Man Without Qualities

Thursday, July 04, 2002

Marthahate To Your Door

The New York Times seems to prefer its Marthahate sushi style: fishy, raw and served with vinegar but without a containing vessel.

The point of today's morsel at first seems to be to report that big trouble is looming at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia because (1) Ms. Stewart's image problems will likely cause shoppers to stop buying the company's goods and advertisers to cut back on buys in the company's media outlets, and (2) "as her troubles have mounted, more damage control specialists have been hired" - and they're not cheap. Also implied is that people will stop buying her media products as her "wholesome" image deteriorates.

But, wait! Are people really likely to stop buying Martha Stewart products? After first raising the alarm, the Times says it's just "not clear." But the only expert cited says the opposite is clear:

"At the end of the day, the Kmart shopper listens to Martha Stewart about subjects like design and homemaking," said Clive Chajet, a corporate identity consultant in New York. "They do not listen to her ideas about financial investments."

How about advertisers? Are they backing off? Seems not: "Advertising executives have said they see little change in demand for ads in Ms. Stewart's magazines and on her television shows." The Times again expresses anxiety: "But as the controversy swirls on, that may change." However, absolutely no support is provided for the assertion "that may change."

What about the extra professional expenses? The Times says: "A spokesman for the company would not say whether Ms. Stewart or the company was paying for their counsel." So the Times has nothing to report on that front - which doesn't stop them, of course.

The Times also says it sees the likelihood of other punishing expenses: "And if the company's expenses rise as a result of having to refocus the public's attention on the Martha Stewart brand, that will eat into the expected profits as well." But since the Times comes up with no evidence that a deterioration in Ms. Stewart's image will affect the sales or revenues of her media outlets or products, there is no looming need for the company to "refocus the public's attention." It's just another Times red herring.

Just what does the Times know? Well, we are urgently told that Ms. Stewart is still being paid her salary! There's also some random material that seems to be extracted uncredited from the company's public securities filings: the company pays her well for the use of her various homes as photo shoots sites, for example. Is that a surprise to the Times? Have the Times reporters ever looked at Martha Stewart Living Magazine - which largely consists of photos of her homes? (Also, if the Times' innuendo that Ms. Stewart is being overpaid for the use of those homes by her company is correct, then using other homes for future shoots would presumably help offset whatever additional expenses the company might incur to "refocus the public's attention," right?)

Why would the Times run this particular wretched scrap of an article?

Well, could the Times savaging Martha Stewart be related to the fact that big parts of the New York Times seem to directly compete with various Martha Stewart enterprises? For example, the Times runs lots of articles on food and shelter and life style - and the Times seems to go for the same market as Martha does in those respects. Today, for example, right next to the Times "Business Day" section containing the attack on Ms. Stewart's interests, there is an entire section titled "Home & House" that could almost be lifted from the pages of Martha Stewart Living Magazine, complete with a lucious, full-color spread on the wonders of screened-in porches. Other Marthaesque "good things" follow

Further, the kind of mostly unsupported anxieties the Times is stirring up in this article closely resemble those stirred up by so-called "short sellers" trying to manipulate the price of a stock, in this case Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia stock. In fact, the Times article seems to be positively begging investors to trash Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia stock, readers to stop reading her magazines, shoppers to stop buying her products and advertisers to stop advertising in her outlets. After all, people could read and advertise in the Times instead! Why, investors interested in individual-dominated public media companies can even buy Times stock instead of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia stock!

As the Times puts it:

"It is a busy time of year, when magazine issues are being prepared for publication and holiday offerings are also being photographed for the catalog and the Internet."

Yes, and they do seem to be busy, busy, busy at the Times Business Day section - perhaps developing those valued synergies with the Home & House section. How modern!

In other words, is the Times being unethical - even crooked - with this article?

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