Thursday, August 19, 2010

Michael Sean Winters Reveals His Ugly, Boorish, Small-Minded Pettiness Via His Sullivanesque Obsession With Prof. Robert George [UPDATED]

The Opinionated Catholic brought to my attention an attack on Professor Robert George by lefty Catholic Michael Sean Winters of National Catholic Reporter.

It all started with this particularly boorish and mean-spirited attack by Winters at NCR:
Professor Robert George is a different kind of fraud. He pretends to be concerned with “American Principles” as his website says, but he seems only concerned with those American Principles that cohere with the current political agenda of the Republican Party. That bias is fine by me, but when he explains that the signatories of the Manhattan Declaration “will not remain silent” one is hard-pressed to ascertain why he has been so conspicuously silent about the religious freedom of Muslims to build a mosque on private property in lower Manhattan. Does he share the “all Muslims are the same” bigotry of Colson? Does he think, like Mr. Newt Gingrich, that we should only allow a mosque here when Saudi Arabia permits a church in Mecca, as if the Saudi Royal Family should be a moral compass for anyone? He has found time at his website to post articles about Proposition 8 being overturned, a photograph of King George III, a bizarre article about returning to the Gold Standard, but not a word about the religious freedom of Muslims to build a mosque, not atop the World Trade Center site, by the way, but two blocks away, not far from St. Peter’s Catholic Church and St. Paul’s Episcopal Chapel to which, presumably, no on objects because, well, you know. (As I write these words, I entertain a vision of the Uptons in “Auntie Mame” explaining that their neighborhood was “restricted” because they did not want the wrong type of people, namely Jews, living there.) Cat got your tongue professor?
To which Prof. Rick Garnett of Mirror of Justice responded:
I think it is unfair, though -- and in the case of the baseless charges lobbed at our own Robby George, mean-spirited and unworthy -- to charge those who (a) are publicly and unquestionably dedicated to religious liberty but (b) have not (yet) spoken out in strong defense of the proposal with 'hypocrisy" or "fraud." (I'm being defensive here, of course, because I spent the weekend doing things besides commenting on the mosque.)

We do this too much in our public conversations, I think (I am guilty of this sometimes too, I am sure): "You say you are on the side of the angels, but you have failed to condemn publicly [insert outrageous act or current controversy] and so . . . gotcha! You are a fraud!"
But Winters wasn't backing off:
Whenever I disagree with Professor Garnett, such disagreement always makes me think again on any topic. But, it is painful to disagree with someone I respect when there is a personal aspect to the disagreement. I understand his loyalty to his friend, Professor George. He, like others, assures me that Professor George is an upstanding person, a fine scholar, a great teacher. He may be all those things in spades for all I know. Another mutual friend of Professor George’s and me wrote a note observing: “Even if you conclude that someone advocates a policy that contradicts one of his own principles, that only makes him inconsistent or foolish, not fraudulent.” I recognize the distinction although, for someone who claims to be a philosopher, the charge of inconsistency is a grave one, and I have watched Professor George in action and he is no fool.

Fraudulence is when a person presents themselves in one way but connives to achieve other, opposed objectives. Unless Professor George has the gumption to stand up to some of his fellow political conservatives, to stand up for religious freedom and for the Constitution at a time when some of his fellow conservatives are using the issue to whip up the basest of passions, unless he is willing to recognize that, throughout history, it is not merely “the government” but the mob which is prone to threaten religious liberties, then, yes, I am afraid he is a fraud.
It was then Prof. George's turn to defend himself against Winters' unprovoked attack:
Because I've been dealing with a horrible family tragedy, I have not been reading or contributing to MoJ for the past ten days or so. During a visit to South Africa, my brother Edward's fiance, Helen Elaine Hill, was thrown from a horse and severely injured. After lingering in a coma for several days, this charming, beautiful, and brilliant young woman died. Her obituary appeared in last Sunday's New York Times. I returned to Princeton last night after attending her funeral in Lewisburg, West Virginia. As you can imagine, my brother is utterly grief-stricken and our entire family is devastated. It has been a rough period for us.

When I opened MoJ this morning to catch up, I found your report that Michael Winters, who seems to have some sort of obsession with me, has found a pretext for launching yet another vicious, flailing, personal attack at his blog. Thanks for defending me, but, honestly, the guy is plainly not interested in reasonable debate. You won't get anywhere with him. I have no idea whether what is driving him is ideological or psychological, but it is certainly not devotion to truth. He seems to have some sort of score to settle with me---what it is I can't say, since I don't know the man---and he's not going to let truth get in the way of settling it.

The last time you called attention to one of Winters' bizarre attacks, I posted a response on MoJ noting that "[w]e can go step by step to show how he willfully twists and misrepresents an interlocutor's words in order to create a false impression of what his opponent is saying." This, as it turns out, is his modus operandi. As his conduct consistently shows, he is a deeply intellectually dishonest person. This time he is trying to smear me by drawing preposterous inferences from the fact that I haven't yet published anything on the New York mosque controversy.

