Letters

"Farhad! Stephanie! Andrew! Rebecca! Back to your desks! There are real stories out there to deal with!" Readers sound off on Salon's coverage of Martha Stewart's release from prison.

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Letters

[Read "Three Cheers for America's Tastemaker," by Farhad Manjoo; "Martha's Irremovable Stains," by Andrew Leonard; "Martha-hater, Heal Thyself," by Stephanie Zacharek; and "Rumors of Martha's Redemption Are Greatly Exaggerated," by Rebecca Traister.]

Come on! Martha Stewart as front page in Salon? Surely you have better things to cover. This is yet another example of worshipping at the altar of celebrity, regardless of import or not. Will Salon be covering the details of Britney Spears’ marriage next?

— Craig Vickstrom

Thanks for your hard-nosed commentary on Martha Stewart and the lost art of making stuff! I don’t personally care whether Martha is a saint or a sinner — she is probably both, and perhaps her humbling lesson will benefit women in prison from now on — but whether we can still sew buttons and make our own curtains is more than window dressing in our lives. It’s all about self-reliance and pride in beautiful craftsmanship, a quality sadly missing in a spoiled America that nowadays imports nearly everything from China and goes to war to keep the rest of the world supplying our insatiable “way of life.” Each time I read about the selling out of the younger generation, the shackling of dutiful college grads to high student debt and the national deficit, I am reminded that we have traded self-sufficiency for elite dependence. Get a real estate or securities license, and you won’t have to change your own tires anymore or know how to patronize a shoe repair shop. But maybe you should, even if rich Martha wouldn’t. Previous generations worked hard for their independence, so why should the price come down on it now? Have to work two jobs to afford day care? What the heck did it cost to raise kids 40 years ago, except your entire life, 24/7? Inflation happens for one reason: demand outstrips supply. Start making stuff and doing for yourself, and you will worry less about supplying your needs. And let Martha show you how to enjoy it, tucking those rose petals into the napkins. “It’s a good thing!”

— Elizabeth Ely



I was never particularly interested in Martha Stewart. She sells a set of products that do not interest me and I don’t care to make placemats out of old Christmas cards and such. But when she was singled out for punishment by zealous government prosecutors over those (men) with far worse crimes, I became a fan. Every day of my professional life I have dealt with grinding, persistent and deeply entrenched sexism. Martha was a cheap shot, someone the government attacked because they knew every man-jack who had the opportunity would stick it to her. I can just see the prosecution team salivating over the opportunity to knock that bitch down a peg or two. Yes, she did a dirty, but the dirty is one that is done routinely by most men in similar situations. I’m rooting for Martha for the same reason the (mostly black) jury acquitted O.J. It has nothing to do with guilt or innocence and everything to do with a marginalization, repression and discrimination.

— SuZett Estell

Most of your commentators seem to have forgotten that Martha Stewart has been a very large, and very faithful, contributor to the Democratic Party and to Democratic candidates. So is it surprising that this vengeful Bush Republican so-called Justice Department took after her — not for illegal stock actions, which they could not prove, but for misleading or false statements made to federal officials? (Meanwhile, of course, Ken Lay and other Republican fat cats, guilty of true crimes, remain free and unfettered.) Perhaps the true result of Martha Stewart’s conviction is that anyone who — at any time — speaks to any federal official, other than name and address (which the Supreme Court tells us we must tell, if asked), unnecessarily places himself or herself in jeopardy. Especially, a Democrat!

–Dr. A.N. Feldzamen

Andrew, to quote you, “Martha’s climb to power and glory came on the back of betrayed friendships, bullied and abused employees, and unrestrained egomania. And all in the service of what? Selling a luxury lifestyle fantasy that few real working women — or men — could ever achieve, without unlimited credit at Home Depot and a bevy of maids and gardeners.” Thus, for her perceived personality flaws she got “off lightly.” Hmmmm. Since when do people serve prison time for their personalities? She has become a powerful woman, self-made unlike many rich people running our government, media and businesses. I, as a woman, know the difference between admiring her talents, projects, homes, and deciding which project I’ll elect to try that month. I know I can’t have the lifestyle of Donald Trump, Celine Dion, Michael Jackson, George Bush, etc. I look around and may emulate some little thing that I admire in those far richer and more powerful — such as singing a favorite song in the car, learning a new dance, making candles, writing my elected representatives to voice an opinion on something. Please, give people, and especially women, credit for discernment and the wonderful opportunity of learning and choice.

— Barbara Hall

Regarding your coverage of Martha Stewart in the March 4 edition of Salon, I just have one question: We’ve got the Jeff Gannon insanity, war in Iraq, the Social Security fight, the Supreme Court dealing with Ten Commandments displays, and countless other issues to deal with, and you have four reporters pen articles about Martha Stewart. What in God’s name is going on here? Farhad! Stephanie! Andrew! Rebecca! Back to your desks! There are real stories out there to be dealt with!

