By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management
When Martha Stewart's name first surfaced in an insider trading scandal, I
wanted to send her to prison. Real prison, not one of those
made-for-TV-movie prisons where female inmates have private rooms and
well-coiffed hair. I'm not sure why I never liked Martha Stewart; I never
met her. I have no idea what she sells, except that they sell it at
Kmart. Saturday Night Live made fun of her in a skit that was hilarious,
even to someone who, at the time, didn't know Stewart could make a formal
three-tiered wedding cake out of goldfish crackers and old PVC pipe. When
I discovered she was friends with ImClone founder and admitted crook, Sam
Waksal, I had all of the reason I needed to hate Martha.
But when Smith and Wesson chairman, James Minder, stepped down from his post
last week, I realized how unfair I had been to the diva of domesticity.
It seems that the head of one of the world's largest firearms manufacturers
once spent time in prison for armed robbery. It was 1951 when Minder was
sent to a Michigan prison. Following his final release in 1969, he earned
a master's degree from Michigan and started a program to provide psychological
counseling to troubled youngsters.
My immediate reaction to Minder's situation was pity. This man is 74-years-old, served his time, and appears to have lived 35 years as an honest,
productive member of society. The man has been punished enough. He's
not a threat. James Minder deserves our pity, not our judicial
But I was overlooking one minor technicality: as a convicted felon, Minder is
legally prohibited from owning, or even handling, a firearm. Every time he
held one of his own company's products, he committed another felony. Why
was I so quick to ignore this little 'technicality?' My wife says my reactions
were sexist. Guns are 'manly;' petite fours and potting secrets are
'girly.' Never mind that Stewart is accused of a crime of paper
manipulation and that Minder was once described in a newspaper headline as
'student by day, bandit by night.' I embraced an armed bandit and
condemned an accused petty pilferer. I found myself embarrassed and a bit
When former WorldCom CEO, Bernard Ebbers, was taken into federal custody this
week for sundry financial crimes, I was embarrassed again. How could I
Judge Ebbers and Stewart so harshly, while feeling compassion for a guy who used
a gun ' not a stockbroker ' to rob people?
My guess is that it has something to do with celebrity. I don't know
much about James Minder, so he is easy for me to forgive. But when a
celebrity is accused of similar, or even lesser crimes, our emotions go into
overdrive. In some celebrity cases, we are quick to condemn. In
others, we emotionally acquit when all evidence suggests the celebrity is
None of this suggests Ebbers, Stewart, and others like them shouldn't be
punished if convicted. But it does help me understand why I react so
differently to circumstances that seem similar.
David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a
Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article
originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).