IWF fave Myrna Blyth, author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness–and Liberalism–to the Women of America, is such a good writer and astute social observer that I sometimes fear that this blog consists entirely of channeling Myrna’s thoughts over from National Review Online. I’d vowed to forswear Myrna, at least temporarily–but then this NRO column about Martha Stewart, scheduled for her sentencing hearing tomorrow on her obstruction-of-justice conviction, proved irresistible.
As Inky readers know, I’ve long been a fan of Martha Stewart, who has used her energy and business acumen to bring affordable good taste to millions of American women. Myrna likes Martha, too–and she also sees the flaws in Martha that brought her down after her hasty sale of ImClone shares in 2001. Myrna, herself a former magazine editor (Ladies’ Home Journal) writes:
“There is a lot I really do admire about [Martha]. One thing that I found remarkable was her skill and shrewdness as a marketer to women. In the early 1960s, Betty Friedan jumpstarted the modern feminist movement with her book The Feminine Mystique. In it Friedan decried the lifestyle of upper-middle-class homemakers, the trapped housewives of the time, who, she claimed, spent long, lonely, wasteful hours cooking and crafting and arranging flowers. Exactly the same activities Martha so skillfully repackaged and so profitably sold to the same demographic a couple of generations later.
“Another thing for which she deserves credit is her innovative magazine Martha Stewart Living that raised the design quality of all magazines. Martha Stewart Living begat Oprah’s O, and Time Inc.’s Real Simple, among today’s most successful publications, both of which, in the wake of her troubles, have scooped up much of her magazine’s advertising pages. And although I’m sure the thread count of the sheets Martha currently sleeps on are a lot higher than the ones she offers for sale at Kmart, she did prove that the American public could and would respond to tasteful home products. Just check out any of your local mass merchandisers and you’ll see Martha’s influence there too.”
But Martha was fatally arrogant, says Myrna, and not just with the federal prosecutors who pursued her. She bullied and was less-than-generous with underlings (her assistant, Ann Armstrong, testified that all she got for Christmas from her boss during the holiday season when Martha sold her shares was a home-made plum pudding). Myrna relates the delicious incident when Armstrong, who was friends with one of Myrna’s staffers, phoned to suggest that the staffer resend a letter from Myrna to Martha that contained a typo–or else Martha would show it around the office to make fun of it.
Myrna thinks Martha might have shown a little humility in the ImClone matter by apologizing profusely, then copping a plea to a misdemeanor for her activity, which including changing and then restoring an e-mail that appeared incriminating. I don’t agree with Myrna on this point–because I don’t think Martha did anything illegal. The feds couldn’t charge Stewart with insider trading, although they would have liked to, because the tip she got didn’t come from a corporate insider at ImClone. So how can there be “obstruction of justice” when there’s no justice to obstruct? Martha’s case is currently on appeal, on this ground, and also on the ground that a government witness appears to have lied on the stand. I hope Martha wins the appeal and has her reputation cleared. But meanwhile, there are these little matters of personal kindness and generosity that, along with Myrna, I hope Martha goes to work on.