LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES
Why do People Love to Hate Martha Stewart?
Aired June 4, 2003 - 20:02 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: The latest in the Martha Stewart story. We got word a short while ago that Stewart is preparing to step down as chairwoman and chief executive of her company, Martha Stewart OmniMedia.
The professional homemaker was slapped today with criminal and civil charges connected to alleged inside trading. She says she's not guilty. But, go ahead admit it, some of you felt a certain bit of glee when you heard she had been indicted.
She is a polarizing figure, no doubt about it. What is it about Martha Stewart that some people just love to hate? CNN's Charles Feldman takes a look.
MARTHA STEWART, ENTREPRENEUR: It's a good thing.
CHARLES FELDMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the subject of Martha Stewart, the world seems divided. Hearing her signature slogan "It's a good thing" either makes you want to embrace her or slap her silly.
Those who look up to her see a powerful female role model who created her famous persona of perfection. But others seen a darker side, a mean-spirited side that conjures up images of Leona Helmsley, another high-powered woman the media crowned "the Queen of Mean."
Some suggest that if Martha Stewart was a man, her ambitions would be praised and rewarded, and sexism surely plays some role in the way some respond to Stewart.
But as this "Tonight Show" sketch shows, some people love to hate Martha because she's an easy target.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a good thing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Miss Stewart, we're with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nobody move or the ginger gingerbread man gets it! I swear!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now take it easy.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm not (expletive deleted) around.
FELDMAN: Questions are already being raised about whether the feds are being too hard on Stewart. By the scales of modern-day Wall Street scandals her's doesn't exactly rank among the worst. Some suggest the that feds want to make an example of the priestess of home decorating while others argue she's already paid a steep price for a relatively minor transgression.
While the alleged insider-inspired sale of her ImClone stock netted her about a quarter of a million dollars, since the scandal erupted, shareholders of Martha Stewart's company, including her, have lost about $450 million in stock value.
Now that's hardly a good thing.
Charles Feldman, CNN, Los Angeles.
COOPER: He did the cliche. He said it's not a good thing.
Not every one loves to hate Martha Stewart. In fact, some people fell downright sorry for her. One of them is my next guest, Dennis Kneale. He's the managing editor of "Forbes" magazine and he joins us in studio.
Dennis, thanks for being with us.
DENNIS KNEALE, MANAGING EDITOR, "FORBES": Thank you, Anderson.
COOPER: Putting aside you feel sorry for you, what do you think the future of the company is? We just heard, got this word in the last hour...
KNEALE: Martha's going to step down as CEO. Now that likely means the No. 2 executive, Sharon Patrick, president and chief operation officer, will take over.
Now Sharon Patrick is a real dynamo. She is a former McKenzie consultant. And she kind of masterminded the entire creation of this company, along with Martha, her good friend, when they decide they wanted to tear off from Time Warner and create their own company. So she's been deeply involved.
Martha will still be there to put her imprimatur on everything and she'll be there as the spokesman, but maybe now she'll step aside and let professional business people run her business.
COOPER: She has pleaded not guilty to these charges. Do you think she could have stayed on?
KNEALE: You know, I kind of wish she'd hung in there and fought it because I don't think the that feds are going to get her. I think the criminal case, frankly, is kind of bogus and is a real stretch. They've done really almost some mean-spirited things. Not since Kenneth Starr went after Bill Clinton have we seen this kind of prosecutorial aggressiveness.
Now on the civil side, I think they've got a weak case there, as well. A lot of people are upset at Martha because we've all lost a lot of money in our stock accounts and retirement accounts. We need a scapegoat to blame. At the end of the '80s it was Mike Milken. Now it's Martha Stewart and she makes a very handy target.
But what she did is so tiny compared with the big guns they're bring against her...
COOPER: Well are you saying she's being targeted because of her fame?
KNEALE: Entirely. The U.S. attorney said today, this is not about Martha and who she is. Oh, yes it is. It's entirely about that. If you look in "The Wall Street Journal" today, you'll see a little blurb on C9 about another insider trading case, about a guy who did a far worse things than Martha did. He did three deals inside his company when they were going to takeovers, he made 150,000 in profits, he set up a secret account through his parents' name in Taiwan. And this is a SEC complaint, not criminal, no press conference, no nothing.
COOPER: Were you surprised by the charges? I mean nine-count indictment by federal government, none of which says insider trading.
KNEALE: I tell you, this indictment does a lot of creative writing far better than I can do.
Here's the biggest surprise, one -- they charged Martha Stewart with securities fraud. So where's this fraud I wanted to see? It turns out because Martha came out last June and said, I'm innocent, I didn't do this, they're saying that that's fraud, that she's trying to get people to buy stock in Martha Stewart...
KNEALE: alleging with (UNINTELLIGIBLE). She's saying what she believes. In fact, I heard over that the weekend they were this close to a settlement. But what happened was Martha appealed to Washington because she said, I cannot truthfully say I lied because I didn't lie.
Now I think that it would have been easy for Martha to make this go away. That she instead let this happen makes me think she truly feels she is innocent.
Today she went into court and pleaded not guilty. Are the feds going to attack on another charge of securities fraud because she dares resist their charges? There's kind of a strange thing going on here.
COOPER: All right, Dennis Kneale of "Forbes" magazine. Thanks a lot.
KNEALE: Thanks, Anderson.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com