Saturday, October 6, 2012

The “Jewish Cabal” at the BLS

WaPo explains:

Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch is getting a lot of attention for an unfounded accusation that the Obama administration somehow cooked the positive jobs numbers issued Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As it happens, there is a historical example of improper political pressure on the BLS by a U.S. president: Republican Richard M. Nixon.

As first recounted by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in their 1976 book “Final Days,” the frequently paranoid president — who had a history of anti-Semitic outbursts — became obsessed with the idea that a “Jewish cabal” at BLS was undermining him by issuing negative labor numbers. Nixon ordered his subordinates to tally up the number of Democrats and Jews in the agency.

“There’s a Jewish cabal, you know, running through this,” Nixon fumed in July 1971 to his chief of staff, H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, according to White House tapes. “…And they all — they all only talk to Jews. Now, but there it is. But there’s the BLS staff. Now how the hell do you ever expect us to get anything from that staff, the raw data, let alone what the poor guys have to say [inaudible] that isn’t gonna be loaded against us? You understand?”

According to journalistic accounts and documents, the task fell to Nixon aide Fred Malek, who first counted high-ranking Democrats at BLS using voter registration lists and then identified employees with “Jewish-sounding” names. He reported the resulting statistics to Nixon in a 1971 letter that became known as the “Jew-counting” memo, identifying 25 Democrats and 13 employees who “fit the other demographic criterion that was discussed.”

There is continued disagreement on how many targeted employees were demoted and Malek’s precise role in the affair. In 1988, Woodward and Post reporter Walter Pincus reported that two Jewish officials had been removed from their posts and shuffled off to less-important jobs at Labor during the episode. Malek — who quit his new post at the Republican National Committee on the day The Post’s story appeared — expressed regret for conducting a tally of Jews but denied a role in any demotions.

In 2007, Timothy Noah of Slate publicized a previously unreleased 1971 memo from Malek suggesting he was much more closely involved in a BLS purge then he had claimed, outlining a reorganization that resulted in the demotions of at least four high-ranking Jewish employees.The Nixon Presidential Library and Museum has also posted some, but not all, documents related to the affair on its Web site.


  1. Is this the same PEU Fred Malek finding ways for the greed/leverage boys to make hay on the government teet?

  2. Interesting stuff, especially given that the official line currently is that it is beyond to the pale to even contemplate the possibility of manipulation of BLS data.

    In looking at the above, Nixon and his cronies not only believed the BLS was quite capable of manipulating economic data to hurt Nixon politically, they also seem to have actively tried to counter it by purging Democrats and Jews at the BLS. Though this was many decades ago, in light of this incident, I don't see why the BLS should be taken to be impervious to political manipulation.

    Also, while we can dismiss Nixon's fears of a "Jewish Cabal" as silly bigotry, Nixon's administration cronies seemed to actually favor a more realistic scenario that Democrats at the BLS were biased and perhaps wanted to make Nixon look bad for political reasons. As per the Malek memo to Haldeman linked to above, the political composition of the BLS allegedly was 25 Democrats vs. 4 Independents; 5 Unregistered; and only 1 Republican. Such a lopsided skew of BLS employees being Democrats certainly would seem to be a source of potential conscious and unconscious bias for all sorts of reasons. Presumably, the political composition of the BLS has changed to a far less skewed distribution in the intervening years, but it is quite possible it hasn't.

  3. The WaPo article suggests two things:

    1. Only one U.S. president tried to manipulate the BLS.

    2. Jack Welch's charge is motivated by anti-Semitism.

    Nothing new under the sun: WaPo uses disinformation and smear tactics to defend the State and discredit another "conspiracy theorist."