Does anyone think it somewhat odd and curious that the New York tabloids eulogized the death of organized crime boss John Gotti for page after page, but those very same tabs saw fit to trash successful businesswoman Martha Stewart over a relatively modest stock sale?
Gotti, who pursued a life of crime on a full-time basis, was convicted of murder and racketeering in 1992. He was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole and sent to federal prison in Marion, Ill., where he remained until his recent death from cancer.
Stewart, a rags-to-riches success story that is as American as cherry pie, runs an award-winning magazine, has penned best-selling books, produces and stars in an Emmy Award-winning television show, writes a syndicated newspaper column, speaks on a national radio show, publishes a mail-order catalogue and is the CEO of the publicly held Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. Her work springs from traditional family values and the home pursuits of housekeeping, cooking, gardening, decorating and entertaining.
Eulogizing Gotti and villainizing Stewart? What's wrong with this picture?
This is what's wrong. Too many reporters and commentators are too quick to express their contempt for a true, American-made success story. They're jealous, and Stewart's an easy target. Attempts to place her in the recent wave of corporate corruption are about as accurate as nominating John Gotti for a Purple Heart.
Martha Stewart has been trying to rid herself of ImClone stock since last October, according to a Wall Street Journal story. After selling 20 percent of her holdings of the biotech company in a tender offer by Bristol Myers, she gave her broker a stop-loss order to sell her remaining position if the share price dropped below $60. On Dec. 27, the sale of a relatively small 3,928 shares of ImClone was completed for $227,824.
She is cooperating with ongoing ImClone investigations by the U.S. Attorney's Office, the SEC, and the House Commerce Committee. The FBI, which busted ImClone CEO Sam Waksal for nine counts of securities fraud and perjury in a 6:30 a.m. arrest last week, has said Stewart is not a target in the ongoing probe.
This is not a Martha Stewart stock scandal, as the New York tabloids keep headlining. This is a story about the Waksal brothers and their family members, people who allegedly attempted to parlay FDA insider communications into an illegal sale of their company's shares.
It's also a story about Erbitux, the cancer-treatment drug that ImClone couldn't land an approval for and a drug that could help millions of people survive the perilous disease, if the FDA would get its act together.
But it's not a story about a highly successful American entrepreneur gone bad. As far as we now know, Stewart has done nothing wrong -- except, that is, pursue a successful career.
Much of the media assault on Martha Stewart is personal, and it could be that there's a double standard at work here. Stewart is a woman, of course. Have there been similar media invasions of the private lives of male CEOs? Maybe there's an exception or two, but there's been nothing like the assault we've seen on Martha Stewart. Are the private lives of female CEOs fair game, but not the private lives of male CEOs? Smells like a double standard.
I have never met Martha Stewart, and I don't own any ImClone or Omnimedia stock. I'm also sorry to learn from press reports that Stewart is a Clinton Democrat, while I am a Reagan Republican. So why am I worked up over this? Because I don't think it's fair to wreck anybody's hard-earned reputation with a bunch of innuendos, half-truths and other snippets of misinformation. Journalists are supposed to have standards. Somewhere in the mix there has to be a telling of the truth.
In a recent press release, Stewart criticized "an enormous amount of misinformation and confusion" about her role in the ImClone mess. She goes on to say that she "had no insider information. My sale of ImCone stock was entirely proper and lawful." Law-enforcement examination of Stewart's cell-phone calls, travel schedule and various documents bear this out.
I noticed that year-to-date the stock of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (MSO) has dropped 2.7 percent, which is a better performance than the S&P 500, which has fallen nearly 11 percent. I also see that the company's share price went up a buck and change on Wednesday. Good. Let's hope this is the beginning of a well-earned recovery.