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on the radar

7.16.04 | Martha Stewart today was sentenced to five months in federal prison, five months of home confinement, and two years of supervised probation for lying to investigators about the sale of ImClone Systems stock in 2001. She was also fined $30,000.

Ms. magazine's position has been that the prosecution of Stewart was selective. Editor Elaine Lafferty, in an open letter written earlier this year supporting Stewart, said, "Plenty of other powerful people -- usually men -- have broken SEC rules, but Martha Stewart was a convictable target. She was made an example -- and we believe that it's not because of what she did so much as who she is."

Ms. magazine.com readers agreed. More than 82 percent of 5,485 poll respondents said Stewart was subjected to a "bitch hunt."

"I'll be back. I will be back," said Stewart outside the federal courthouse in New York after her sentencing. "Whatever I have to do in the next few months, I hope the months go by quickly. I'm used to all kinds of hard work, as you know, and I'm not afraid. I'm not afraid whatsoever. I'm just very very sorry that it's come to this, that a small personal matter has been able to be blown out of all proportion, and with such venom and such gore. I mean it's just terrible." (Read the full statement here.)

Listen to Elaine Lafferty discuss Martha Stewart's sentence on The Brian Lehrer Show (WNYC) .


An Open Letter from Ms. in Support of Martha Stewart

Let's make it clear at the start: Martha Stewart has never been a feminist icon.

While we may like her K-Mart paints or appreciate some of her suggestions for décor, she's never made the short list for Ms. Woman of the Year. It doesn't mean we don't consider her a feminist -- we have no idea what Ms. Stewart calls herself -- it's just that domestic perfection hasn't been one of our top priorities.

That said, we're outraged about her recent prosecution and conviction. It's time for women to speak out.  

The issue is proportionality. John Ashcroft's Justice Department spent millions of dollars overzealously pursuing a case in which Martha Stewart saved herself $52,000 in stock losses by following an insider stock tip. And she wasn't even prosecuted for that -- she was busted for lying about whether or not she'd sold her stock based on that tip.

We certainly believe in the judicial system, and in going after "bad guys," including rich white collar criminals who use their power and connections to make money off the backs of small investors. Let's just go after the real bad guys, and put Martha Stewart into perspective.

For example, we can't wait for indictments to come down on Bush crony Kenneth Lay of Enron, contributed thousands to the Republican Party, who sold off $80 million in company stock while telling his employees to keep buying. When those employees found out that Enron's profits were created by smoke-and-mirror accounting, many lost their retirement nest eggs.

We're also concerned about Vice President Dick Cheney's sale of Halliburton stock in 2000, on which he made $18.5 million. The price of stock then was $52/share; sixty days later, when reports of poor earnings surfaced, it dropped to $13/share.

Ordinary investors lost their life savings. Mr. Cheney is now being sued in civil court--but not by the federal government -- for being part of a conspiracy to overstate company profits.

And lest you think we're only looking at Republicans, we couldn't fail to notice how Democratic National Chairman Terry McAuliffe invested $100,000 in the now-bankrupt Global Crossing -- but got out with an $18 million profit while leaving other investors holding the bag.

None of these people have been prosecuted by the state, though. Instead, the government threw its full weight behind the case against a powerful woman. This was not a serious case that protected Americans against criminals. This was a bitch hunt.

Martha Stewart, after all, is a woman-you-love-to-hate. Despite her fans, a Gallup poll reported that 55 percent of Americans have an unfavorable opinion of her.

The fact is that there is a reserve of cultural hostility toward powerful women -- particularly if their personalities border on arrogance, as many would say Martha's does. Martha was portrayed in court as being haughty, a diva, a snob. One juror noted that she took a tax deduction for her vacation. We wonder; what about all those CEOs who deduct their membership at country clubs like Augusta that discriminate against women?

Juries reflect social prejudices -- witness the racial whitewashes of the 60s in the South -- and those prejudices fall hard on women who step outside proscribed gender roles.

Imagine a man in Martha Stewart's position. Would Donald Trump be pre-judged guilty for arrogance and conspicuous consumption? Better still, would Martha Stewart be considered decisive and even charming when she says "You're fired!" to a reality show contestant vying for her favor? Hardly.

We're conditioned to not like that sort of power in women. The government prosecutors who decided to make an example of Martha Stewart knew that.

Plenty of other powerful people -- usually men -- have broken SEC rules, but Martha Stewart was a convictable target. She was made an example -- and we believe that it's not because of what she did so much as who she is.

We believe this prosecution did send a message. The message is one of fear, and intimidation to those who stand up to the government. Don't stand up for yourself and protest your innocence. Don't be a successful, arrogant, unlikable woman -- that will just make the government more vindictive.

These are scary times we're living in. Our government is creating and exploiting fear. If you're on a list of people who support progressive causes, you could potentially not be allowed on an airplane flight. If you're accused of being a terrorist -- just accused -- you aren't even allowed a lawyer. As I write this, I anticipate my name will move to the top of the list for an IRS audit.  

But it's time for all of us to speak out against fear and intimidation. And it's time for Ms. to join the chorus of those who believe that Martha Stewart was taken down because she's that bitchy Martha Stewart. The punishment should fit the crime, and Martha Stewart going to prison is wildly wrong, overzealous and disproportionate.

Elaine Lafferty
Editor in Chief

Update: The response has been overwhelming and positive. Many Ms. magazine readers wrote to say they were pleased that feminist voices were speaking out in support of a woman who we believe has been selectively prosecuted by John Ashcroft's Justice Department. Perhaps most touching were the many letters from some of Martha's loyal fans who, not overly familiar with Ms. magazine or the activist women's movement, said they wanted to know more about feminism. One woman said she was driving 38 miles to a bookstore to buy a copy of Ms.! Supporters also signed petitions at the March for Women's Lives in April, requesting that Stewart receive a suspended sentence.



Related
Read the transcript of Martha Stewart's interview on Larry King Live following her sentencing. CNN's "Martha on Trial" section has stories about the trial as well as a timeline of Stewart's life and business empire.
Visit Martha Stewart's own website about the case, MarthaTalks.com. A fan site, SaveMartha.com, asks President Bush to pardon Stewart.