Martha's Rise, Fall: What Does It Mean?

Why do so many people take delight in the legal woes of Martha Stewart — lifestyle guru, business empress, and now, fallen icon. Ted Koppel and guests Tina Brown, Jeffrey Toobin and Naomi Wolf discuss Stewart's rise and fall. Following is a transcript of that discussion.


TED KOPPEL: You may as well get us started, Naomi. Why is there such visceral pleasure among so many people at the spectacle of what's happening?

NAOMI WOLF: Well, you really said it, Ted. Visceral pleasure. There's a sense of almost titillation and glee as the media jumps on this spectacle of this woman going down, potentially. The reason it's so resonant is that, first, she broached the top tier of money, acquisition. And women are judged differently when it comes to getting rich. If you look at Leona Helmsley and that story, if you look at Hillary Clinton and her stock trading scandal, you'll see that when Martha Stewart became one of the wealthiest people, not just women in America, she really broke that glass ceiling in a way that makes the top tier tremble, 'cause there are only five percent women up in that, in that tier.

TED KOPPEL: So, this is a class thing in your view?

NAOMI WOLF: Well, first, it's just about wealth, which in a capitalist democracy is power. But now we come to the class piece. She also got rich by breaking the class code. She became almost a class trader. Martha Kostyra started out as a working class young women. And we don't like to acknowledge, Ted, in America that there is a class system, but there is. And what she did was she took the code of upper middle class, upper class professional symbols and she said, "you know what, I'm going to crack the code for you. I'm going to teach you what the insiders know about what the right floor looks like, what the right clothing looks like, so that you won't be excluded anymore."

TED KOPPEL: Let me just move on to some of our other guests. Tina, -you buy the class envy argument?

TINA BROWN: Well, I think Martha Stewart really does excite a really toxic kind of cocktail of both guilt and envy at the same time. You know, she makes women feel guilty that they're not as perfect as she. And -she makes men feel somehow threatened and guilty that they're not making the money that she's making. And vice versa. And I think that's a very bad combination. I think there is a class element in it, yes, there's a certain amount of feeling that she's betrayed her class by getting rich. But I actually also think it's also about the blond phenomenon. You know, I think this, this culture really needs to make, sort of demonize, in a sense, somebody every two minutes. And I think that, you know, there is a glamour element. I mean, there is some of the most superficial reasons why people are excited by Martha's suit.

TED KOPPEL: So, a brunette rinse would take care of everything for her?

TINA BROWN: She could have tried that solution a few years ago. But she might also not be the icon she is if she had.

TED KOPPEL: Jeffrey, let's talk about the reality of the case here. I was a little bit stunned that one of the things the government is saying in its case here is, we're going after Martha Stewart on one level precisely because it is Martha Stewart and people have to understand that no one is going to be immune when they break the law. Is this setting an example? What are they doing here?

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