A Media-Enhanced Stewart

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Martha Stewart is not in the news these days, but she will be back.

As Washington Post reporter Paula Span reminds us, "in the next few weeks, the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission are likely to decide, after long investigations, whether to charge Martha Stewart with securities fraud or obstruction of justice or other offenses."

Span also points out Stewart is "a VPP: a very polarizing person," and wonders why. She says Stewart’s fans also wonder, and paraphrases one of them, a New York business consultant who runs a website called SaveMartha.com, as follows: "Why don’t the people who dislike Stewart so much just ignore her?"

This column means to answer that question. In the process, it also means to raise a point or two about the priorities of journalists, and to explain something about their feelings when they believe they have been ill-used.

It is the media, after all, which transformed Stewart from a successful businesswoman to a star. It is the media, which in promoting Stewart’s various ventures, gave them even greater cachet and called them to the attention of an even larger audience. And it is the media, in particular television, which Stewart herself has utilized so skillfully, what with her own, half-hour syndicated TV show and her segments on CBS’s The Early Show.

But the journalists who wrote about these enterprises did so, at least in some cases, with a sense of dismay, even self-loathing, and not because they were jealous of the fame they were creating for Stewart. Rather, the journalists were upset because they knew a secret about Stewart, a secret that made a mockery of the very premise of her empire. You see, Martha Stewart, America’s queen of gracious living, is herself as ungracious a person as any that a journalist could encounter.

It is one thing for a singer or actor or comedian to be a shrew; none of them is selling a refined life style. But Martha Stewart is selling refinement, and she is herself coarse and foul-mouthed and vituperative. Her very fame is, in other words, so hypocritically based that it is a joke played not only on Stewart’s many fans, but upon the journalists who have for so long fed those fans such a sanitized image of the woman.

I know neighbors of Martha Stewart. I know people who have worked on her television show. I know people who have auditioned to work on her television show. I will not go into detail; suffice it to say, simply, that she has the manners of a drill sergeant more than a hostess. If you are employed by Stewart, especially in what she believes to be a subservient position, you are more likely to have a glass of champagne hurled at you than poured for you; you are more likely to be cursed than complimented.

And so, in publicizing her as much as they have over the years, journalists have perpetrated a hoax. It is as if they had touted an atheist for his spiritual values, a fat man for his weight-loss program, an alcoholic for his praise of abstinence.

I believe, perhaps more than most people do, that celebrities are entitled to a private life. But when that private life is a direct refutation of the expressed values of the public life, then it is the responsibility of journalists to acknowledge the contradiction.

For too many years, journalists did not do so with Martha Stewart. They are now making up for their previous laxity with a vengeance, and when Stewart returns to the headlines in a few weeks, they will do so all the more.

Eric Burns is the host of Fox News Watch which airs Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT and Sundays at 1:30 a.m. ET/10:30 p.m. PT, 6:30 a.m. ET/3:30 a.m. PT, and 11 p.. ET/8 p.m. PT .

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