What he said: Because I almost always disagree with the Marketplace rantings of Newsweek columnist Allan Sloan, I find myself in the unusual position of agreeing with his take on the absurdity of the conviction and coverage of Martha Stewart.
The Martha Stewart case creeps me out. And I’m not a Martha fan….
First, I don’t consider Stewart’s real misdeeds—stupidity and greed and cluelessness—to be criminal offenses….Stewart’s trial wasn’t about corporate misbehavior. It was about misleading the government, which was investigating her for a crime—insider trading—that she was never charged with….
The conventional wisdom is that by convicting Stewart of lying and obstructing justice, the government has struck a blow for truth, justice and the American way….But the conventional wisdom is wrong. The lesson that any thinking person draws from the Stewart saga is that when the government asks questions, run for your lawyer and don’t say a word. Had Stewart kept her mouth shut, she’d be OK. In this litigious world, far too many CEOs already listen to lawyers, whose advice is almost always to say nothing. That argument is now more convincing than ever, thanks to the Stewart case, and the flow of information to the public will suffer because of it.
The one serious crime of which Stewart was accused—luckily, the judge threw it out—arose from her proclaiming her innocence. The government charged her with trying to manipulate the stock price of her company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, by falsely saying she was innocent. If there was ever an example of chilling free speech, this is it.
Had Stewart sold Omnimedia stock after making her statements, I’d sympathize with the government, overreaching as this charge was. But she didn’t sell. All she did was defend herself. Today the government whacks Stewart for daring to defend herself. Tomorrow, my friend, it could be your turn in the barrel.
People expect a professional throat-biter like me to cheer the downfall of a powerful and greedy person like Martha Stewart. Sorry, I can’t do it. I would be happy if the government had gotten her for cheating people, or some other real crime. But for this? Give me a break.
Wow. Allan. Where’d that come from? I’m dazed and confused at the thought of agreeing with you. But I’m sure that will change the next time I hear you on the radio.