As a matter of fact, I'm writing an op ed with Jennifer Bryson, an outstanding scholar of contemporary Islam with whom I've worked closely in the cause of Muslim-Christian understanding, concerning controversies about mosques not only in New York City, but across the country. We are submitting our piece to the Wall Street Journal. Although we have not yet finalized the draft (precisely because I have been occupied with my family's bereavement), here are the opening sentences:
Across the country in recent months, from California, to Louisiana, to New York, anti-Muslim sentiment has become a prominent feature of opposition to new mosques. At risk in this is religious freedom itself. But not just religious freedom. Also threatened is the respectful civility that enables constructive public discourse in religiously pluralistic democratic societies. First, an attitude of "freedom for me but not for thee" rings the death knell for liberty itself. Freedom of religion is a right of all human beings, including Muslims. People who oppose the building of mosques in their communities out of anti-Islamic animus are guilty of intolerance and a lack or respect for religious freedom. Such hostility assaults the human dignity of both the hater annd the hated.
[Read the whole thing]
WOW! Pretty compelling evidence that (1) there was good reason for Prof. George to not be engaged on this topic as it became a national news story and (2) Prof. George is ANYTHING BUT a "fraud" on the topic of religious freedom.

So, you'd think an apology from Winters would be forthcoming, right? Think again. You obviously haven't been paying attention to the way a real fraud like Michael Sean Winters operates:
Unbeknownst to me, Professor Robert George has been dealing with a dreadful personal family tragedy, so I shall ignore his comments about myself and my writings at the blog Mirror of Justice.

Souls that are hurting tend to say hurtful things. Of course, I do not retract a word I have written in his regard.


Professor George has made a name for himself as a defender of religious liberty. That is why his silence heretofore was so noteworthy and so disturbing.
(emphasis added)

"That is why his silence heretofore was so noteworthy and so disturbing."


Hey, Mikey Sean, as is clear from your acknowledgement that "Professor Robert George has been dealing with a dreadful personal family tragedy", you know damned well that Prof. George's "silence heretofore" was because he was dealing with more pressing matters of a personal nature, NOT from any reticence on his part to speak out on behalf of religious freedom for Muslims. There is absoulutely nothing "noteworthy" or "disturbing" about his being preoccupied with urgent family business and not being immediately available to wax philosophical about free exercise matters on YOUR time table.

What's worse, YOU attacked Prof. George as "a fraud" and then, without offering an apology for that - given what has been going on in the man's life that might have been distracting him somewhat from the events you believe he should have immediately spoken out about, have the chutzpah to play the victim card - "I shall ignore his comments about myself and my writings" - in that disgustingly Wormtonguesqe passive-aggressive manner that makes one feel like they need to take a shower to wash off all the slime after reading it.

To stand by and "not retract a word of" your previous comments, especially in light of what you now know to be the truth, reveals once and for all what many of your critics already knew about you: that you are a small, petty, and pathetic man (and "man" may be giving you too much credit).

UPDATE (20 August 2010)
Prof. George has responded to Winters' non-apology:
Michael Winters lets us know just what kind of guy he is
Last night, one of my former students sent me a link to Michael Winters' blog at the National Catholic Reporter, where Winters has posted a response to my MoJ post about his most recent attack on me. Here is the link: If anyone has the slightest doubt that what I said about Winters and his modus operandi is true, please open the link and see if you don't find what I said more than amply confirmed. Winters' own words fully reveal the kind of person he is. He offers no apology for the ugly smears and taunts that prompted my criticisms of him. He retracts nothing. He admits no error. On the contrary, he engages in more of his vile innuendo---suggesting that he merited no rebuke from me, and that I criticized him only because I am "hurting" from a family tragedy ("souls that are hurting tend to say hurtful things")---while purporting to applaud me for speaking up for religious liberty. The comments following his post make it plain that his readers have no difficulty seeing through this ploy. They are on to the guy. Evidently, a few of them have been on to him for some time now.
(Hat tip, once again, to Opinionated Catholic)

Previous Pro Ecclesia posts on this subject:
Liberal Catholic Michael Sean Winters Calls Out Media for Shoddy Coverage of Pope

Michael Sean Winters: "Deceitful Bogeyman" of the Catholic Left

Fr. Z Defends Well-Known Catholic Apologist Patrick Madrid ... [UPDATED]

Pro-Life Kudos to Michael Sean Winters

REPOSTED and UPDATED: "... Dollars to Doughnuts ..."

"... Dollars to Doughnuts ..."

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At 8/19/2010 11:26 AM, Blogger Rick said...

Winter's used to contribute to America Mag (Jesuit blogsite). I wonder if he got the boot for being like this.

At 8/19/2010 1:50 PM, Blogger Paul Zummo said...

Mikey Sean is treading some mighty fine water in calling other people frauds.

At 8/19/2010 2:49 PM, Blogger DP said...

What a deplorable, wretched, disgusting performance by Winters. MSW doesn't even bother to offer condolences. Instead, it's a platform to shine forth the light of Winters' own unimpeachable righteousness.

If he did this to me, I would punch him. The internet breeds a lot of behavior that deserves direct, personal correction.

At 8/19/2010 10:55 PM, Blogger James H said...

A few thoughts

I am pretty amazed they never met. I just assumed because of who they were they had to meet at meeting or conferences or something

But besides that I am just floored that he never called George to try to clarify his feelings before calling him a FRAUD in a major Catholic publication.

At 8/20/2010 11:26 AM, Blogger Jordanes said...

Michael Sean Winters has crossed a line a journalist/columnist may never, ever cross. National Catholic Reporter is morally obliged to rein him in if not give him the heave-ho, and he is morally obliged to publicly apologise for his misconduct.


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