Monday, February 07, 2005

Washington Post - The Bill Moyers Myth Hits the Big Time



Ugh. Yesterday, the Washington Post repeated Bill Moyers' myth about James Watt. In a piece about the supposedly new trend of Christian stewardship of the land, Washington Post author Blaine Hardenstates:

James G. Watt, President Ronald Reagan's first interior secretary, famously made this argument before Congress in 1981, saying: "God gave us these things to use. After the last tree is felled, Christ will come back."
As I've discussed (endlessly) below, it is definitely false that Secretary Watt said the "last tree" quote in Congressional testimony, and almost certainly false that he ever said it at all. There's no way Harden or his editor could have done any factchecking, short of reading Moyers' article and assuming it to be true.

It's all a little disappointing. I have to wonder if Mr. Harden or his editor know any evangelical Christians personally. I'm not evangelical myself, but I at least know some, and the idea that US public policy is based on an assumption that we might as well use up the environment before Jesus comes struck me as absurd the first time I read it. It's especially disappointing here, because Secretary Watt's actual 1981 Congressional testimony shows his understanding of the same Christian environmentalism that Harden is exploring.

Other Appearences of the "Last Tree" Myth: Martin Caver (writing from . . . France), informs The Economist of the alleged "last tree" quote, and uses it as evidence that evangelicals are "try[ing] to fulfil their own apocalyptic prophecies in the hope of speeding up Christ's return" and "selling out our future in the hope that God will one day sort things out."

Update: U-M journalism fellow Frank Lockwood interviewed Secretary Watt and Reverend Miles, and wrote about the "last tree" kerfuffle here. (I'm not sure how long the link will be good, but I can't find the article published anywhere with a permanent link).