— Douglas Moran

Sure, Martha was a “ruthless businesswoman.” Sure, her “climb to power and glory came on the back of betrayed friendships, bullied and abused employees, and unrestrained egomania.” But since when does anybody deserve prison for those things? Isn’t that the American dream? Get ahead, however you can? Don’t condemn her for selling an idea that millions of women bought — she found something they wanted and gave it to them. So what if her ideal is almost unattainable — more damage is done to women who yearn after perfect bodies, faces and skin, than to Martha’s followers.

— Lisa McShine

Get over it, people! It’s time to embrace Martha for all she is: a smart-as-hell bitch whom we’ll always feel ambivalent about. She’s the “good” mother who can cook, clean and care for us, and the “bad” mother who sacrificed our well-being for her own ambition. She’s who we admire and who we abhor, with incomprehensible passion. She’s no saint and I don’t care. Welcome back, Mom.

— Nicole Horvath

I want to thank Stephanie Zacharek for pointing out part of what I have experienced as positive about Martha Stewart. I would like to point out a few other aspects of “Martha Stewart Living” that I loved. For one thing, it is the only show I have ever seen that frequently had segments on home-based businesses and small business, everything from wool spinners to wrought-iron designers, that explained the artistry, craftsmanship and marketing of their creations in some detail. These small-businesspeople were successful and highly skilled, without being the top-of-the-heap famous folk who might get a two-second segment on the news. Furthermore, Martha focused on their craftsmanship and their love of it, not how much cash they raked in. As an artisan, I loved this and found it very inspiring. I live on a meager budget and have another artist friend in Texas in similar circumstances, but we often talked on the phone about a Martha segment we found especially fascinating and inspiring. Some of us in America are still low-income and find joy in making things out of scraps. Furthermore, the love of hand craftmanship is not just American, but something that links women (any many men) all over the world. My fascination with fabric, design and craftsmanship gives me a point of mutual understanding with women in India, Iran, Cambodia or anywhere. I draw enormous personal power and joy, comfort and strength in difficult times, from my ability to make things with my hands. For me, the fact that the Bush administration singled Martha Stewart out for attack and punishment, while ignoring the craven profiteering of so many corporate wrongdoers, is part of an attack on women’s power. I never really focused on Martha’s perfectionism, just her creativity and love of excellence. I wish her all the best and I hope she gets the last laugh.

— Thora Reynolds

I have nothing against Martha Stewart, and nothing in particular for her either. She’s a talented businesswoman, and like many of her kind, she “pushed the envelope” a little bit further than she should have. So, she went to trial and went to jail, and I’m sure she’ll make the most of that experience, same as she has so many others. So what? I think her career and persona have been parsed, reparsed, reflected upon and worked over far more than they deserve. There’s nothing original left to say. Four (4!?!) pieces on Martha Stewart when there’s so much that’s so much more important (and/or more interesting) going on? What a waste of your good space.

— Liza Bingham

As a devotee of frozen food and the microwave, and someone who has never made homemade gravy or planted a garden, I am the last person who would want to comment on Martha Stewart. But I want to chime in and say hurrah for Andrew Leonard’s comment that Martha’s time in jail was, as he said, “the least she deserved, if not for this incident, then for her lifelong record as a ruthless businesswoman. Martha’s climb to power and glory came on the back of betrayed friendships, bullied and abused employees, and unrestrained egomania.”

I didn’t know that being ruthless in business, betraying friends, bullying and abusing employees, and being an unrestrained egomaniac were offenses punishable by jail time! But this is exciting news! Does this mean that they’ll soon be reserving orange jumpsuits for some other reportedly “difficult” but famous bosses, like Oprah, Madonna, Katie Couric, and obnoxious egomaniacs like Condoleezza Rice, Barbara Bush, Barbara Walters, Cher and Ann Coulter, not to mention Christina Aguilera, Lindsey Lohan, and every teenage girl with breast implants who thinks she can sing and act? And since I’m sure Andrew Leonard would never want to suggest that such qualities should be punishable only in women, let’s not forget some of the men who fit the bill! How about a trip to the Big House for some more of those egomaniacs, bullies and betrayers, like Donald Trump, George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Bill O’Reilly, Dick Cheney, Rupert Murdoch, Christopher Hitchens, Ted Turner, and Simon from “American Idol,” among others? And let’s not overlook the less than famous. I’ve got a list a mile long of candidates for Attica, Leavenworth or Sing-Sing! Frankly, given the number of people who regularly betray friends, bully and abuse others and walk around with hugely swelled heads, we could do the world a service and put away the population’s most annoying people fairly easily by this broad standard!

