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.