- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 30, 2002

NEW YORK (AP) This is a mess even Martha Stewart may not be able to clean up.
Sorry. Martha jokes are all the rage these days, particularly ones that involve prison cell decor or recipes for cakes with files baked in.
"I am so hot," David Letterman said this past week, "I am sweating like Martha Stewart."
The empire of domestic perfection that Mrs. Stewart has built over two decades the magazines, the TV shows, the product lines could crumble if the accusations that she was involved in insider trading on ImClone stock manage to stick. Her own company's stock is already down.
Mrs. Stewart also has the misfortune of being a polarizing figure at just the time the world is looking to put a public face on an unseemly series of business scandals.
Her clenched-face appearance Tuesday on CBS' "The Early Show," where she chopped cabbage while trying to deflect questions about the case, has already become tabloid legend.
"That was not a happy Martha moment," said Christopher Byron, whose book "Martha Inc." came out this spring. "You could see it in her behavior and appearance. She looked like she was in a daze."
Mrs. Stewart is either loved or loathed there's rarely a middle ground. For every fan who's tried her recipe for grilled chicken with cilantro mint rub or followed her directions for pressing pansies, there's someone who resents her representation of an impossible ideal.
Author Leslie Savan wondered in the New York Times why so many people took pleasure in the domestic diva's public humiliation.
"The reaction is so bitter that you can't help thinking Martha Stewart is in trouble less for investments in ImClone than for our investments in her image and maybe her secret role in our own self-image," Miss Savan wrote.
Investigators are asking if Mrs. Stewart had inside information when she sold nearly 4,000 shares of ImClone stock the day before the Food and Drug Administration announced in December it would not consider the company's experimental drug for fighting colorectal cancer.
Stock in her own company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, sold at around $19 a share when reports of the investigation surfaced June 6 (it peaked at nearly $40 in October 1999). It sold for $11.47 a share at the close of trading Friday.
Her company took in $295 million in revenue last year. It publishes magazines such as Martha Stewart Living, operates a catalog and Web site, and makes a product line sold at Kmart. She has a syndicated television show, a radio show and a newspaper advice column, "Ask Martha."
The strength of Mrs. Stewart's business lies in middle America, where her predicament may not resonate, Mr. Byron said.
"Do these people continue to stick with her, or do they feel betrayed by someone who is portrayed one way in the image they've bought but turns out to be a different kind of person entirely when she steps out from behind the curtain?" he asked. "That's the unknown."
One fan said it wouldn't bother her at all.
"I'm not focusing on that," said Martha Cropsey, a teacher from Guilderland, N.Y. "I'm focusing on the stuff she's doing, making or designing. I will continue to watch Martha Stewart."


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