What he said

Okay, so I lied about the previous post being “my last” on this topic.

William Powers nails it in theNational Journal (temporary link) with his analysis of the feeding freenzy that occurs when bad things happen to people that reporters already assume are bad because they are rich or powerful.


Our newest and most promising target is an alarmingly successful woman we’ve been circling for years, Martha Stewart . From the beginning, something about old Martha got under journalists’ skin. She was too talented, too attractive, too confident, too rich — in short, just too perfect for our taste. Perfect people make everyone feel bad. And when journalists feel bad, they do something about it. There were any number of rumors, and some hard evidence, that Martha Stewart wasn’t nearly as flawless as she wanted us to believe, that she might even be a secret bad person. Over the years, this became the encoded message of much of the journalism about her and her business empire. When elite journalists discussed her success, they tended to do so in a backhanded way, as a suspicious kind of success, about which one should have principled doubts and concerns.

As I’ve said before, in America we worship success and curse the successful.

  • lcreekmo

    OK Rex I have been waiting to jump in on this one but I just can’t hold back any longer.
    Yes a LOT of people hate Martha Stewart. And I’m SURE a great number of them hate her solely because she is successful. But I have to say I think there’s something larger going on here. I think there’s a fairly significant force in America, where we — the general public — like to see successful people give back to the community. And I think that’s where Martha’s image problem lies. Her empire is built around creating a good life — for yourself.
    You don’t hear about Martha giving money to charity. You don’t see her making adorable wreaths to sell for the church bazaar. You don’t see her taking baked goods to the nursing home. It’s all about me, me, me.
    Now, case may be, she does a lot of that stuff. Some folks regard charity and philanthropy as private enterprises. But since we don’t see her focusing that way, the picture we have is of a shallow, self-centered albeit well-manicured and successful woman.
    My current theory is that this national drive for charity and community-mindedness comes from our national puritanical and frontier roots. Whether we individually subscribe to those notions or not, we want to imagine that we do. And deep down, I think Americans believe that verse in the Bible…To whom much is given, much is expected.

  • Rex Hammock

    Laura, did you truly expect me to agree with you? Remember, I used to be in PR where my job was to help companies and individuals act in ways that would give the appearance of being warm and cuddly.

    Have you read how philanthropic the Rigas family (Adelphia) is? Or how Kenneth Lay was one of Houston’s biggest benafactors? Has it softened Ted Turner’s image that he gave $1 billion to the UN?

    While I do believe your underlying premise that much is demanded from those who recieve much, I don’t believe that it has much impact on how much slack is cut for those we want to believe are scoundrals.

    Martha’s customers don’t care whether or not she’s a tyrant or crook. They like the patterns on her sheets and they need some more craft ideas.

    Those of us who fancy ourselves as “intellegent,” however, are baffled by how someone like her can succeed to such a degree.