Jewish World Review March 8, 2004/ 15 Adar, 5764

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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MARTHA, MARTHA, MARTHA! | We are flummoxed — what to wear and where to sit at homosexual weddings What is the answer when ushers query, "Friend of the bride or groom?" Who is the groom when women marry women? Is it always the one in the tux? Are "His" and "Hers" towels as wedding gifts out, as it were, for gay couples?

As we percolate in our quandary, Turkey Hill Farm lies dark. The Connecticut charmer and domestic doyenne, guru of taste and gracious living, Martha Stewart, landed four felony convictions which should yield a stint in Leona Helmsley's old digs in Club Fed.

Martha's story and fate make for a fine bedtime fable for the tots of America, "Listen my children and you shall hear, of the midnight trades of ImClone stock by our domestic diva dear." Her story has the makings of all that is right about America. Thrown in for good measure are smidgens on consequences and accountability, and all from a liberal broad.

The good in Martha's story is that a girl from Jersey made it to the big leagues. She had to lose the accent along the way, and some serious blonde highlights helped, but, a woman from a cramped urban row house made it to the billionaire club. Martha reeks of American entrepreneurship. Talent and hard work let her soar. As I glance at the cover of the February issue of Martha Stewart Living, the simple glass jar filled with candy hearts serving as an unassuming and inspired vase for roses in matching pastels, I realize, "Dang, this woman is a felon, but she does have a brilliant ability to use simple, everyday items to create elegance."

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Martha has shown that our magnificent criminal justice system works. No man, woman, bisexual or transsexual is above the law. Fame and billions are irrelevant, unless Johnnie Cochran agrees to represent you. A jury of Martha's peers (well, at least of voters and drivers in Manhattan) found Martha and her stock broker guilty of lying about their stock trades.

Martha teaches that harsh consequences befall the greedy. Martha heard from her broker that Sam Waksal, the then-CEO of ImClone, Inc., and a man who is also now doing hard time, was selling off his ImClone shares. How much Martha knew about the reasons may remain a mystery, but Waksal knew that the FDA was going to put the big kibosh the following day on ImClone's new miracle anti-cancer drug, Erbitux. Without FDA approval, there would be no sales, and, without sales, companies don't make money (except of course in the dot-com era when everyone made money just by being a dot-com).

Martha, fearing the loss of her $229,000 investment in ImClone, ordered her broker, on December 27, 2001, to dump the shares, just one day before the FDA public announcement. The marching orders came after Martha belittled the poor lad for the Muzak she heard while on hold.

If Martha had waited one day for the Dec. 28th FDA announcement, she could have sold the stock for $189,000, an amount $40,000 less than she made by jumping to beat out the little guys. Ah, greed's folly. To billionaire Martha, that $40,000 was like a Blockbuster rental fee to you and to me.

The great ironies, which must be told to our little ankle biters as part of the folklore and legend we pass to the next generation, are that ImClone stock is doing very well now — Martha should have hung onto it — and that her own company, Martha Stewart Omnimedia, has tanked.

On December 27, 2001, Omnimedia stock was selling at $70 per share. It was at $9.11 in December 2003 as Martha gave her phony TV interviews, and, on March 5, 2004, the day her guilty verdict was announced, trading was halted at $10.68 per share. For $40,000 at the expense of others, and with utter disregard for the importance of level playing fields for investors and markets, Martha lost a company and a fortune.

I have predicted in speeches for the past 18 months that Martha Stewart would go down in flames. She was not prosecuted because she is a powerful woman. If such is the case, as groom Rosie O'Donnell asserts, then praise be! Affirmative action lives for business felons. Sisters, we have arrived at equality — we have the right to be indicted just like the Enron guys.

Use Martha to teach our children not to miscalculate the powerful force of truth. Martha's lies sealed her fate, not her stock trades. Had she come clean on selling the stock with inside information when she was asked by investigators and prosecutors, she would have been slapped with a consent decree and a fine. But, she lied and tried to alter records. Prosecution followed.

Hubris done her in, as Eliza Doolittle says. Martha was as impatient with prosecutors as she was about the Muzak with her broker. She belittled them for wasting her time because, said she, "I have a company to run." Not any more!

Martha's ostentatious displays of wealth before the plebeians who would decide her fate were poor form. Flaunting wealth is unabashedly indiscreet. Wearing a mink scarf and an $11,000 leather purse to court screams, "I don't care!" Either the jury or PETA would get her.

Martha's story has George-Washington-cherry-tree-immortality potential for teaching children. Cheaters suffer dearly for temporary gains. Truth percolates. Lying is risky. Justice is blind. Martha has given us a fabulous recipe for teaching our children moral absolutes.

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JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.

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© 2004, Marianne M. Jennings