Martha Stewart on the spot: Style as the ultimate revenge

Posted: June 26, 2002

The number of envious people dying to hurl overripe fruit at Martha Stewart, even those who merely wish something dreadful would happen to her, would probably fill a good-size stadium.

They would include, I suppose, housewives who have exhausted themselves into nervous wrecks trying to accomplish all the projects she suggests are part of her routine day. Add to them people who keep messy houses because they've got better things to do with their time. Sensible feminists resent her because she carries domesticity to an absurd stage of raving neurosis. I'm just as sure there are a lot of corporate executives who put Martha down because they envy the immense shareholder value she has created on such a vapid foundation.

All these whining critics ignore far more wretched corporate examples, such as Enron, which created shareholder value out of naked deceit. There may even be enemies who've tried some of her recipes and found they tasted like soggy cardboard.

A lot of these people got their wish earlier this year when Kmart went bankrupt, exposing Martha's business judgment to the accusation that she's lousy at picking retail business partners. But they couldn't in their dreams have imagined that anyone who pretends to keep such a perfect house would find herself dragged into a scandal in which she will have to explain some stock transactions that might expose her to criminal prosecution. The image of Martha in smart prison stripes, even if she teamed up with Kmart for a fetching line of designer penitentiary wear, is more than I can bear.

I'm mystified that a woman who's never said anything more offensive than "It's a good thing," who banishes unpleasantness from her magazine, who'd probably faint at the sight of the wrong fruit floating in her punch bowl, would be the victim of such unforgiving unkindness.

I can't help suspecting it has something to do with the envy of snobs who hate it that her maiden name was Kostyra and that she married and divorced a guy with a WASP name. Now she lords it over her WASPy Connecticut neighbors and lectures women on how to saturate their lives with Anglo-Saxon taste.

Martha finally had a chance to defend herself last week when she appeared before the Mid-Year Media Review in New York, where analysts get to question executives of large, publicly held media companies. It might have been a chance for her to clear the air, but she chose instead a carefully scripted appearance from which security guards hustled her through a private entrance. Not one analyst asked about her sale of nearly 4,000 shares of ImClone Systems Inc., which she pulled off just before news got out in December that the Food and Drug Administration had denied approval of ImClone's supposed cancer-fighting breakthrough, Erbitux. Her good friend, former ImClone CEO Samuel Waksal, was hauled off in handcuffs at 6 a.m. from his Manhattan apartment after he was arrested for insider trading. This brings prosecutors perilously close to Martha's own doorstep.

At this stressful period in her life, Martha can use all the good news she can get, and she got it with the word that her company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, expects revenue growth in the second quarter of about 15 percent. Just as encouraging, second-quarter ad pages in her magazine were 12 percent higher than in the same period last year. As Martha told the analysts' meeting: "I'm here to talk about a terrific company."

There was a time when Martha might have relished appearing before a congressional committee to give celebrity testimony about some banal issue facing housewives or the interior decorating industry. She'd have lapped up the chance to promote her brand. Now the poor thing faces the possibility of being hauled before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee that is more interested in the sinister implication of her stock trades.

My advice to Martha is to ignore all the malicious gossip and be assured that living well is the best revenge. She can rejoice that all her grunt work is behind her, that she now has a staff of thousands and more lawyers than God who, if she shrieks, "Peel me a grape," will cheerfully do so.

Robert Reno is a columnist for Newsday.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|