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Sunday, March 07, 2004

Martha, My Dear

Not a good thing for Martha Stewart.

I'd be more impressed if people who actually bilked investors, employees, and the general public out of real money got sent to prison. At the risk of sounding like a Congressman, $51K (times a few) is chump change, not only to someone like Stewart, but compared to the (mostly male, by the way) Enron, Tyco, and Worldcom bandits.

Martha Stewart is a symbol of a lot of things - impressario of style; a life, for working and especially professional women, to simultaneously aspire to and to envy; a class of connected insiders who can put its thumbs on the scales of the market while the ordinary investor gets left holding the bag; a conniving matriarch straight out of a primetime soap opera; the ultimate arrogant celebrity who thought she was above the law.

Consequently, I detect more than a little symbolism in her prosecution, trial, and conviction. I can't say Stewart didn't get what she deserved, but I have to wonder what would have happened with these exact facts if Stewart were a more typical executive, a relatively low-profile man.

On another note, you know what would be a better place to punish Martha Stewart than a few years in a minimum-security prison? Force her to live on $15,000 or so a year in a rural area for the rest of her life.

Legal experts are arguing over whether the defense strategy - short defense, not calling Stewart or her co-defendant, broker Peter Bacanovic, letting the case go to trial in the first place - made any sense. I don't know everything the defense team did by any means, and I have to say that after O.J., Ray Lewis, Robert Durst (the Texas billionaire who claimed to have killed his neighbor in self-defense but then chopped up his body and disposed of it), and others, I was convinced that the rich and famous could get away with pretty much anything.

I have to co-workers who are convinced that this whole episode is bad news for the Bush administration, that this jury is symbolic of a larger public that is tired of having one set of rules for the wealthy and powerful, and another, harsher set for everyone else. I remain unconvinced of this, since this jury is New Yorkers, and dislike for Martha Stewart just cuts across class, cultural, and political barriers.


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