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Last Updated: Friday, 5 March, 2004, 22:08 GMT
Martha Stewart pays price of fame
By Janet Ball
in New York

Martha Stewart
Martha Stewart built an empire on recipes and decorating tips
In financial terms, the crime wasn't all that huge.

By selling shares before they dropped in price, a private investor saved herself a few thousand dollars only to be caught out lying about it.

Usually, it would have ended with a plea-bargain and a light sentence.

But this wasn't just anyone. It was the rich and famous style guru Martha Stewart, and the stakes just went up and up.

The prosecutors saw Martha Stewart as an opportunity to demonstrate that they are bringing people to justice
Lawrence White, Stern School of Business
"The fact that it became such a huge trial is not really so much because of what the government did. It's because there is a huge fascination with Martha Stewart," trial-watcher Dan Ackman of Forbes.com told the BBC's World Business Report.

"She came in with a phalanx of lawyers and when the defence is very strong, the government has to react in kind. The power comes on both sides of the equation."

Scapegoat?

And it certainly was a media circus, with the line for seats in court starting early in the morning, and acres of column inches written about what she was wearing, or the bag she was carrying that day.

Her attorney, Bob Morvillo, was enjoyed for his persuasive performances, even if they failed in the end.

But for those who came to support her in court, and there were plenty, this wasn't justice.

John Small, a fan who set up the website freemartha.com, has attended the trial every day.

"I think that the powers that be wanted to make an example of somebody. And I think Martha Stewart was that somebody, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time," he said.

"I think you need to go after the people that have done society the most harm, and Martha Stewart is not that person."

In one way or another, the Martha Stewart brand will live on."
Del Galloway, Public Relations Society of America
The question is, of course, whether this has just been another celebrity trial, good for gossip, or whether it's more important than that.

There are plenty of experts who think the former, but Lawrence White, professor of economics at Stern School of Business in New York, isn't so sure.

"The case against Martha Stewart has to be seen against the background of the financial scandals of the last three or four years, and the public perception that the guilty parties are not being brought to justice," he said.

"I think prosecutors in this case saw Martha Stewart as an opportunity to demonstrate that they are bringing people to justice, and it doesn't matter if they are prominent or influential or not."

Damage limitation

Of course the business most likely to feel the immediate impact of this verdict is the company Ms Stewart founded and named after herself, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.

Figures just released show that even in the months before the trial started, revenues fell by more than 8%.

But Del Galloway, the president and CEO of the Public Relations Society of America, says he believes both the company and its founder can still bounce back.

"The company will probably want to explore how it might put some distance between Martha Stewart the celebrity, and the brand that is Omnimedia."

"But the public, and particularly the American public, have a habit of building people up, knocking them down, and then cheering them on as they climb back up the hill.

"So I suspect that in one way or another, the Martha Stewart brand will live on."


SEE ALSO:
Sales down at Martha Stewart firm
04 Mar 04  |  Business
Jury considering Stewart charges
03 Mar 04  |  Business
Martha Stewart charge thrown out
27 Feb 04  |  Business
No testimony from Martha Stewart
25 Feb 04  |  Business
Friend's testimony hits Stewart
20 Feb 04  |  Business
Stewart witness: Lie or be fired
05 Feb 04  |  Business
Profile: Martha Stewart
20 Jan 04  |  Americas


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