What's the Matter With Virginia? Part 2
Fred Malek's anti-Semitic past makes him unfit to chair a state government panel.
On May 7 Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell appointed Fred Malek chairman of his Commission on Government Reform and Restructuring. McDonnell, a conservative Republican who assumed office in January, had achieved unwelcome national attention a month earlier when he declared April "Confederate History Month" without mentioning that the Confederates fought to preserve slavery (because, he explained to reporters, slavery did not rate as one of the issues "most significant for Virginia"). Two months before that, McDonnell had issued an executive order banning discrimination in state government that pointedly removed Virginia's previous protections based on sexual orientation.
McDonnell ended up backing down a little after his whitewash of the Confederacy and his revocation of civil rights protections for homosexuals stirred a predictable outcry from the African American and gay communities. (See "What's The Matter With Virginia?") But Jewish groups have been slow to protest the appointment of Malek, whose most noteworthy prior experience in government reorganization dates to 1971, when Malek was a 34-year-old special assistant to President Richard Nixon. At Nixon's request, Malek produced a memo denoting the number of Jews employed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Malek then arranged the demotion of at least four people with Jewish-sounding surnames. (He didn't actually know who was Jewish and who wasn't; he guessed based on their names.) It was the last recorded act of official anti-Semitism by the United States government.
Why no outcry? "Malek's defenders," explains Frederick Kunkle in the May 21 Washington Post, "have said that he long ago apologized and atoned for his role in the Nixon-led inquisition." This view is widely held within Washington. But it happens to be wrong. Malek long ago copped to writing the Jew-counting memo, but he never admitted to—indeed, he lied with theatrical indignation about—his role in punishing the offending Semites, proof of which quietly surfaced in Slate three years ago.
Malek's fulfillment of Nixon's deranged request that he identify the "Jewish cabal" within the BLS was first reported by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in their 1976 book, The Final Days. In September 1988, shortly after Vice President George H.W. Bush (then running for president) installed Malek as deputy chairman of the Republican National Committee, Woodward and Walter Pincus published a follow-up of sorts in the Post. Two months after Malek had written his July 1971 memo, Woodward and Pincus wrote, two Jewish BLS officials named Peter Henle and Harold Goldstein had been "ousted from their posts and moved to less visible positions in the Labor Department agency." The piece cited some evidence suggesting that Malek had been involved in the reassignments but offered no proof. For instance, Woodward and Pincus reported the existence of, but were unable to obtain, a follow-up to Malek's Jew-counting memo. They related that a notation in the Nixon White House files (which then resided in the National Archives) stated that the follow-up memo (dated Sept. 8, 1971) was not publicly available because disclosing it "would violate an individual's rights." It was, Woodward and Pincus explained, being withheld at the request of lawyers for Nixon, who was still alive at the time. An unnamed "knowledgeable source" told Woodward and Pincus that Nixon's lawyers had gone through the files of former Nixon aides who were now working for the Bush campaign. One hundred and thirty-four documents relating to Malek had been withdrawn from public view.
This Post story, merely by documenting Malek's Jew-count, forced Malek's resignation from the RNC. But both before and after he quit, Malek said he'd done nothing more than report to Nixon that the BLS housed 13 Jews. Asked whether he thought his Jew-count was appropriate, Malek said "No," adding, "When you are in the White House you get lots of directives that you don't agree with." Later in the story, Malek characterized Nixon's fixation on a Jewish BLS cabal as "ridiculous" and "nonsense."
Malek was more voluble about the demotions. "In no way did I take part in moving anyone out of the BLS," he told Woodward and Pincus. Malek said he had no memory of writing any follow-up memo, and "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." Malek quit the day the Post story appeared, denouncing the "offensive and incorrect" suggestion "that I would have engaged in any attempt to jeopardize someone's job because of their religious affiliation." He said he found "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."
This wasn't just a lie. It was what Newsweek's Evan Thomas, my onetime boss, likes to call an "exuberant lie." The proof lay in the memo from Sept. 8, 1971, that the National Archives withheld. Nineteen years after the Post story appeared, Kenneth J. Hughes of the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs furnished me a copy. I would encourage Gov. McDonnell to read it.
Malek's memo was addressed to Nixon's chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, and the subject line was "Bureau of Labor Statistics." Malek reported: "I had several meetings with [Labor] Secretary [James D.] Hodgson to convince him of the need for fairly drastic moves." The BLS, Malek wrote, "will be organized with 6 out of 9 existing offices being combined into a newly created Office of Data Analysis" to be headed by a newly created deputy commissioner. The BLS already had a deputy commissioner named … Ben Burdetsky. "[I]nstead of replacing Burdetsky as Deputy Commissioner," Malek explained, "the plan creates a second Deputy over the most critical areas. This is a compromise, but I believe it is a workable solution." I can't prove that Burdetsky was on Malek's earlier list of 13 Jewish-sounding names (only the number became public), but what Malek described was clearly a demotion for Burdetsky, whose unsuitability had apparently been a matter of prior discussion between Haldeman and Malek.
Goldstein and Henle were almost certainly on Malek's Jew list; both were Jewish, and both had displeased Nixon by supporting objective (as opposed to politicized) interpretations of unemployment data. This was the supposed act of disloyalty that first convinced Nixon that Jews in the BLS were out to get him. Goldstein, Malek reported, "will be moved to a routine, non-sensitive post in another part of BLS." Henle and Leon Greenberg, another BLS data-cruncher, "will be transferred when the reorganization is announced."
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.