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Fox News Does a Number on Martha Stewart

Reported by Melanie - March 3, 2005

Aside from commercial breaks and a news break, the first 27 minutes of Your World w/Neil Cavuto today (March 3, 2005) were about Martha Stewart. Martha Stewart, the strong, confident, man-less, able, successful, liberal, Northeastern (almost New England) Democrat who raises funds for, and donates to, the Democratic party (one of Fox News's arch enemies).

The parade of segments was kicked off by Rick Leventhal reporting from outside the prison in Alderson, West Virginia where Stewart has spent the last five months. Dozens of satellite trucks could be seen in the background as Leventhal pointed to "the road that Martha Stewart will travel down" as she leaves Alderson. Leventhal said Stewart would go to the local airport where she would be "whisked by private jet to her estate in Westchester County" in New York. (Leventhal's emphasis.) The audience was told that stock shares in her company have risen from $8.00 to $36.00 during Stewart's prison stay, and that once released, she'll write a weekly column to the tune of $75,000 per month.

Terry Keenan was up next. Keenan said that in the annals of prison sentences and house arrests, Stewart's is "likely to go down as one of the most comfortable and accommodating ever." Keenan said Stewart will spend the next five months "in her $40 million Bedford estate, so tony that she can count Ralph Lauren and billionaire George Soros as among her neighbors." (Fox News has painted George Soros as a liberal nutcase who hates America so the mention of his name is important.) Keenan said Stewart can go to her office in NYC or her studio in Connecticut, to church and the grocery store, "though, she has hired a private chef so she might not have to do the shopping." Keenan said Stewart can visit "her beloved horses at their barn" but she can't ride them. Keenan said that "perhaps most vexing" is the fact that Stewart can't head up a publicly traded company, but she will spend the next five months "huddled with her lawyers" trying to work out a deal with the SEC. She may even take the company private again so she can head it again.

Next came a roundtable discussion about what Martha's "new life" will be like. Cavuto asked one of the participants if she "would get tired of looking at the same 100 walls" all the time. Jamie Colby said that Stewart has a 72-hour grace period between being released from prison and reporting to her probation officer so she could go anywhere and do anything in those hours. Cavuto wanted to highlight that (special treatment for this liberal elite?), so he said "Oh, r-e-a-l-l-y?" Colby proceeded to tell the audience that Stewart still "has to go and get fitted for her bracelet," but her hairdresser can come to the house if that person isn't a felon, and "she has a chef," so "it'll be very comfortable." Participant Peter Johnson, Jr., said Stewart's making a "serious error," that she "should be working at an orphanage." He said "it's about redemption now."

Colby said there's "going to be a backlash" because "you and I wouldn't be treated this way." If we got out of prison after five months "we'd barely have a job left." Johnson said there is "tremendous envy [toward Stewart]. Tremendous resentment. Tremendous."

Barry Minkow, the author of Cleaning Up, who has spent time in prison himself, was next. He said he was proud of Martha for plunging into her prison time. He said we "need to forgive her." He said he's "behind her 100%." Since he had a guest who was praising Stewart, Cavuto had to do the dissing himself, so he asked whether the way Stewart's "going about this doesn't look good"? Minkow said that unlike Enron, Tyco, Worldcom and Health South, there are no victims and he praised Stewart for having done her time.

Next came Vanessa Summers, the author of Buying Solo. Cavuto pointed out that Stewart "did all this without a man," and asked if Martha's message is that you are your own boss. Summers said women need to take responsibility. Cavuto, again doing the Martha-dissing, asked, "Do you think that all this attention to Martha Stewart is going to force women to rethink doing the way she did things, or to get maybe, criminal"? Summers, of course, said "no." Cavuto asked whether "most see the good in her, not the potential bad or false praise"?

Next came another roundtable. This time the topic was what "the market" thinks about Martha Stewart. Meredith Whitney of CIBC World Markets, uncharacteristically, brought some sanity to the discussion when she said, "The media cares more than Wall Street cares." She said "people are tired of this issue." She said Wall Street cares about growth, balance sheets, oil prices. Cavuto said given Stewart's "money making capabilities," that investors do care. He pointed out her stock is up, and that bodes well for Martha Stewart "and her empire." Patricia Powell of Powell Financial Group said Stewart's stock has been "absolutely stunning" but implied that it was overpriced. Doug Lockwood of Harbor Lights Financial Group said he didn't think Stewart should have gone to prison to begin with and that Stewart "knows how to touch middle America."

Comment: I'd say that Fox's audience was left with the impression that Martha Stewart is a pampered, rich woman who is getting special treatment over and above what "the folks" would get. This impression has been (at least since our monitoring began more than a year ago), and will be, repeatedly reinforced. If Martha Stewart is ever shown at a Democratic campaign event or fundraiser, Fox will barely need to say a word (as in the case of George Soros) because its audience will already have a negative impression of Martha Stewart which will then transfer to whomever she's campaigning or fundraising for.

Fox thinks ahead. It strategizes. It plans. It lays ground work. It molds its audience's thinking. It may take time, but Fox never sleeps.

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