Fred Malek's Field of Dreams
In Washington, D.C., the local angle on the decision by Major League Baseball owners to eliminate two teams is whether the ensuing game of musical chairs will bring a baseball team to the capital, which has been without one since the departure of the second Washington Senators in 1971. "If relocation serves [to improve the sport's economic situation], we will look at it," baseball commissioner Bud Selig told the Washington Post.Chatterbox, who is not a sports buff, has not been paying this issue much attention, so it wasn't until the contraction vote put it on Page One that he realized that the investment group working to lure Major League Baseball back to Washington is headed by Frederic V. Malek. Malek is best known in political circles for resigning in 1988 as George Bush's hand-picked deputy chairman for the Republican National Committee after the Post's Walter Pincus and Bob Woodward reported that 17 years earlier, Malek had, at Richard Nixon's request, counted the number of Jews then working for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (Thirteen, if you must know, though Malek only looked at 35 of the bureau's 50 top employees.)
It is beyond dispute that Richard Nixon was an outrageous anti-Semite. (If you need persuading, read this earlier Chatterbox item or this article by Slate's resident Nixon expert, David Greenberg, on TomPaine.com.) Woodward and Carl Bernstein had previously reported, in their book, The Final Days, that
Late in 1971, Nixon had summoned the White House personnel chief, Fred Malek, to his office to discuss a "Jewish cabal" in the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The "cabal," Nixon said, was tilting economic figures to make his Administration look bad. How many Jews were there in the bureau? he wanted to know. Malek reported back on the number, and told the President that the bureau's methods of weighing statistics were normal procedure that had been in use for years.
Pincus and Woodward fleshed out this story in their 1988 article. Most significantly, they discovered that within two months of Malek's confidential memo on the matter to White House chief of staff H.R. Haldeman ("13 of the 35 fit the other demographic criterion we discussed"), two Jews were reassigned to less visible Labor Department posts. Malek has always insisted that he had nothing to do with that, that if he'd been asked to reassign two people based on their religious affiliation he would have refused, and that he only provided Haldeman the Jew-count (apparently a guess based on looking at surnames) after previously ignoring the request four times. Nixon's notions of a "Jewish cabal," Malek told Pincus and Woodward in 1988, were "ridiculous" and "nonsense." Although there was no evidence that Malek was himself an anti-Semite, the reminder that Malek had once helped enable an official act of anti-Semitism on Richard Nixon's part was enough to eject Malek from the RNC.
Malek's rehabilitation was breathtakingly swift. Within a year, he was part of George W. Bush's syndicate to purchase the Texas Rangers baseball team. The year after that, Malek took on an official (though unpaid) role in Bush père's administration organizing an international summit. In 1992, he was an influential adviser to Bush's presidential campaign. Jewish leaders forgave Malek. "One mistake does not an anti-Semite make," said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B'Nai B'rith. Indeed, Foxman might have added, one mistake a penitent contributor to Jewish causes makes! Malek joined the board of the American-Israel Friendship Society, traveled to
Chatterbox does not begrudge Malek his millions. He does gag a little, though, on Malek's respectability within the D.C. establishment, which would of course increase exponentially were Malek to become the lead investor in a Major League Baseball team for D.C. (Incidentally, Malek should know that Slate's "Sports Nut" column puts the number of Jews in Major League Baseball at 11—two fewer than Malek found 30 years ago at the BLS. Slate's count, of course, was conducted in a spirit of philo-Semitism rather than its opposite.) And Chatterbox must say that he finds entirely unacceptable, as a D.C. and federal taxpayer of Jewish ancestry, Malek's proposal, as described on ballparks.com, that the federal and D.C. governments pay somewhere in the neighborhood of 90 percent of the cost for "land acquisition, infrastructure, road improvements, utilities, and support services" for Malek's new downtown baseball stadium.
Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.