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Inside Move: Press, investigators still on Stewart

Martha's machinations keep the pot stirring

The tally of robber baron CEOs who stole millions perpetrating frauds that cost investors billions is rising. Yet Martha Stewart’s puny sale of 4,000 Imclone shares — worth less than $250,000 — is still whipping the press and, apparently, investigators, into a froth.

“There does seem to be an assumption of her guilt more than for (former Worldcom CEO) Bernie Ebbers and the big boys. She’s taking a beating. And it’s got a snickering and smirking tone to it,” says Catharine Stimpson, feminist author and dean of the NYU’s Graduate School of Arts and Science. “American society wants powerful women to fail.”

True, Martha is no turtle dove. But do press reports mention that Ken Lay is rude, Dennis Kozwalski unpleasant or Sam Waksal high-handed? CNBC — a biz news channel — even canvassed Stewart’s Connecticut neighbors, garnering insights like, “She’s not what she seems,” and “She never says hello.”

The excess is part gender, part celebrity and part personality driven, observers say. Stewart was too preachy. She never accumulated reservoirs of goodwill that might see a personality like, say, Oprah, through a really trying time.

“She told us how to be good at macrame and macaroons. She lectures us. It’s like the clergyman with his pants down,” Stimpson says.

It’s an unfortunate combo for Stewart. And she won’t help herself. The most famous remark by far to emerge from these months of scandal is her shrill reply when questioned about the allegations on CBS’ “The Early Show”:

“I just want to concentrate on my salad!”

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