Malek's List, Cont'd
The Jews he probably got fired forgive him. That doesn't mean we have to.
Steven I. Weiss, a blogger who contributes to the Forward, has tracked down the two Jews who were demoted three decades ago after Fred Malek, now the lead investor in the Washington Baseball Club, identified them (at President Nixon's request) as two of the 13 Jews working at the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (The Washington Baseball Club has the inside track to purchase the Nationals baseball team.) The two former employees, Harold Goldstein and Peter Henle, are a good deal more forgiving of Malek than I would be. But that hardly gets Malek off the hook. I still think his actions disqualify him from owning a Major League Baseball team, particularly one that will be subsidized by the taxpayers of Washington, D.C.—who happen to include yours truly.
Goldstein (now 90) and Henle (now 86 and a little fuzzy in his recollection; for details, Weiss relies mainly on Henle's son Paul) say they weren't really demoted because they were Jews. They were demoted, they say, because of a controversy that began when Goldstein stated publicly (and correctly) that a 0.2 percent drop in unemployment was "marginally significant." This was mildly at odds with the claim by their boss, Labor Secretary James Hodgson, that the drop was "heartening." Henle got in trouble because he wrote a memo to Hodgson taking Goldstein's side.
There's no denying that Goldstein and Henle got in trouble for defying the Nixon administration line. But the point to remember is that this was the very dispute that prompted an enraged Nixon to find out whether a cabal of Jews at the BLS was out to get him. He ordered up a Jew-count; the job fell to Malek; Malek identified Goldstein and Henle as Jews; Goldstein and Henle were demoted. It seems reasonable to assume that their Jewishness confirmed Nixon's already unfavorable opinion of the two men, and in that sense contributed to their demotions. Janet Norwood, who ran the BLS' consumer price index division at the time, told Weiss, "it probably was a factor, and maybe it was more of a factor than I think."
In sum, Goldstein and Henle were likely demoted, at least in part, because Nixon found out they were Jewish. The anti-Semitic president was looking for a reason to find fault with them; that they were Jewish certainly couldn't have improved Nixon's opinion. Malek was the guy who gave Nixon that information. Therefore, no matter what Malek (or Goldstein or Henle or Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League) says, Malek played a likely role in the demotion of Goldstein and Henle. Enabling Richard Nixon's crude bigotry was not a victimless gesture, and Major League Baseball should think twice before rewarding the man who made it.
(To read a Forward article by Weiss about Goldstein and Henle click here; free registration is required.)
Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.