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Inside Move: Martha mania

Stewart case mixes in a pinch of sympathy

Unhappy homemaker Martha Stewart has been dragged through the mud for more than a year after one stupid stock trade — all to the greater glee of the table-setting public.

But in a nation that loves underdogs, the first sympathetic stirrings were heard after federal prosecutors charged her with perjury and obstruction of justice June 4.

After all, if Citigroup’s shady topper Sandy Weill can cut a sweet deal, why does the souffle siren get dragged to court in the rain?

An abrasive, arrogant CEO who also happens to be a powerful woman and a celebrity gets extra attention from the feds, it seems.

“If her stock trade is legit, you must acquit!” blared a new Web site called savemartha.com, which features Save Martha T-shirts, caps, mugs and totes as well as measures to help extricate the doyenne of domesticity from her current fix. (She could also use protection from the tired metaphors.)

Martha is fighting back, too, seeking support from the multitudes who turned to her books, magazines and TV shows for advice on pate, potted yams and Provence.

In a full-page ad in USA Today, Stewart says she’s innocent, that she’ll fight to clear her name and that she’s confident she will be “exonerated of these baseless charges.”

She also launched a Web site — Marthatalks.com — where she will post info on the case and respond to emails.

The Dept. of Justice didn’t have enough evidence to accuse Stewart of insider trading, just lying and stonewalling after she allegedly fabricated an explanation for the trade and tried to doctor a telephone message from her broker.

Those moves infuriated investigators and blew the thing into a federal case.

The charges are serious and Stewart may well go to jail. But with sentiment turning, she’s bound to get some fan letters to decorate her cell.

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