced Ms. Palin and a man who clearly views himself as being on a populist track to the White House. He’s not alone in that regard as four percent of the votes registered in the CPAC straw poll were cast in support of Mr. Cruz, the man often referred to as the Republican Barack Obama.

Ironically, there can be little doubt that among those who expressed their support for a Cruz presidency at CPAC were attendees who continue to question the current president’s constitutional right to hold the office.

While there is no legal question about Cruz’s eligibility, it was quickly revealed that he was also a Canadian citizen, which is what happens when one is born there. So there was a call for him to renounce his Canadian citizenship, partially to make a point, and partially because many would consider it a little odd for a President to be a citizen of another country. As Wayne Slater of the Dallas Morning News explained in August:

What’s a birther to do? After years of haranguing Barack Obama as a non-citizen, what about Ted Cruz, who acknowledges he was born in Canada? He isn’t just a U.S. citizen. He has dual citizenship as both an American and a Canadian. Cruz says he’ll renounce his Canadian citizenship, but it’s not clear whether that’s enough to satisfy the birthers in his party who have long claimed at President Obama was born in Africa and therefore ineligible to be president. Obama was born in Hawaii. But most constitutional scholars agree that even if he had been born in a foreign country, he’s still a natural-born citizen under the terms of the Constitution because he is the child of an American parent.

Slater goes on to say that true Birthers claim – erroneously, of course – that nobody even born in a foreign country can be President. Cruz quickly promised to renounce his Canadian citizenship by the end of the year.

Steven Lubet in the Left-leaning Salon snarkily pointed out that there might be some complications in the process:

Only one of Ted’s parents was a citizen when he was born (his father is a Cuban émigré who did not take U.S. citizenship until 2005), and he therefore falls under a special section of the Immigration and Nationality Act that applies to “Birth Abroad to One Citizen and One Alien Parent.” Under that provision, Cruz only qualifies for American citizenship if his mother was “physically present” in the United States for 10 years prior to his birth, five of which had to be after she reached the age of 14. The only definitive way to prove Eleanor Cruz’s 10 years of physical presence would be with documents such as leases, school registration, utility bills or tax records.

Of course, we don’t know how rigorous the Canadians are about evidence of citizenship, but we do know that they will not be willing simply to take Ted’s word for it. Their form is very specific about requiring documentary proof, and that might be hard for Ted to come by. Could that be the reason for Cruz’s delayed renunciation? It would be pretty embarrassing to have his Application to Renounce Canadian Citizenship denied on a technicality.

In other words, in order to renounce Canadian citizenship, Cruz first has to go through a laborious record-collecting  process to prove his US citizenship. This was picked up in the Left-wing blogosphere and other outlets, and the Left thought they smelled ironic birther blood.  It’s now the new year, so naturally those who seek to undermine him are going to check up on it. It turns out he hasn’t officially done it yet, hence the noise this week. Why hasn’t he followed up on his promise? It should be a straightforward process. So are the Left-wing birthers on to something? Kelly McPartland from Canada’s National Post seems to think so.

Some immigration experts are wondering why it’s taken Mr. Cruz so long to complete the paperwork for his renunciation. “It’s not complicated at all,” said Stephen Green, an immigration lawyer in Toronto, according to the Associated Press.

Richard Kurland, a Vancouver-based immigration attorney, agreed: “Unless there’s a security issue that hasn’t been disclosed, unless there’s a mental health issue that hasn’t been disclosed, there’s no reason for anything other than a lickety-split process to occur.”

Hmmm. Well, something must be holding up the works, which is why Mr. Alexander should seize this opportunity to get involved. Ted Cruz is an American caught in the talons of Canadian citizenship. We need to set him free.

Yes, the Left-wing echo chambers like the Daily Kos are getting excited over this, but I’m having a hard time finding actual opinion pieces on it. Rather than seeing a lot of noise in the echo chambers which must be unscrambled, I’m seeing that almost everyone is pretty much reprinting the same Canadian Press/AP piece over and over, or quoting the relevant bits like McPartland has done. Wayne Slater in the Dallas Morning News is doing the same thing in his opinion piece. Is there anything in the Right-wing echo chamber about this? Not that I can find. I haven’t spent hours searching, and at this point it’s pretty clear that anything will be more speculation or a simple dismissal, repeating what’s already been said.

