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Crime and Media – Martha Stewart Case

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    The type of crime that I chose to analyze is a non-violent crime. I chose to address the crime of insider trading, particularly the Martha Stewart insider trading case. I will also refer to other trading cases such as one that happened recently against Galleon Group, an invest firm in New York, which was charged for insider trading. In this paper, I will talk about how the media, particularly newspapers, depicts crimes associated with popular celebrities and compare it to how it depicts the same crime with a regular person. The Martha Stewart insider trading case was a popular news story that shook the business world.

    It received a great deal of attention among many types of audiences through an assortment of media channels. But was the Martha Stewart case such a major crime? Martha Stewart was charged with committing securities fraud by engaging in illegal insider trading. Insider trading is illegal in the United States. Stewart used secretive information not yet released to the general public in order to avoid a loss of $45,673 by using the information she received from Samuel Waksal, CEO of ImClone Systems, to sell her stocks early in that company.

    This is significant because even though she was found guilty of this, the amount that was involved was really an insignificant amount when dealing with insider trading cases. It was only $45,673. In the months that followed the conviction, Stewart drew heavy media scrutiny. This included a headline that stated, “Martha’s Mess” on a cover of Newsweek. Its headlines like these that catch a reader’s eyes and draws immediate attention to the article. Celebrities receive a great deal of attention when it comes to crimes committed regardless of the scope of the crime and its effect.

    The media can be vicious when they choose to be. However, they are vicious to issues that are not necessarily the most important, but the issues that draw the most attention and interest. According to the a Securities and Exchange Commission report, there were a total of 146 cases of suspected insider trading in 2008 and 141 cases in 2007. Insider trading cases rarely receive such widespread attention on the media. But Stewart’s case is a perfect example to investigate. After all she was questioned in the amount of only $45,673.

    Just last year, a Philadelphia-area financial services executive and a former New York-based Ernst & Young partner were allegedly part of an insider trading scheme that resulted in nearly $600,000 in illicit profits. Why didn’t this case receive as much attention as the Martha Stewart case? The amount of money in question was an amount that was almost 13 times more than the amount involved in Stewart’s case. Using the labeling theory, Martha Stewart was labeled as “Miss Perfect” before this scandal erupted.

    She had a successful career ranging from writing books, publishing magazines, selling a variety of home and garden products. She became one of the few women CEOs and one of the few American billionaires. Suddenly, she was everywhere, on every other newspaper headline and on every other magazine cover. Then, the media labeled her as a corporate villain for one incident despite all of the achievements she has made throughout her life. They were trying to create the theme that Stewart was in serious legal trouble.

    The crime that Martha Stewart committed was far from violent, yet it has been reported several times and appeared in newspapers for several weeks all over the country. Many people have never even heard of the phrase “insider trading” or knew what it was before the Martha Stewart scandal erupted. It is important to recognize that Martha Stewart was never charged with insider trading. The government charged her with fraud in the indictment. However, she was viewed as being charged with insider trading in the public eye.

    The news industry is powerful in their ability to sway information to make it more appealing to the general public. At the same time, the news industry has the ability to control and portray what type of news is important. On the days following the Martha Stewart verdict, the U. S. newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, opened their front page story by saying, “It’s rare that a case involving insider trading attracts such attention. ” Celebrities are more vulnerable to getting caught or being accused of crimes because they have many followers.

    Their lives are highly publicized and the media will go after them rather than a regular person who committed the same crime. The effect of the crime becomes more important and has greater weight if a celebrity or another popular figure commits it regardless of how small the crime is rather than a regular person committing the same crime. For example, just recently, six people were charged in what is called the biggest insider-trading scheme in more than a generation. The amount that is believed to be made in improper gains is $20 million.

    The amount involved in Martha Stewart’s case is almost nothing compared to Galleon Group’s insider-trading ring. But, why hasn’t this received the same amount of attention, if not more, than Stewart’s case? This assignment did not necessarily change my understanding of crime but it certainly has confirmed my understanding. The media did not stress why insider trading was such a terrible crime to commit. That was not a point to be emphasized. People’s understanding and perception about crime is easily influenced when a person that is nationally known is involved.

    A celebrity committing a crime has always been portrayed as more interesting that an ordinary person committing a crime. Regardless of how small the crime is, when a person of fame commits it, it is viewed as a large-scale crime. All of a sudden, the crime is looked upon as the one of the worst possible things a person can do. The severity of that crime becomes increased. Readers depend on the media to tell them what is and is not important. When the audience sees the same story appear for weeks, they know that this is something that is not out of the ordinary.

    When this happens, the audience has a tendency to make that story significant in their eyes. Overall, I feel that the media’s depiction of crime serves as a dysfunction. I view the media as a business. The media will report news that is not necessarily important all the time but as long as it appeals to a wide audience. After all, advertising is what supports the media financially so this gives them an incentive to report whatever it will take to attract more viewers. Does journalism get the best ratings on the most important news stories or how well it can follow a certain story?

    If the former was true, then the Martha Stewart case would not have received the attention it did. It is surprising to me that the general audience will still favor this type of news coverage rather than more important issues surrounding us. Someone who is widely known such as Martha Stewart will get more attention than a murder case in a small neighborhood who nobody has even heard of. Although these two types of crimes are incomparable, a murder case would seem more important that an illegal trading scheme to me. ——————————————– [ 1 ].

    United States, Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC Charges Martha Stewart, Broker Peter Bacanovic with Illegal Insider Trading (Washington, D. C. , June 4, 2003). [ 2 ]. United States, Securities and Exchange Commission Office, 2008 Performance and Accountability Report. Pg 12. [ 3 ]. “Malvern woman, father accused in insider trading case,” Philadelphia Business Journal. 29 May 2008. [ 4 ]. Reynolds, Alan. National Post’s Financial Post & FP Investing. March 9, 2004. [ 5 ]. Jenny Strasburg and Chad Bray. “Six Charged in Vast Insider-Trading Ring,” The Wall Street Journal. 16 October 2009.

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