James Watt’s Critics Find It Hard to Apologize

Power Line and Daily Standard readers will be familiar with John Hinderaker’s work exposing the false accusation that President Reagan’s first Secretary of the Interior, James Watt, once told Congress in formal testimony “that protecting natural resources was unimportant in light of the imminent return of Jesus Christ.”

Anyone who repeated this silly story should be embarrassed, not only because it is inaccurate, but obviously so. Had James Watt said anything of the kind in Congressional testimony he would have been pilloried at the time. (Goodness knows he was for seemingly just about everything else.)

Not everyone who repeated/republished this false story seems to be embarrassed about doing so, however.

Catch this “correction” at the Post-Normal Times blog:

…the quote widely attributed to James Watt, that “after the last tree is felled the Lord will return” (used in the text on the page “About the Post-Normal Times”) is something he never actually said, at least not in a Senate hearing. [Emphasis added] Grist, the Washington Post, and Bill Moyers have all issued retractions. Bill Moyers also issued a public apology and conceded that he made a mistake because he used it without doing his homework. The Post-Normal Times herewith also retracts the statement, has revised the page and thanks those who take the time to point out errors. While care is needed, it is not possible to fact check every quote we use – but we do indicate our sources. Those trying to create a bandwagon to criticize Bill Moyers over a mistaken quote that has been retracted, should look into coverage of the WMD issue…

There’s plenty more to this grudging non-apology on their blog, in which the writer of the post tries to use John Hinderaker’s research to justify continuing condemnation upon Watt.The writer of the post, Sylvia Tognetti, says she has been “working in the field of environmental science and policy for over 20 years.” Given that, she has been around long enough to know that if Watt hadn’t already been pilloried for the comment, the accusation that he had said such a thing in such a public forum just didn’t pass the smell test.

Regrettably, many environmentalists find more satisfaction in feeling superior than in reporting the truth. James Watt found that to be true during his career; it is a shame they won’t let him retire in peace.

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