Sports pages more interested than news pages in Republican threats to baseball over Soros bid for Nationals; Fred Malek's ugly history swept under rug

When Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA) threatened Major League Baseball's (MLB) antitrust exemption over a bid by a group including George Soros to buy the Washington Nationals, one might have considered it significant news. As the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call reported (subscription required) on June 27, Republicans were not pleased to hear that Soros was a part of a bidding group:

While the Soros-[Jonathan] Ledecky group is not seen as the frontrunner to win the bidding for the Nationals, who should be awarded to their new owner at the end of the 2005 season, the very prospect that Soros could have a stake in the team is enough to irritate Congressional Republicans.

“I think Major League Baseball understands the stakes,” said Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis (R), the Northern Virginia lawmaker who recently convened high-profile steroid hearings. “I don't think they want to get involved in a political fight.”

Davis, whose panel also oversees District of Columbia issues, said that if a Soros sale went through, “I don't think it's the Nats that get hurt. I think it's Major League Baseball that gets hurt. They enjoy all sorts of exemptions” from anti-trust laws.

Indeed, Hill Republicans could potentially make life difficult for MLB in a variety of ways. In addition to being exempt from anti-trust rules, baseball is still under scrutiny over the steroid issue. The Nats, meanwhile, hope to have a publicly-funded stadium built soon, though money for that venture is expected to come through the sale of bonds rather than a federal outlay.

Still, Rep. John Sweeney (R-N.Y.), vice chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee that covers the District of Columbia budget, said if Soros buys the team and seeks public funding for the new stadium or anything else, the GOP attitude would be, “Let him pay for it.”

“We're not going to interfere with [the sale], but from a fan's perspective, who needs the politics?” Sweeney said.

Another senior Republican lawmaker who requested anonymity said that the league should be aware of the perception problem that might be associated with selling the Nats to Soros.

“Why would Major League Baseball want to get involved with George Soros?” said the lawmaker. “It's about more than just the sale price.”

Davis later told The Washington Post, “I mean, to me, Soros is the guy who has so much money and wants to buy the world ... I mean that's not what baseball's about. This is above all a fan sport. This is the Nationals, and they're going to give it to some multinational?”

These are remarkable statements, particularly considering that the best-known owner in baseball, the New York Yankees' George Steinbrenner, pleaded guilty in 1974 to making illegal contributions to Richard Nixon's re-election campaign and obstruction of justice (Steinbrenner was later pardoned by President Reagan).

In addition to Steinbrenner, other controversial baseball owners have not raised the Republicans' ire. Japanese billionaire and former Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi bought the Seattle Mariners in 1992 and sold his controlling share in November 2004. Rupert Murdoch (like Soros a naturalized U.S. citizen), who controls a conservative media empire including Fox News Channel, the New York Post, and The Weekly Standard, purchased the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1998, then sold the team in 2004, retaining minority ownership.

Further, Soros is not the only bidder for the Nationals whose political efforts have been worth noting. Fred Malek, whose place in history was assured during his service in the Nixon administration, leads another bidding group. President Nixon, convinced that a “Jewish cabal” in the Bureau of Labor Statistics was rigging economic figures to subvert him, ordered Malek to produce a list of every Jew in the agency. Malek did so; some of the people on the list were later demoted.

But if one thought that the story of Republican threats over Soros would be news, and that Malek's history would also be relevant, one would be mistaken. Only six newspapers -- The New York Times, the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, USA Today, the Toledo Blade, the Fresno Bee and the Sarasota, Florida, Herald-Tribune -- have reported the controversy surrounding the Republicans' statements about Soros and baseball on their news pages. Of those, USA Today referred to Malek only as a “GOP activist and former Nixon aide,” and the Times called him “a former aide to President Richard M. Nixon.” The Blade referred to Malek's history as a “major Republican donor and former Nixon aide once ordered to investigate a possible 'Jewish cabal' in the Labor Department” but did not mention him by name, identifying him only as the head of one of the bidding groups. The other papers did not mention Malek at all.

One would have had slightly better luck finding a full airing of this issue on the sports pages. Two papers -- The Washington Post and The Boston Globe -- had sports stories that discussed Malek's “service” to Nixon. The Washington Times, the Washington Examiner and the South Bend Tribune (Indiana) mentioned Malek's bid while reporting about the Soros controversy in their sports pages, but without discussing Malek's history with Nixon, and seven other papers' sports pages wrote about the controversy without mentioning Malek.

Other than Globe sportswriter Gordon Edes and Post sportswriter Sally Jenkins, the only other journalist to explore Malek's past with regard to this story has been Timothy Noah of