— Mary Shomon

Thank you, Stephanie Zacharek, for finally getting it! I have been an unashamed fan of Martha Stewart for years, and not because I aspire to be some sort of Stepford Wife. I’m a fan of what she does, not the woman herself. I could care less about her empire, or her politics, or her weight, or her personality. What I care about is that someone shows me how to make my own tomato cages, so I don’t have to put those hideous wire cages in my garden that I worked so hard to make beautiful. What I care about is watching how to make a lamp out of that cool ceramic jar I’ve been saving for years. What I care about is that people think, on that one day of the year that I make hors d’oeuvres, that I make some pretty damn good hors d’oeuvres. What I care about is learning how to make my own greeting cards, because they are cool, and because, well, they are fun to make, dammit! I like making stuff! I don’t feel like I have to be a perfect person, and I don’t feel like I have to do everything the way Martha does it. Martha is a teacher, that’s all. She knows how to do a lot of stuff I wanna know how to do. That’s all. Can we stop talking about her now?

— Victoria Herd

Memo to Andrew Leonard: the Martha Stewart biopic starring Cybil Sheperd was fiction. Please. If ruthlessness alone could create a billion-dollar empire, then Martha Stewart Omnimedia would be a dime a dozen. Martha Stewart attained success of that magnitude because she’s hardworking, intelligent and creative. That might not be as sensational and entertaining and the fictionalized version of her life, but it’s the truth. And for the record “real working women” can afford Kmart.

— Laura Roos

I found all of your writers’ pieces on Martha Stewart amusing [but] only Andrew Leonard came close to the truth of the thing — though his piece was marred by sour grapes that smacked of class envy. Perhaps it is the plain obviousness of the truth — the fact that it is the elephant in our cultural living room — that explains so many commentators’ failure to see it. Any manager, executive or just plain old boss who calls a subordinate a “little shit” (especially in front of colleagues) is an utter failure at their job. This holds true whether they are also a “brand” and “image,” or not. If I had been that subordinate, I would have replied, “I may be a little shit, but at least I can pee standing up.” Turnabout is fair play, is it not? Another aspect of the bald truth is that Martha Stewart is a complete bitch in the same way that Ken Lay is a complete bastard. This country will one day be well rid of them and their ilk, and the influence they exert over our economy, politics and culture. As with the robber barons of the Gilded Age, a more enlightened future era will look back on Martha Stewart and see her for the nasty, vicious, greedy human being she was. We, her contemporaries, are sadly stuck with her.

— Rob Anderson

At last, someone has put into words what I’ve always felt about the various reactions to Martha Stewart. Over the years, I have observed commentators projecting what had to be their own insecurities onto Martha. I have never had time to do very many of the projects Martha has offered in her various media outlets, but I have always enjoyed the inspiration and the thought that, if I wanted to enough, I could make something really nice.

— Nancy Ives

I am very disappointed to see the home page of Salon running six Martha articles at me for a whole day. That’s appalling. I feel completely alienated. Am I in the wrong room? What happened?

— David Kearns

I’m not a Martha Stewart fan, but Andrew Leonard’s statement that her prison sentence was deserved, if not for her crime, then for her history of being a ruthless, nasty businesswoman who made people miserable made my hair stand on end. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer a world in which prison is for criminals, and being a nasty piece of work is not a crime.

— John Whiteside

Stop with the crabby sniping! What did Martha do to begin with? Something most people would have at least been tempted to do — save a little money and conveniently forget about how she did it. Is this murder or warmongering? Is this disemboweling democracy or the pension plans of the multitude? I don’t think so. Now she’s out. Her fellow inmates give her a good review. She did her job, got along with them, and improved their lives a bit by not only picking dandelion greens and crab apples, but shining a light on bad food and lengthy sentences for small crimes. She is a good liberal! So what if she’s not necessarily a nice person? George W. Bush is apparently a nice person, but he has engineered the death and disfigurement of tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people. Wouldn’t you rather have Martha as president? I would.

— Jane Smiley

Andrew Leonard seems surprised that Martha’s first book was ghost-written. How shocking! Name one celebrity or politician whose books and public statements are not ghost-written. Writing — whether it be a book or an Op-Ed piece, requires thought, brains and patience, qualities rarely seen in public figures. It also requires time alone for concentration — something that a busy speaking calendar never allows for. Take off the blinders and start demanding truth in bylines.

— Brian Richard Boylan

Rebecca Traister puts her finger on the many contradictions of Martha: a mystery wrapped in an enigma. I hope prison will have made her into a human being, but I know it won’t. Martha has bullied so many people, it is no wonder she is a lonely person.

— Phil Brannon

I don’t like Martha Stewart any more than your author, but to say she deserved her sentence for a particular crime, and then go on to justify that judgement by detailing dozens of other alleged crimes, misdeeds and acts of pettiness strikes me as, well, petty. How about sticking with what she was accused of and explaining why it was so bad rather than digging in her closet and tossing out the bones? I can truthfully paraphrase the article as saying, She deserved to go to jail for all the other stuff she has done, and (ahem) whatever that thing was that she was accused of wasn’t very nice either.

— Chris Gouldie

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