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Interview with Janet Norwood, Former Commissioner of the BLS

Janet Norwood was chief of the consumer price index division at the Bureau of Labor Statistics when Peter Henle and Harold Goldstein were reassigned in 1971; she went on to be commissioner from 1979 to 1991. She also reviewed the Abuse of Power tapes to get more information about the period.
Her primary assessment of the events is that the reassignments had much more to do with Henle and Goldstein’s contradicting the administration than with the later-revealed fact that they were on a list of Jews prepared by Fred Malek. As with the contemporary Time report discussed earlier, Norwood felt that Goldstein’s referring to a .2% drop in unemployment as a “mixed picture” was what got him on Nixon’s bad side. Indeed, the 1988 report by Bob Woodward and Walter Pincus backs this up — it was apparently Goldstein’s actions that actually got Nixon started on the idea of a “Jewish cabal.” His March statements led to a July order for the list of Jews and a September reorganization that had half his duties — the part running current employment statistics — assigned to someone else, and his monthly press conference was cancelled somewhere in there. “He wasn’t demoted economically, but he considered it, everyone considered it, a demotion,” she said.
What Norwood revealed about Henle seems never to have been reported: “he told me that he had written a memo or something to the secretary explaining Hal’s side of it,” she said, asserting that “when Peter got involved, he stood up for the people at the BLS.” Soon after, Norwood said, “and Peter, who had wanted to go to [the] Brookings [Institution, on a six-month leave], was, I think, pushed a bit further” to take the leave of absence immediately and for a year-long period…I know that Peter was very unhappy…he was really quite unhappy about the changes at that time.”
As to their Jewish status, she said, “we now know that it probably was a factor, and maybe it was more of a factor than I think…they certainly believed that the bureau was full of Jews…I think the problem was that they couldn’t develop a list, because how would they know…many of them had last names that were quite Americanized, so how would they know?…I suspect that they would have liked to have known, they just couldn’t.”
But the view commonly held in the BLS, and by Henle and Goldstein, was that “the real issue is that Nixon was in control, and he did not like anyone doing anything that he didn’t like.” In her review of the tapes, she said, it’s clear that this was very much Nixon’s decision: “It was quite clear that he was the person who was upset, it was he himself, and that he was upset because he felt…and he said…’Don’t they know whom they work for?’”
“When Harold Goldstein said that the unemployment data were not…significant…what he meant was not statistically significant…Nixon hit the ceiling,” she said, adding “It was just Nixon’s being absolutely furious that anyone in the Bureau of Labor Statistics could say anything different from what he said.”
As said above, the semi-reorganization of a part of the BLS and the cancellation of the monthly press conference were seen as direct results of Goldstein’s March statement. But there was more: “we for the first time were told that we would have meetings to review the data before the release came out with the secretary…that had never happened before.”
There was some retaliation: Senator William Proxmire, who headed the Joint Economic Committee, decided to call monthly hearings in which the head of employment statistics would be called to testify. “In a way it was better than the press conferences,” she said, because reporters were only looking for the details they needed to file, while the members of Congress got angry and worked-up on both sides of the aisle.
“Some years later,” she said, “when I was commissioner, I reestablished the press conferences.”

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