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Double standard hurting Martha Stewart?

By DAR HADDIX, UPI Business Correspondent   |   Jan. 22, 2004 at 4:06 PM
WASHINGTON, Jan. 22 (UPI) -- Will Martha Stewart really get her unbiased day in court? Some say that a double standard leaves no room for Stewart and other businesswomen in the Bad Boys' Club of male executives who often are given free passes for their behavior.

"There is a double standard for women in business and the media. Martha is being personally attacked, and that's just not right," charged SaveMartha.com, a site launched to counter negative publicity about Stewart.

The media hasn't been allowed into the ongoing juror screening, but were able to watch Stewart, 62, plead not guilty to all charges Tuesday in a Manhattan courtroom. So far about two dozen prospective jurors have been chosen. Attorneys will continue screening possible jurors all week, eventually settling on 12 jurors and four to six alternates.

The five charges include securities fraud, obstructing the SEC's investigation of ImClone, conspiracy and two counts of lying to investigators about the sale of her ImClone stock.

Stewart may likely get a lighter sentence than the 30-year prison term and $2 million fine she could get, based on the charges. But SaveMartha.com suggests that Stewart shouldn't even be in court while Ken Lay runs free.

"How much have the top execs at companies like Enron, Worldcom, Global Crossing, Adelphia and Tyco recently cost investors? Over $200 billion," said a statement on the Web site. "How much did Martha save by selling her ImClone stock when she did? Less than $60,000. How much has Martha personally lost since the media began the assault? Over $300 million."

John Small, a marketing professional and editor and founder of SaveMartha.com, pointed out that two days before Stewart's June 4 indictment last year, another executive charged with insider trading lied about it and still received a slap on the wrist from the SEC. When former MedImmune Vice President Eric Tsao discovered that his company was going to manufacture ImClone's potential cancer drug Erbitux, he illegally bought 2,000 shares and later sold them for $50,000, Small said.

"No one's talking about putting him in jail," Small said.

And though Bart Pasternak, a friend of ImClone CEO Sam Waksal and ex-husband of Stewart's friend Mariana Pasternak, allegedly dumped 10,000 ImClone shares after Mariana heard Stewart was selling hers, "He's not on trial," Small said. The two women were enroute to Mexico for a vacation at the time Stewart sold her shares.

He added that based on the fact that almost every day newspapers are still peppered with corporate scandals, Stewart's indictment doesn't seem to be curbing corporate evildoers.

"To try to prevent corporate fraud is an admirable goal, but ... scandals are still happening. It doesn't seem like prosecuting Martha Stewart has scared anyone."

"Martha's being burned at the stake," said Betty Spence, president of the National Association of Female Executives. "An insider trading cover up and accusation would not have reached this point were she not a powerful woman. ... When a woman reaches a position of power and influence, many wait for her to stumble."

The lack of women in the media also perpetuates bad press about women like Stewart, Spence said. She cited a recent study by the Annenberg Foundation that indicated that men hold 88 percent of board seats and 75 percent of executive positions in communications companies, virtually the same as last year.

"If Martha loses this trial, her company is in jeopardy. She needs to fight this for the sake of herself her company and her suppliers," Small said.

And while Stewart seems to provide endless fodder for comedians -- Jay Leno portrayed Stewart jumping up on her car and dancing a-lá Michael Jackson on Tuesday night's show -- letters to SaveMartha.com show many aren't amused.

"Men do so want to claim their domain and she did it too well. That is her only crime. Other horrendous Wall Street shenanigans affecting thousands of innocent people were at the mercy of Enron, Tyco, etc. but Martha has done so much good. She's great. They should leave her alone!" wrote Stewart fan Martha Holmes.

"If she was a man ... she wouldn't come under half as much media crossfire as she is now. Men are usually programmed since boyhood to go after what they want, to be aggressive in order to get somewhere in today's world ... [it] goes to show how little our society has really come when it comes to gender equality," wrote a fan identifying themselves as DLB.

A Jan. 19 poll showed men hold a more negative view of Stewart overall -- 28 percent of men compared with 21 percent for women were strongly convinced that Stewart should be prosecuted, 31 percent of men disagreed that she was being prosecuted because she is a celebrity, compared to 21 percent of women.

Small said that he's received a lot of hate mail from men for supporting Stewart.

"I get e-mails all the time from men who want to turn the clock back to colonial times. ... They call her a witch, they seem to say she's guilty before a trial. ... They seem to be very angry at her and at us for defending her."

"She's criticized for being a perfectionist -- but I think striving for perfection is a good thing. Yet when it comes to Martha, people hold it against her," he said.

Society simply doesn't do enough to support or encourage powerful women, Small concluded. In subtle ways, "society encourages men to be bad," he said. "We encourage men to be loud and aggressive and strong ... we encourage women to listen while we encourage men to speak."

© 2004 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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