I suppose one way to look at this is that if the Right is silent, that means they’re afraid of the truth. Alternatively, they could simply feel that it’s already been proven that Cruz meets the definition of a natural born US citizen, especially since nobody is doubting that his mother didn’t live in the US for ten years before he was born, and don’t care about this. In other words, it’s exciting for the Left, who have only speculation to go on, and that’s about it. There’s nothing edifying either way other than the one supposition quoted by the AP. We’ll have to wait and see.

* I’m refraining from my usual formulation of “The Obamessiah” and the quasi-religious capital H in “Him”, etc., because I do that to make fun of the BBC’s reflexive worship and near religious devotion, and it’s not appropriate for what I’m trying to do here.

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19 Responses to “Echo Chambers” – An Alternative To The BBC Feature

  1. chrisH says:

    The BBC have something called an “Echo Chamber”?
    Surely not.
    Beyond parody in that I have long held that that is their only way or reinforcing their caricatures…Guardian/Indie-bounce the editorials over to the BBC-and floow the feedback howls and slave amps with the amplification,,,until the heart bleeds.
    You`ll be telling me that they`ve a Hall of Mirrors next-Tony to Stuart, then shining out in gross distortions and bent light until we all think that pastel shades and pleasant filters have replaced primary colours…and black and white, truth and lies are all for “debate”.
    The BBC and the broadsheet liberal press and chuggers from Labours quangos 1997-2010? Still making up my mind which is the spaceman and which is the flatulence that never leaves their suit!


    • David Preiser (USA) says:

      If you could spend a moment reading the post and comparing it to the BBC’s piece, chrisH, I’d appreciate it.


      • chrisH says:

        Bit cheeky David!
        “I won`t read his piece, just check the opening title”?
        Isn`t that what I did?
        It`s all too long at times, and isn`t top of the Beeb hit-list today.
        The Mark Duggan stitch-up is probably in more urgent need of your “parsing and complaining” that whether some Tea Party bloke is getting luvved enough by the Beeb.
        I don`t need to see more that the name “Sarah Palin” to know what the BBCs take on it , any forum, any media site, any part of the world it chooses to use as a haven from reality.
        So David-keep it shorter, specific and try to keep up with what is going on here with the BBC today…I`ve more fear of my kids getting assaulted in Acton or Whalley Range tonight(thanks to the BBC national wish to stir a riot), than I have that Ted Cruz is being accused of being a hypocrite in the land where Mardell spouts Officialeeze Beebspeek…we KNOW that that is…and I know you do too!


  2. Craig says:

    Interesting idea, David.

    Anthony Zurcher’s piece is just a long list of attacks on Ted Cruz held together by his own narrative, with quotes from lots of sarcastic anti-Cruz journalists and bloggers.

    Not once does he quote a pro-Ted Cruz source. (As you say though, they don’t seem to be discussing the matter.)

    Nor does he offer any contrasting perspectives of his own which might counter the bias of his chosen sources and allow his readers to see the other side of the story, or even bother to set the attacks on Cruz in any kind of context (as you did).

    He’s just echoing and amplifying the anti-Cruz echo chamber, and reinforcing the anti-anti-Obama mockery of the ‘birthers’, right down to the last paragraph.

    Plus, unlike your piece, Anthony Zurcher doesn’t exactly go out of his way to bring BBC readers up to speed with Ted Cruz, who most of them will have never heard of. He seems to assume everyone knows who he is, which is a pretty lazy assumption on his part.


    • Guest Who says:

      ‘He seems to assume everyone knows who he is, which is a pretty lazy assumption on his part’
      Which is what editors are, should… used to be for. But as everyone in the BBC appears to generate as an Editor, the principle of professional oversight appears secondary to giving them an unrestricted voice and pulpit.


  3. John Standley says:

    DP, your piece could almost be a parody. Have you considered a career with the BBC? 😉


    • chrisH says:

      Got to say I agree here John.
      No point in us moaning on about “majoring on minors” when this somewhat arcane issue gets put to to top of the threads…I`ll not ask how or why?
      Look David-why not an update on
      1.Operation Fast and Furious?(that gun-running one in Mexicali as I recall)
      2. The IRS hounding of the likes of…well ironically enough…Ted Cruz/Sarah Palin supporters and funding
      3.Clinton/Obama and Benghazi.
      4. The neutering of Israel in the Iranian suckups from Obama…and why his silence when he had aa chance to promote a REAL Shia Spring in Teheran 2009?
      There are plenty more.
      Why not a food digest of Coulter, Steyn, Nugent or whoever from over there David?..and what those like yourself there think of it all?
      Be of far more value to us over here-might even be the new “Letter From America” that we`re needing (Cooky was a Salford laddie too, not that you`d ever know it!)


