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June 30, 2005
Noah: Spread The Smears Around

I wrote Tuesday about the idiocy of House Republicans who made an issue of George Soros' participation in am ownership group for the Washington Nationals, the transplanted Montreal Expos major-league baseball team which brought the American pastime back to the American capital. The silly objections of Reps. John Sweeney and Tom Davis have created a controversy over the role of politics in the team's bidding process, which NY Times reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg covers in a front-page article:

Some Republicans went so far as to suggest that Major League Baseball, which owns the team, could lose its antitrust exemption if it permits Mr. Soros, who would be a part-owner with a group of investors headed by a local entrepreneur, to buy it - a threat that drew immediate ridicule in the sports pages and outrage from Democrats.

By Wednesday, one Republican, Representative Tom Davis of Virginia, backed away from that suggestion, saying he never intended any threat. But Mr. Davis and other Republicans did not back down from their criticism of Mr. Soros, who, they took pains to note, has been convicted of insider trading in France - a ruling he is appealing - and has supported ballot initiatives to legalize medical marijuana.

"We finally got a winning team," Representative Davis said. "Now they're going to hand it over to a convicted felon who wants to legalize drugs and who lives in New York and spent $5 million trying to defeat the president? How's he going to get him out to the opening game?"

Davis apparently couldn't be convinced to leave well enough alone. Frankly, no one cares whether Soros has a French conviction for insider trading. George Steinbrenner is a principal owner despite his felony conviction for campaign fraud on behalf of Richard Nixon. Steinbrenner is a lousy owner, but that's not the reason why, and his support of Richard Nixon shouldn't keep him from being an owner. Soros' support of MoveOn, Democrats, and fringe causes shouldn't disqualify him either, for the same reasons. No one should have to pass a political test to purchase part of a sports team, and anyone suggesting they do so doesn't represent freedom.

Why can't Davis just ... shut up?

However, even worse than Davis is the reaction from Timothy Noah at Slate. Instead of just pounding Davis for his stupidity -- a rather wide target -- Noah just decides to play the same smear game as Davis by bringing up another bidder's supposed anti-Semitism:

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 Malekwho leads the Washington Baseball Club, the group Davis clearly wants to prevailis "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 latelywith 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 journalist or 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 it's because the political blogs have more taste than Noah. Noah claims that this episode is far from "ancient history", but it happened over 32 years ago! Not to excuse Malek -- had it been me, I would have resigned rather than execute that order, regardless of who gave it -- but unless Malek still makes counting Jews in government one of his pastimes, it is a very old story. He paid for this with his dismissal from Republican leadership, which demonstrates again that the GOP does a much better job cleaning its own house than do its opponents. (Dick Durbin springs to mind here, as he's still the #2 Democrat in the Senate.)

Former peccadilloes and present politics shouldn't impact private ownership of sports clubs. Davis owes Soros an apology; at the very least, he needs to quit while he's behind. Any Republican should know better than to demand a political approval of private ownership. If MLB wants to sell its club to the Soros team, I plan on rooting against the Nats at every turn -- and it will make it that much more fun to do so. Of course, I'm a Dodger fan anyway, so that would have been a foregone conclusion.

In this case, I'd say that Stolberg took the proper action in reporting the controversy, rather than injecting herself into the story and causing it to expand. Obviously, Timothy Noah can't restrain himself from doing that. Taking cheap shots from the cheap seats demeans himself and Slate, and begging bloggers for some literary cover diminishes him even further.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 30, 2005 12:19 PM

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Tracked on June 30, 2005 4:02 PM

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