If I say something wrong, who will ever know? At most, the two or three people who read my articles may know. While I try to be as accurate as possible in my writings, I’m sure there are things I have written that are just plain wrong. Yet none of these mistakes have been made out of a sense of malice or a willful desire to deceive. If there are errors, they come from my lack of knowledge. Some things I do know from experience and study, but there are also many subjects about which I know little or nothing. I try not to voice an opinion on these subjects. As I am not a professional journalist working for a large media outlet, I do not have any fact-checkers on staff. So while it is quite possible that I have made many errors in my writings, and while these errors might be embarrassing when revealed, it is nothing like the embarrassment that comes upon a well-known and well-supported professional journalist when he is proven wrong.
Bill Moyers is one such journalist. He has spent over fifty years in the field, so his voice carries some weight. He recently received the Global Environmental Citizen Award from the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School. At the awards ceremony, he spoke at length about–what else–the environment, and a pressing threat to the environment: those insane Christians.
One of the biggest changes in politics in my lifetime is that the delusional is no longer marginal. It has come in from the fringe, to sit in the seat of power in the oval office and in Congress. For the first time in our history, ideology and theology hold a monopoly of power in Washington. Theology asserts propositions that cannot be proven true; ideologues hold stoutly to a world view despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality. When ideology and theology couple, their offspring are not always bad but they are always blind. And there is the danger: voters and politicians alike, oblivious to the facts.
Later in his comments, Moyers focused on the political clout of fanatical Christians:
Nearly half the U.S. Congress before the recent election – 231 legislators in total – more since the election – are backed by the religious right. Forty-five senators and 186 members of the 108th congress earned 80 to 100 percent approval ratings from the three most influential Christian right advocacy groups…. The only Democrat to score 100 percent with the Christian coalition was Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia, who recently quoted from the biblical book of Amos on the Senate floor: “The days will come, sayeth the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land.” He seemed to be relishing the thought.
What a nasty bit of innuendo at the last! It is a shame that someone with decades of journalism experience under his belt, such as Bill Moyers, would do such a piss-poor job of quoting then-Senator Miller and deliberately misunderstanding the quote. Here is the full text of the verse in Amos that was quoted on the Senate floor:
Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD:
Notice that the famine is not literal, but spiritual in nature. But in Moyers’ rush to tar fanatical Christians, he ignored the meaning of the Biblical verse, the better to cast aspersions on Miller’s presumed anticipation of famine and pestilence. This is not journalism. This is a shameful twisting of the facts and a crass misrepresentation of Miller’s words that bears no resemblance to his actual discourse before the Senate.
Having gone out of his way to trash the former Senator by warping his words and presuming to know his thoughts, Moyers continues to make friends and influence people in Congress. He blithely lumps together the 231 members of the House and Senate who received high scores from three Christian groups with Timothy LaHaye, the author of the best-selling Left Behind series and “Christian fundamentalist and religious right warrior,” to use Moyers’ phrase. Moyers fails to acknowledge that although LaHaye’s fiction books are popular, not all devout Christians believe in the rapture as LaHaye does. But it makes little difference to Moyers, as he tars Christians with a wide brush.
What Moyers fails to mention, either through sheer ignorance or willful disregard of his subject, is that among Christians the rapture is a far less common belief than is the concept of stewardship. Most Christians recognize that we do not own the Earth; we are mere stewards or caretakers holding and managing this world for Him who created it. When our days are through, He will require a reckoning of our responsibilities. It is the goal of a good steward to hear these words from his Master: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.”
When I wake up in the morning, my first thought and principle aim for the day is not “Woohoo! Time for me to trash the planet!” But Bill Moyers would have you believe that is precisely the purpose of every Christian in this nation. Yet this was not the worst part of Moyers’ acceptance speech.
The worst came when Moyers stated libel as fact:
Remember James Watt, President Reagan’s first Secretary of the Interior? My favorite online environmental journal, the ever engaging Grist, reminded us recently of how James Watt told the U.S. Congress that protecting natural resources was unimportant in light of the imminent return of Jesus Christ. In public testimony he said, ‘after the last tree is felled, Christ will come back.’
The problem is that former Secretary James Watt never made any such statement. Bill Moyers used only the article by Glenn Scherer published on grist.org as source material for his claim about James Watt. While Scherer has since printed a correction stating that he didn’t have the facts right when he quoted Watt, Bill Moyers has yet to publish a correction. Well, to be honest, he may have done so, but my searching has yet to turn up one.
John Hinderaker of the Power Line blog wrote of his conversation with James Watt. Watt supplied Hinderaker with a transcript of his confirmation testimony before the Senate, and his statement was quite different from Moyers’ quote:
That is the delicate balance the Secretary of the Interior must have, to be steward for the natural resources for this generation as well as future generations.
I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns, whatever it is we have to manage with a skill to leave the resources needed for future generations.
His testimony was one of a man who believes devoutly in stewardship, not the planet-trashing canard that Moyers repeated without checking the facts. Whether Moyers failed to check the actual source on this quote, or whether, in his rush to condemn the Christian bugaboo, he chose to use a quote he knew was fraudulent, I honestly don’t know. But either situation is damning to a journalist with the stature of Bill Moyers. Or perhaps I should say, “former stature.”
Addendum (2/9/2005): Hindrocket at Power Line reports that Bill Moyers has personally “apologized profusely” to James Watt for misquoting him and inaccurately portraying his environmental views. Moyers said he would make the apology as public as the initial trashing of Watt’s name. Does this mean that Moyers will go before the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School and admit he tarred the former Secretary of the Interior? I’ll keep an eye on this.
With this apology, it is clear that Moyers is at least guilty of shoddy journalism.