      • John Standley says:

        For the record, it was a compliment…


      • David Preiser (USA) says:

        chrisH, thank you for the input. However, I’ve tried the Letter from America thing, and people stopped paying attention after the third one. I’ve tried other versions of “What the BBC isn’t reporting about the US” as well, and the interest simply isn’t there. Click on the “BBC Censorship” link in the Categories on the right sidebar and you’ll see what I mean. I don’t recall you having any particular interest in any of those.

        I think you can tell from the responses to my posts over the last few months that most people don’t care, and just want an opportunity to express their opinions of the Left rather than analyze and provide evidence of BBC bias. By “evidence”, I mean something more than “I thought that was a load of Left-wing tosh. That comedian is an arsehole.”

        It could also be that I’m just not very good at it, and so cannot provide what you ask.

        I will not make a roundup of Right-wing opinion on US issues. Opinion-mongering is what’s damaging the entire news industry and public discourse. That’s not the point of this blog. Or at least, it didn’t used to be. In fact, I find it rather depressing that someone can read what I said about the Echo Chambers thing being little more than an exercise in Left-wing editorializing and then tell me to make a Right-wing version on a website that’s called “Biased BBC”. I was foolish enough to think that providing a more balanced or at least more open-minded piece would in contrast show up Zurcher’s feature for the Left-wing editorial that it generally is.

        Stuck record time: It’s pretty obvious that most people here simply want this blog to be a place where people express their opinions, and have a nice place to read Right-wing opinions, and the original purpose of documenting, detailing, and making a serious case to prove the bias at the BBC no longer garners much interest at all.

        The point of this particular exercise was to show that Zurcher is not meeting the supposed remit of the Echo Chambers feature, and is in fact mainly echoing the echo chambers, from a Left-wing perspective. The first half of my post was an explanation. The second half was the actual attempt at an alternative Echo Chambers. Future installments will be shorter as they will not include the top part.

        If everyone simply wants this to be a Right-wing opinion outlet, and forget about actually demonstrating the bias at the BBC, just say the word, and I will stop.


        • chrisH says:

          Not at all David!
          Value your pieces, and I was just a bit eggy.
          You were right that I should not just respond on a riff, but read the thing…maybe sometimes the threads that I`d love to comment on aren`t popular or seen as fertile territory for a chain letter kind of rant.
          I`ll “target” a little better in future…and thanks for all you`re doing there eh?


        • johnnythefish says:

          ‘I think you can tell from the responses to my posts over the last few months that most people don’t care, and just want an opportunity to express their opinions of the Left rather than analyze and provide evidence of BBC bias.’

          This is a fair point. However, I don’t think it’s because people don’t care, I think it’s because a) they are just not at the level of familiarity you are with American politics and b) there is an overwhelming number of examples of bias on the home front which is more than enough to keep people on here exercised.

          I enjoyed reading your piece above and I think it’s a valid path to follow to give yet another perspective on how the BBC influences opinion through its echo chamber. I’m not sure you’ve chosen a particularly good example, though, as there isn’t enough discourse from the Right on Cruz’s nationality problem to make an assessment of how balanced Zurcher’s piece is. It might be interesting to assess how balanced Zurcher is being purely in his choice of topics i.e. whether it is skewed towards putting the Right under the microscope.


          • David Preiser (USA) says:

            That’s a fair point. It’s true that I’m simply going along with the choice of an experienced professional editor. His choices are just as revealing as the rest of it. Of course, if there isn’t enough on the Right about Cruz’s story, then it puts the lie to Zurcher’s claim that he’s all about unscrambling the noise of the echo chamber. It’s a story worth his time because it’s noise in the Left-wing echo chamber, and that’s about it.

            So even there we’ve already demonstrated his bias, and what a joke this feature is.


