McCarthy opened his column somewhat sneeringly:
Jesus may or may not be returning any day now, but either way James Gaius Watt, the secretary of interior, is comporting himself in pious watchfulness. He is quoted recently in The Wall Street Journal saying that, "My responsibility is to follow the Scriptures which call on us to occupy the land until Jesus returns." (the Washington Post, 24 May 1981)From there, McCarthy fleshed out his portrait of the "pious" Watt in keeping with the title of the piece, comparing Watt's beliefs to those of the Puritans, saying that the Puritans saw themselves as conquerors of the land, "missionaries bent on converting not people but property" as McCarthy put it during one of his more moderate moments.
What did I find when I unearthed the source of the quotation of Watt?
My responsibility is to follow the Scriptures," he says, "which call upon us to occupy the land until Jesus returns." By the same token, part of federal government's mandate, Mr. Watt adds, is to strike a proper balance between preservation and use of the country's vast "natural resources base" to ensure that"people are provided for until He does come." (The Wall Street Journal 5 May 1981)Okay, so McCarthy's a columnist. He's not bound to the model of journalistic objectivity for purposes of his columns. He's allowed to grind his axe if he chooses (and he does grind his axe to a considerable degree in the column--I'd include more but for my respect for copyright).
My take is that the media subjected Watt to considerable spin. It makes sense to exploit a nation's natural resources, and to exploit them responsibly. People may disagree as to precisely what the right degree of responsibility is, but Watt was attacked primarily by ridicule and caricature.
It continues today:
Liberal take on Watt.
Watt has his defenders, on the other hand.
National Review on Watt
Watt interview, 2004.
Watt Op-ed, 2005
(Watt mentions that in addition to an apology from Moyers he also received one from Grist magazine, the first source listed)
*I spent a good deal of time trying to find a serious critique of the environmental policies under Reagan to provide the best possible presentation of the opposing view, but I failed to find anything better than some comments from Ralph Nader that were high in flourish but low on content. I'd be delighted if somebody can forward me something to represent the sane liberal point-of-view.