Jewish World Review June 13, 2003 / 13 Sivan, 5763

Barry Lank

Barry Lank
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Consumer Reports

The conspiracies that surround Martha Stewart | Guess you're feeling smug because Martha Stewart got indicted and resigned as CEO of her company, while the rest of us are too dumb and lazy to have gotten into that kind of trouble. But conspiracy theories about her indictment are growing.

You see, Attorney General John Ashcroft is using Stewart "as a scapegoat for real criminals such as Ken Lay who still owns four luxury homes in Aspen and lives the life of Riley in spite of defrauding tens of thousands of workers of their pensions and retirement funds," says Linda Jeschofnig.

As Kim Skinner sees it, though, "Women everywhere are watching the double-standard unfold and how Ms. Stewart is being treated, and this case is now extremely important in the precedent it sets for successful women business owners, homemakers (and the value in their job and needs), etc."

These are just two of the countless people who have written in to, a Web page set up in July in the wake of what was then just a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into Stewart's sale of ImClone stock. The site's founder and editor, John Small, said it had about a million hits Wednesday and Thursday as Stewart's indictment was handed down.

"I think there's a backlash coming, saying this isn't fair," said Small, who also founded to support Rosie O'Donnell after she lost her magazine and TV show.

While about 20 percent of the messages people have sent to have been to the effect that "The witch should hang," Small said, the rest have been words of outrage, support ("Anyone who has anything bad to say about Martha, my heroine, is a bad, un-Christian person," writes Pam Wright; "Leave the Martha alone," says Joe McCarley) - and conspiracy theories.

The main theory involves the feminist angle. "If the latest news headlines prove anything, they reveal that the idea of the female executive in America is under attack," writes Small, an author and marketing consultant who first became a fan of Stewart's about eight years ago when professional admiration led him to study how she marketed her company. ("Her marketing of herself leaves much to be desired," he added during an interview from New York.)

But correspondents also insist this is a ploy to bury other major corporate scandals. There are so many e-mails working this angle that Small said he can't even post them all. "They're almost universally about Halliburton and why isn't the government going after that like it is with this," Small said. On his Web page, he also notes that, a year after Enron lost investors $65 billion (contrasted with Stewart's estimated savings of $45,000 for selling her stock early), no one from that company is in jail.

Then there's the idea that Stewart has been a significant Democratic fund raiser, and now a highly partisan Republican presidential administration is prosecuting her. Coincidence?

So far, Stewart has not contacted Small about his page (though he says Rosie O'Donnell writes to him all the time). But at Stewart's own, a letter from her lawyers Robert G. Morvillo and John J. Tigue sounds like it would be right at home at

"Why then has the government, after nearly a year and a half, chosen to file these charges? Is it for publicity purposes because Martha Stewart is a celebrity? Is it because she is a woman who has successfully competed in a man's business world by virtue of her talent, hard work and demanding standards? Is it because the government would like to be able to define securities fraud as whatever it wants it to be? Or is it because the Department of Justice is attempting to divert the public's attention from its failure to charge the politically connected managers of Enron and WorldCom who may have fleeced the public out of billions of dollars?"

There are indeed a lot of theories out there. "Pick one," Small said. "They're all probably true.

JWR contributor Barry Lank is an editorial writer and humor columnist based at the Courier-Post in Cherry Hill, NJ. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Barry Lank