01/19/04 — Martha: The tallest weed is always the one you want to see fall

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Martha: The tallest weed is always the one you want to see fall

Weeds used to be a big, expensive problem for growers of certain crops. Soybeans, for instance. If you sprayed a herbicide to kill the weeds, you’d kill the crop as well. Researchers spent barrels of money looking for a solution.

Finally they found a simple one: Mount a long tank filled with liquid herbicide on the back of a tractor. String a wick from one end of the tank to the other, with each end of the wick stuck in a hole at the ends of the tank. The wick was just the right consistency to hold onto the herbicide.

When the weeds got taller than the soybeans, you could drive the tractor down the rows and let the wick touch the weeds and, presto!, the herbicide was applied without bothering the soybean plants down below.

The high weeds got fried.

We’re that way in our society sometimes. We want to bring down whatever gets high enough to stand out. The higher they are, the more we want to see them wither. That applies to people, too.

This is the sickness that has caused many Americans — especially prosecutors — to turn on Martha Stewart. She stood out like a tall fennel in a soybean patch a couple of years ago. She had wowed American women with her ingenuity in housekeeping, cooking and decorating and stunned everyone with her ability to make money. You saw her on television, in her own magazine and on posters in a nationwide discount chain, which paid her millions to promote its products.

Now look at us. We just can’t wait to see her topple after that ol’ wick grazes her head. The government started an investigation to find out whether she was guilty of insider trading in ImClone stock by selling after she learned that ImClone wasn’t going to get a regulatory approval it had been counting on. Aha! everyone said. We figured she must be guilty of something!

Next week she goes on trial in a federal court on charges that are related to — related to, mind you — insider trading. She has never actually been charged with insider trading. She is charged with obstructing an investigation into whether or not she was guilty, and doing so by maintaining that she was innocent.

Simplified, that means she will be tried for saying she was not guilty of something the government hasn’t charged her with.

And what if she did sell her stock after getting some bad news about the company? What was she supposed to do, just sit by and take a loss?

This is going to be a trial we don’t need. Surely the prosecutors and Miss Stewart’s lawyers could have reached some kind of agreement to save the huge amount of taxpayer money that the trial will cost.

Even if her lawyers wouldn’t have agreed to more than a guilty plea for some minor misdemeanor, that would have been enough. The only real reason for trying to convict her of a felony seems to be that she’s the tallest weed in the field.

Published in Editorials on January 19, 2004 1:18 PM