Fred Malek's free ride, continued.

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
June 30 2005 1:31 PM

Malek's Free Ride, Cont'd.

Think the New York Times might be interested in a story about anti-Semitism? Naaah.

I can't believe my eyes. I'm looking at a Page One New York Times story by Sheryl Gay Stolberg about the inevitable partisan battle over who will get to own the Nationals, Washington's new baseball team. It repeats an attack by Rep. Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican, on George Soros, who is a minority investor in a group led by Jonathan Ledecky, a Washington, D.C.-based financial tycoon who used to be part owner of Washington's hockey and basketball teams (and who, like Soros, gives a lot of money to Democrats). Here is what Davis said (in a June 27 interview with Roll Call that goes uncredited in the Times story):

"I think Major League Baseball understands the stakes," said Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis (R), the Northern Virginia lawmaker who recently convened [preposterous, grandstanding] high-profile steroid hearings. "I don't think they want to get involved in a political fight."

Davis, whose panel also oversees District of Columbia issues, said that if a Soros sale went through, "I don't think it's the Nats that get hurt. I think it's Major League Baseball that gets hurt. They enjoy all sorts of exemptions" from anti-trust laws.

The Times didn't quote this, inadvertently lending credence to Davis' objectively false claim that "he never intended any threat." But that isn't what stunned me about Stolberg's piece. What stunned me was that the Times repeated the chief moral objection to Soros (apparently he was convicted of insider trading in France; Soros is appealing the decision) while balancing against that the shocking revelation that Fred Malek—who leads the Washington Baseball Club, the group Davis clearly wants to prevail—is … "a major Republican donor" and "a former aide to President Richard M. Nixon."

Faithful readers of this column may recall that Fred Malek's moral stain is a bit more conspicuous than that. It's true that nobody I'm aware of besides myself has brought this up lately—with the notable exception, yesterday, of the Washington Post's sports columnist Sally Jenkins ("Taking Aim At Soros Is Hardly Politic")—but … well, I'll let Jenkins tell it:

You want a wart? Malek has a big one. Malek is a former Richard Nixon aide. When he was White House personnel chief, he was summoned by Nixon to discuss a "Jewish cabal" in the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nixon believed Jews in the bureau were tilting stats to make his policies look bad. He wanted to know how many Jews there were in the bureau, and he wanted Malek to count them. Malek eventually complied and produced a list. Some of them were later demoted or transferred. Malek, who insists he is not anti-Semitic, has said that he resisted the order at first and argued with Nixon that there was no "cabal."

According to the Nexis database, Jenkins now joins me as the only journalistor public figure to bring up this far-from-ancient history during the past two years. Back in January 2002, Post columnist Marc Fisher wrote a fine column observing that because Malek bowed to Nixon's bigoted request, he "has no business representing this city in any capacity." Fisher repeated this in a (non-Nexis-able) 2004 online discussion, while suggesting that he didn't think Malek's group had much of a chance. Time to reassess, Marc! The American Prospect's "Tapped" Web log had something on this earlier this week, I'm pleased to see. But in general, the major political blogs seem as clueless as the Old Media. Yo Josh Marshall! Wake up and smell the coffee!

Perhaps the Times' Stolberg would say, in her defense, that she is writing about a fight between politicians, and that the Democrats aren't hurling Malek's Jew-counting past back in Republicans' faces. The Democrats seem to think merely mentioning Malek's name will do, perhaps hoping, incorrectly, that somebody remembers Malek had to give up an appointment as deputy chairman of the Republican National Committee in 1988, when this item on his résumé last came up. But a he-said, she-said defense would be pure idiocy. If you're going to write about Republicans saying George Soros is unfit to be minority owner of a baseball team because of an insider-trading conviction, you're morally obliged to point out the mote-beam problem inherent in this line of attack, even if the Democrats are too timid to bring it up. Besides, I was under the impression that the public in general and readers of the New York Times in particular were interested in reading about acts of anti-Semitism conducted by the U.S. government, even (perhaps especially) when they are carried out by someone who himself is "not anti-Semitic." And most especially when the person in question is closing in on acquiring a major-league baseball team. Are we really going to let Malek get his mitts on the Nationals without having this come up as a matter, at least, of discussion?

[Update, 1:15 p.m.: A couple of readers have notified me that some editions of today's Times did manage to work in that Malek "was once ordered by President Nixon to investigate a possible 'Jewish cabal' in the Bureau of Labor Statistics." But that wasn't in my edition, and it isn't (as of this writing) in the online version  of the story. Moreover, even the "complete" version of the article doesn't explain that Malek carried out Nixon's order, and that two BLS employees on Malek's Jew-list were demoted two months later. (Malek has denied playing any role in that.) The Post's Marc Fisher, I'm pleased to report,  alluded  in an online chat today to Malek's role as "President Nixon's designated Jew-hunter when Nixon was intent on identifying Jewish bureaucrats in the government." Now write that in your column, Marc!]

Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His  book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.