Hating Stewart becomes embarrassing

By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management
March 7, 2004

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 vengeance.

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 confused.

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 guilty.

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).

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