What's the Matter With Virginia? Part 2
Fred Malek's anti-Semitic past makes him unfit to chair a state government panel.
Malek concluded by promising that, by the end of September 1971, Labor Secretary Hodgson would announce the reorganization and force "the transfers of Goldstein, Henle, and Greenberg. These moves do not go as far as I would have preferred but represent a reasonable compromise [with the president's demand for a Jew purge] that I feel will make the BLS a more responsive and effective unit."
Let's review, once again, what Malek said in 1988:
In no way did I take part in moving anyone out of the BLS.
If I had even been peripherally involved or asked to alter someone's employment status I would have found it offensive and morally unacceptable, and I would have refused.
[The Post's article was] offensive and incorrect in suggesting that I would have engaged in any attempt to jeopardize someone's job because of their religious affiliation.
I find that kind of action—or even the suggestion that I engaged peripherally in that kind of effort—to be morally wrong and totally out of bounds.
Since 1988, Malek has not lifted a finger publicly to correct these lies, much less apologize for the actions they were meant to conceal. Meanwhile, his political rehabilitation has proceeded with scarcely a hitch. A year after the Post story appeared, George H.W. Bush, now safely elected president, put Malek in charge of an economic summit of industrialized nations (a post that entitles him to be addressed as "Ambassador Malek"). By 1992 the stink had dissipated enough for Bush to make Malek a co-chairman of his presidential campaign. A trusteeship at the prestigious Aspen Institute and a membership in Capitol Hill's exclusive Alfalfa Club materialized at some point, and in 2008 John McCain named Malek national finance co-chairman of his presidential campaign. (This was four years after Malek paid a $100,000 civil fine to the Securities and Exchange Commission, on top of a $150,000 fine from his private equity firm, Thayer Capital Partners, for diverting a portion of Connecticut's state pension fund to a political crony of Connecticut State Treasurer Paul J. Silvester. But I digress.)
Malek's Jew-counting past probably played some role in his investment group's failing to win Major League Baseball's approval to own the Nationals, the D.C. baseball team—Malek had previously helped supply the cash for George W. Bush to acquire the Texas Rangers—but given the Nationals' performance, that may have been a blessing in disguise. Malek has lately emerged as a leading adviser to former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
Now Malek is reorganizing Virginia state government. I wouldn't go so far as to say that in giving Malek this job, McDonnell is coddling an anti-Semite. I believe that Malek was probably repulsed by what he ended up doing for Nixon. But he did it, and ever since Malek has lied to avoid admitting the depth of his involvement in this grotesque episode. If that's atonement, then I'm St. Francis of Assisi.
Update, May 25: In an interview for WTOP radio in Washington, Mark Plotkin asked McDonnell why he appointed Malek. Did the governor know about Malek's Jew-counting past when he named Malek to the commission? Here's McDonnell's answer:
No, I didn't know. Listen, Fred Malek is a very distinguished and successful business leader in Virginia. He's been president of Northwest Airlines, Mariott Hotels, he's turned those companies around, and when I'm looking for somebody to be a leader in a government reform effort to try to make Virginia government work better, I want a successful businessperson.
The second thing I would say, I did not know about this background but it was 40 years ago, he made a mistake, he's apologized and atoned for it. But here's something even more important, Mark. Is that the leading Jewish organizations and leaders in America that know him have issued statements of support. The American-Israel Friendship League has issued a statement. [Malek sits on its board.] The Anti-Defamation League has issued a statement. Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who knows him well, says that he's an honorable man that she respects and trusts. Congressman Eric Cantor issued a statement. These are leading Jewish leaders. And so, they understand that that was 40 years ago, he made a mistake, and he has since then done any number of things not only to make up for that mistake but more importantly be a really successful, productive leader in Virginia. I respect that record.
As for the SEC fines totalling $250,000, McDonnell said he didn't know about those before he named Malek either. But, McDonnell said, "people that are in business 20, 30, 40, 50 years often have regulatory violations."
Update, May 26: In January 2010 the Nixon Library (which in recent years has become more scholarly and objective) posted on its Web site various documents about the Jew-counting episode and its aftermath. Somewhat mystifyingly, the Sept. 8 memo that the University of Virginia's Miller Center furnished me ("Haldeman, Alpha Name Files, Fred Malek, September 1971, Box #85" folder, Haldeman Contested Folder 8) is not included. There are plenty of other documents included in the release, however, that show beyond any doubt that Malek was actively involved in the process of reassigning the offending BLS Semites, his strenuous denials to the contrary.
Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.
Photograph of Fred Malek by Dirck Halstead//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images.