It’s the cover-up, stupid

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A two-year federal investigation and a five-week trial costing taxpayers millions have brought a desperate criminal to justice. At last. Get these dangerous thugs off the streets.

If sentenced to prison June 17, taxpayers again will foot the bill for incarcerating-not Ken Lay, who has still not paid for his part in the Enron debacle, not an international drug smuggler-just Martha Stewart, a single mom trying to make a living brightening the dreary lives of ordinary haus fraus. The tab for her room and board in Club Fed, or wherever it is they imprison those who obstruct justice in an effort to save their backsides, will be paid by you and me. And for what? For making us feel like klutzes in our own kitchens.

The justice department and the jury sent a message. The high and mighty can’t get away with anything the average slob can’t do. “Maybe it’s a victory for the little guys who lose money in the market,” said one juror.

That’s what was at work here. Envy.

Where is the justice in that?

The media maven saved a paltry $50,000 by dumping her shares of Imclone stock the day before its price plummeted on bad news from the FDA. Come on. Who wouldn’t have done the same, given a hint from her stockbroker? Who did she hurt? She didn’t wipe out the pensions of thousands of workers on the eve of their retirement. She wasn’t late trading, inflating fees on mutual funds, manipulating corporate stock values, cooking the books. She was cooking Belgian chocolate brownies, not books. She’s already spent a hundred times that $50K on legal fees trying to “clear her name.” And she could have copped a plea before her indictment. Probably gotten off with a stiff fine. But the feds wanted to rub her nose in it. Make her do the perp walk, TV cameras rolling, hands in cuffs, wouldn’t even have been able to push her hair out of her eyes. Oh, the ignominy.

So she’s paying for her defense and we’re paying for the trial. And the appeal. Stewart v. Justice: the sequel.

What Stewart did-remember she wasn’t charged with insider trading-was not malicious or predatory or exploitive. She basically followed her broker’s advice, which was, of course, prompted by inside information, which she shouldn’t have been told. But she was, and they expect her to ignore it? Anyway, it wasn’t a really big deal except that she lied about it. Whatever you do in this life, if you get caught, don’t lie about it. Ask Clinton. Or Leona Helmsley, for that matter.

And speaking of lies, how about world class liar Jayson Blair, whose concocted “news” stories for the New York Times brought a different meaning to the term creative nonfiction. His whole career seems to have been a lie, yet Blair may still make money from his book about the fabrications he passed off as journalism. (That is, if it can overcome scathing reviews from book critics.) “Burning Down My Masters’ House,” however, is no mea culpa. It’s shameless blame shifting, excuse making and just more lies. Having been sunk by her own cover-up, Stewart could still recoup her legal costs with creative cover stories for Martha Stewart Living: “Cell Block Makeover in Celadon and Mauve” and “Haute Cuisine for the Halfway House.” Or, “Dress for Success at Your Parole Hearing.”

With any luck at all Stewart will be off the front page at least until June, so maybe we can get back to the really important issues facing the nation. Like rampant indecency in the media, “wardrobe malfunctions” at the Super Bowl and Howard Stern’s paranoid ranting about broadcast regulators being “out to get me.” Clear Channel fired you, Howie. Get over it.

Even Martha would agree that restoring some semblance of decency to our national media might be a good thing.

And in the interests of full disclosure, a spelling error in last week’s column was my sloppy work alone, and I’m not shifting blame to my editors. Perhaps the last line should have read, “Can you spell Halliburton?”