With all the executives of shaky, high-flying firms that made tens or
hundreds of millions of dollars in the stock-market bubble, it seems a
bit odd for federal prosecutors to be putting so much energy into the
pursuit of Martha Stewart, who was indicted yesterday in a case
concerning one sale of a few hundred thousand dollars' worth of stock
in a company she had no role in running. It gets even stranger when
you read that she's indicted mostly for misleading the government,
though the matter was not earlier considered important enough for them
to even put her under oath.
But the New York Times's Kurt Eichenwald explains that there is
- After all, the purpose of law enforcement is not simply to
punish people for crimes they have committed, but to deter crimes that
are being contemplated. That pushes prosecutors to send strong signals
about the dangers of crossing the line by bringing cases that
penetrate the public consciousness. If yesterday's indictment had been
against Martha Jones rather than Martha Stewart, no one would be
reading this article -- primarily because it would not have been
"The deterrent effect is immeasurable," said Christopher Bebel, a
former lawyer with the Securities and Exchange Commission and a former
federal prosecutor. "Even if the government puts a thousand hours into
building this case against Martha Stewart, the risk-reward ratio is
enormously positive and constitutes a very prudent allocation of
Surely, this explains why there has not yet been any indictment of,
say, Jeff Skilling, and why no one is doing much with the evidence of
insider trading which has recently come to light. Dubya's
malfeasance doesn't seem to be getting a whole lot of traction in the
press these days, so hey, why prosecute?
It's good to know that there's a sound reason behind this
prosecutorial choice, and it doesn't have anything to do with
Stewart's status as a major
Democratic political donor.
Meanwhile, someone has got to do something about savemartha.com. The typography looks
like a ransom note, and the entire site is done up in an incredibly
tacky shade of pink. (Martha's own marthatalks.com is much more
Update: For a dissenting view (which reads almost like a response to this piece, though it almost certainly wasn't), read Steve Gilliard over at the Daily Kos. I'm not sure I buy all of his arguments, though. For instance, he points out that Bill Gates and George Soros, both known for their left-leaning philanthropy, are not under such attack from the right. But philanthropy is one thing, and campaign contributions are another; Microsoft's, for what it's worth, have tended to be evenly split among the parties in recent years. As to the complexity of the cases which haven't yet been brought against Skilling, et al., it's worth pointing out, as the Eichenwald article does, that the evidence against Stewart is also pretty darn murky, enough so that they didn't even try to indict on the supposed insider trading that she was allegedly trying to mislead the government about.
And compared to any of these, the case against Dubya (who was an insider at Harken, and apparently had material non-public information at the time he dumped his stock) is open and shut...