Election Section

Reality upstages Martha Stewart’s idealized lifestyle

The Associated Press
Friday June 28, 2002

NEW YORK — David Letterman was looking for a bright side to the Martha Stewart scandal: Though shares of her company have recently been plummeting in value, Dave joked that the stock certificates make lovely place mats. 

Letterman isn’t the only one taking pleasure in Martha’s pain. I, too, count myself among those savoring the rich stew she never meant to be simmering in. 

I admit it. Martha Stewart bugs me. She always has. 

Not because I already know how to press pansies, craft a bird bath or bake blueberry crumbcake, which I don’t (at least, not up to Martha’s rigorous standards). But if I wanted to learn, I would consult Martha. 

And yet ... I just can’t bring myself to. Watching her on TV, I find that, despite her tidy, step-by-step presentation, I am incapable of paying attention to what she says. 

Instead, I’m distracted by thoughts of the voracious drive required to plant her in the ranks of the nation’s wealthiest, most powerful media magnates. For me, Stewart’s “Type A” spirit mocks her placid on-camera style as she stitches an apron or prepares chicken tacos that are “carefree, easy and ultra-delicious.” 

Watching her, I can never relax. Nor am I able to believe that, underneath the surface, she can either. After all, she is the sleep-deprived driving force in so many books and magazines, the radio show, her newspaper column, her product lines and direct sales, plus TV programs on cable’s Food Network and HGTV channels as well as her daily syndicated hour. 

“Every year I’m ama-a-zed at how luxurious this particular rhododendron becomes,” Stewart chirped on a recent broadcast from her yard on Lily Pond Lane as she prepared to pick “some of the wonderful full-headed blooms so that I can make a small flower arrangement for my table.” 

Sure, that’s a good thing. But as the reigning asset of her media empire, she is hard pressed to convince me that — in real life, when the cameras are off — she ever has a moment to stop and smell the flowers she tells us how to enjoy. 

In short, I can never get beyond my suspicion that the gracious, do-it-yourself philosophy Stewart advances is lost on her in her push for more success. Not that her success isn’t deserved. I just don’t buy the act with which she courts it. 

I’m not alone. In his recent book, “Martha Inc.,” Christopher Byron cited “the widening disconnect between the public image of Martha Stewart, and the private reality of the person who bore the name.”