The Martha Stewart Witch-Hunt
By Rachel Marsden
Sickening. That's the only word I can think of to adequately describe what I witnessed today--over and over again, in dramatic slow motion, on every single television news channel. No, it wasn't a ghastly scene from the latest terrorist bombing; nor was it another graphic revelation from the Laci Peterson autopsy report. The gut-wrenching, jaw-dropping scene that streaked relentlessly across my TV screen ad nauseum was that of Martha Stewart doing the "perp walk" into a Manhattan courthouse to be indicted by a grand jury on nine criminal charges related to the sale of a biotechnology stock--all while those who have done the most damage to investors and investor confidence in corporate America continue to roam free.
I am by no means what you would call a "feminist", in the popular sense of the word. I've never entertained the thought of trying to whip up a soufflé a la Martha. In fact, I've never purchased a cookbook in my life. I was my high-school sewing teacher's worst nightmare--nearly wedging a finger under the sewing machine needle on more than a few occasions, and spending more time that semester seam-ripping out my screwups then actually creating anything. In that sense, Martha and I couldn't be further apart. But this isn't about me being a fan of Martha's (although I certainly do admire her), or about formulating a gender-based argument in order to further some kind of feminazi agenda. This is about fairness--plain and simple. And what is happening to Martha Stewart is glaringly unjust.
There's little doubt in my mind that if Martha was one of the "ol' boys," she wouldn't be in the situation she is right now. In this sense, the Martha Stewart witch-hunt is, in part, underpinned by the fact that she is a woman playing a man's game. However, I seriously doubt that you'd ever see Oprah in a similar situation. Why? Because the public would never stand for it, and the feds know it. There would be riots in the streets. Oprah is open and honest about her many faults and imperfections. She's cried live on national television on various occasions; and in an ongoing battle with her weight, she has expanded and contracted right in front of our eyes more times than the Golden Gate Bridge in the springtime.
By contrast, Martha exudes perfection. Even when faced with the worst kind of adversity, Martha Stewart is cool and stylish: She arrived at the courthouse toting a perfectly matching umbrella to shield herself from the swarming paparazzi. If men hate Martha because she's managed to wedge herself into a prominent place at their business table, women hate her because she represents an unattainable standard of domestic utopia and career/professional overachievement. She's everything they could never be--no matter how hard they tried.
The federal government should never have spent a single dime pursuing charges against Martha Stewart until every last Enron, WorldCom, Tyco, and Adelphi executive had been thoroughly investigated and brought to justice. Martha Stewart did not leave pensioners penniless and cause power brownouts in the State of California. Ken Lay and his boys at Enron did. Internal Enron documents show that the company had a hand in manipulating California's energy market with such maneuvers as transferring energy outside the state to evade price caps and creating phony "congestion" on power lines.
And what about Enron auditor--Arthur Andersen, LLP? While Martha was baking cookies, these guys were apparently cooking the books. As Martha grated cheese to top off her salads, the people at Arthur Andersen were more concerned with shredding incriminating papers. Prosecutors alleged that Andersen employees had destroyed the Enron documents when they learned the SEC was going to investigate the failing Houston energy trading company that filed for bankruptcy in December, 2001. So after colluding in one of the biggest corporate meltdowns in American history, the accounting firm was convicted of obstructing justice and slapped with a measly $500,000 fine and five years' probation! Meanwhile, billionaire Martha is accused of making a lousy $229,000 in a stock sale that is unrelated to her business. The only thing that has brought down the stock value of Martha's company over the past year is the witch-hunt to which she has been relentlessly subjected.
The nature of the overzealous Martha Stewart dirt-digging crusade becomes pretty obvious when looking at the indictment. The entire investigation into Martha's sale of Imclone stock the day before share values dropped was predicated on the notion that she had engaged in insider trading--that she had privileged information that led her to sell the stock when she did. However, not a single one of the nine charges detailed in the 41-page indictment is related to insider trading. What it looks like instead is that the investigators really wanted to get this woman badly, and because they were unable to prove that she had ever engaged in insider trading, they figured they'd just start flinging garbage from their dumpster-diving mission against the wall anyway--hoping some of it would actually stick.
According to the document, Martha is charged with various offenses related to covering up a "crime" that she never committed in the first place. The most laughable of all the charges is that of "securities fraud," outlined on page 36 (paragraph 60):
"In an effort to stop or at least slow the steady erosion of MSLO's stock price caused by investor concerns, STEWART made or caused to be made a series of false or misleading public statements during June 2002 regarding her sale of ImClone stock on December 27, 2001 that concealed that STEWART had been provided information regarding the sale and attempted sale of the Waksal shares and that STEWART had sold her ImClone stock in possession of that information. STEWART made these false statements with the intent to defraud and deceive purchasers of MSLO common stock..."
In other words, in this great land of freedom and democracy, Martha Stewart is being strung-up for speaking out and steadfastly proclaiming her innocence when faced with serious allegations of insider trading--charges that she has apparently been cleared of anyway, by virtue of not having been charged, even after an extensive, costly, year-long probe.
The entire indictment smacks of someone trying to drive in a thumbtack with a jackhammer. It appears that the feds are going after Martha with guns-a-blazing because they know people will pay attention to the case. Whereas news of any Enron or WorldCom indictments typically don't make it out of the business section of newspapers, news of a Martha Stewart arrest will be a cover story worldwide. The case will likely be used as a "Securities 101" teaching tool for the public and for the business community, at the expense of a person's life and livelihood. "The Martha Stewart Trial" will end up being one of the most expensive reality TV shows ever produced by the government. And how could the media possibly resist the phantasmagoric notion of one of the most powerful and successful businesswomen in the world decking out her cellmates' quarters in pretty pastel colors in a special episode of "Trading Spaces: Attica"?
The reactions to Martha Stewart's indictment are very disturbing. In informal discussion with friends and acquaintances, and on message boards all over the Internet, I've noticed that people seem to want Martha to go down in flames. The Hang-em'-High Petes are out in full-force. The vast majority of these knee-jerk reactions seem to be coming from people who know little or nothing about the case, but are using it to project their long-held personal feelings about Martha Stewart. If this describes you, please get a grip. Take a deep breath, and try going back through all those newspaper business sections that you skipped over because you couldn't have cared less what the boys of Enron, WorldCom, Tyco, etc. were getting away with while the government was wasting your tax dollars to go after Martha.