Judging Martha

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(Host) Commentator Madeleine Kunin reflects on the downfall of Martha Stewart and the principle of fair play.

(Kunin) The Martha Stewart story is old now, but I can’t stop thinking that the jury which found her guilty on all counts had gone too far.

Yes, she was guilty of lying to federal officials, and that is a crime. But she was not found guilty of insider trading. Isn’t it ironic that she was lying to cover up a crime that no one could prove she had committed?

Compared to the big boys at Enron, Inclcone and Worldcom, who lied about their milti-million dollar losses to deceive Wall Street, their shareholders and employees, Martha Stewart’s crime seems like stealing a candy bar at the corner store. Their crimes, on the other hand, are equivalent to a Brink’s truck heist. Will they go to jail, be body searched, handcuffed, and fill the TV networks with accusatory chatter day after day? I wonder.

If Martha Stewart were named Mark Stewart and manufactured power tools, would he be punished to the same degree as Martha Stewart, who tells us how to use garden tools?

Call me a paranoid feminist, but I believe Martha is being treated more harshly than her male counterparts because she is one of the very few successful female CEO’s. Her mannerisms and treatment of others may be unpleasant. I don’t know. But since when has arrogance been called a crime in a man?

There is a german word that is appropriate to use here. It’s “schadenfreude,” or taking pleasure in someone else’s misery. There was too much pleasure expressed by the gloating press in seeing this icon of success taking a fall. Every photo that appeared with the stories of the trial showed a haggard hollow-eyed woman. Where were the pictures of the smiling, attractive Martha that we had seen only weeks before? Off in the files somewhere, out of view.

She was supposed to be an example to others. Because of her high position in the corporate world, she shouldn’t be allowed to get away with anything.

Valid arguments, but only up to a point. The danger is that the pendulum has swung too much in the other direction. Instead of giving her better than average treatment, the jury, press and the public, gave her overly harsh treatment. Whatever the jail sentence will be, it will not fit the crime. Martha Stewart is not a danger to society. Neither does she need to suffer further punishment for her crime.

We should come down hard on white collar crime, no doubt about it. But we should not single out one woman who made a bad mistake, and vent all our anger and vengeance on her just because she was a success.

Madeleine May Kunin is a former governor of Vermont.

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