  4. LurkerDroneNumber141 says:

    Well David, I just read it…
    It wasn’t what you’d call even handed or, even, informative. Just a list of sneering quotes and an attempt to dismiss the Tea Party as birthers.
    I long for the day when news journalism goes back to being the documentation and presentation of facts as opposed to the learned opinions of someone with an arts degree.
    I was a young man when the Falklands War happened and I saved many newspapers at the time. Even though it was only 32 years ago, the style of writing in those newspapers is quite astonishing when viewed today. I can see why the traditional media is being thrashed by the blogosphere and it isn’t all down to cost and delivery methods – it is a matter of content.


  5. Roland Deschain says:

    DP, I’d say yours reads as someone on the right trying to do an objective piece. The BBC’s reads as someone on the left who is pretending to do an objective piece, but clearly enjoying the discomfiture of the right-wing politician.


    • David Preiser (USA) says:

      Well, Roland, I don’t think the Echo Chambers feature was ever meant to be objective, per se. It’s obviously going to have an editorial point of view, as it says in the mission statement(s). The question is, is this just another excuse for the BBC to churn out Left-wing editorials, or is there going to be some balanced approach as to topic and content? It’s been pretty clear from the start that it’s just another Left-wing editorial feature. I figured it would make it more obvious by providing a contrast.

      I gave my opinion, yes, but I think I made more sense out of the story than Zurcher did. Actually, I still haven’t read any of it past the first two sentences, and I’m only assuming that it’s as biased to the Left as almost all previous installments. That’s when he hasn’t turned the whole thing over to Dick Meyer for a Progressive elite screed, of course.


      • Roland Deschain says:

        I hope you didn’t take what I said as criticism. I go back to your original post:

        One would think it’s a good idea to try and sort through the noise and attempt to distill it down to some semblance of reality, to point out merits or flaws in arguments coming from each side of an issue. The question for the BBC’s Echo Chambers feature, then, is does it meet its remit?

        You did that, albeit as someone obviously on the right. The Echo Chamber piece, in my view, was written by someone of the left who merely went through the motions without properly trying to look at it from another point of view. But perhaps I say that because I expect it.


        • David Preiser (USA) says:

          Not at all. I just wanted to make sure it was clear that I wasn’t pretending not to have an opinion. The whole thing is an editorial exercise, and I want to show how biased Zurcher in contrast, and that either the aegis under which its published is dishonest, or they’re all just so biased that they don’t realize what he’s doing.


    • Guest Who says:

      Most would surely accept that it is nigh on impossible for anyone to divorce their personal prejudices, feelings, hopes, ambitions, etc from matters they care, and write about.
      However, outside of partisan media organs, if seeking to claim DNA-embedded impartiality, then one needs to get pretty darn close, pretty darn often.
      The BBC and its staff fail, on all counts, all the time, and in highly specific, and predictable directions.
      Now I am on record as being less than convinced that ‘bias’ is a route that will see much change or result. That’s not to say it isn’t pervasive, insidious and negatively effective, but it is very hard to prove and very easy to swat away.
      Look how many, from here to Ministers, have seen claims by CECUTT drones dismissed with an airy ‘it isn’t because I don’t think it is’, and that is all they wrote.
      What I do find interesting, if in a morbid sense, is how the new-title breeding colonies at executive level are being matched, body for body, with new ‘avenues’ of opinionating down at grunt central in the cubicle gardens.
      Now they could argue that they are merely reacting to the social media explosion. Quite why an editor on a beat that sees a broadcast piece and site article can’t cope with twitter and FaceBook too (especially as they seem to glean most of their source material from them) is anyone’s guess, but maybe they are keen on multiple degrees of separation to match the bewildering array of outlets they have to ensure the message gets out across the broadest estate.
      Hence we now have such as #trending and this oddly honest (if perhaps not being heard outside the bubble in the same way as they want to think they are calling out) ‘Echo Chamber’.
      In some ways these would be legitimate and fine to cope with the new media opportunities presented.
      However, as simply being yet more aggregators of internal group think run through the filter… no, not really.


  6. John Standley says:

    DP, your reports on BBC America are invaluable – in fact, it was the BBC’s disgraceful reporting of Hurricane Katrina that finally pushed me into stopping paying for a TV Licence and going TV-free.
    As I said on another post, I am now much better Informed, Educated and Entertained by this wonderful internet thingy.