NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Martha Stewart is annoying and elitist. But that doesn't make her a criminal. Nevertheless, everyone is treating her like one.
Sure, it's titillating to think of Stewart -- with her clean-pressed linens and color-coordinated dinnerware -- being dragged away in handcuffs. Crowds around the courthouse, reveling in the comeuppance of the rich and condescending, screaming things like, "How do pastels go with stripes, Martha???!!!" Shades of Leona "Taxes are for Little People" Helmsley.
But the fact of the matter is, Martha is looking pretty clean, even if Ms. Gracious Living hangs out with some characters who are less savory than one of her stews.
That would be, of course, Sam Waksal, the CEO of ImClone Systems who recently got arrested for insider trading.
Although he hasn't had his day in court, the prosecutors seem to have a pretty strong argument. Waksal got a heads-up that the FDA was going to give ImClone's wonderdrug, Erbitux, a thumbs-down. He allegedly tried to dump his stock in the company before that information was made public. During the process, prosecutors say Waksal alerted friends and family about the impending news as well, so that they could try to unload their shares as well.
Investigators are looking at Waksal's "friends and family" plan and deciding who should join him at the defendant's table.
Martha Stewart is a friend of Waksal's. Martha owned stock in ImClone. Martha sold her ImClone stock the day before it tanked on the FDA news.
Did Martha get a tip from Waksal?
They both say "no." And absent any proof to the contrary -- and FBI, SEC, and congressional investigators can't seem to find any -- you have to accept that.
And in fact, Martha has a plausible, even credible, explanation for her fortuitous stock sale -- the price went below $60 a share. That was her cutoff point for stopping a loss on her investment.
Sure, Martha and her broker may disagree on when she set that $60 price as her cutoff. He says mid-December, she says late November. Either way, it was before Waksal had his crucial bit of FDA news.
And face it, Martha is a smart businesswoman, well-versed in the ways of the market. She was a stockbroker at one time, for Pete's sake. It makes sense she would have a stop-loss strategy in mind and in place. Heck, we here at the CNN/Money make our living advising folks to do such sensible things.
In addition ... folks, we're talking about a sale of 3,928 ImClone shares at $58. She made a little less than $230,000. If she had traded them in the day after the news, she would have probably gotten around $180,000.
Down with Aristocrats, etc.
So we're talking fifty grand. Martha Stewart makes more money blowing her nose with an Irish linen napkin on the TV.
You get the point?
And it's not just Martha getting personally damaged here. Her Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia stock has taken a pounding since the ImClone scandal broke. Investors, who may just think her Gracious Living lifestyle is worth something, are getting hurt too.
Now I'll be the first to admit I find Martha incredibly irritating. Former model, fashion diva, smart, famous ... she's just so damn successful. And she still has time to cook puff pastries and fold towels correctly. Other folks -- including my wife -- find her advice and products useful and valuable. I see them as overpriced reminders that I'm time-compressed and socially inadequate.
But I recognize that these complaints are just me. And sure, Martha Stewart is part of the new aristocrat class that is distorting our country's democratic scheme. But that's not her fault.
Sure, there looks like there is plenty of corruption in the ImClone saga. For that matter, there is plenty of corruption in Corporate America in general. And, thankfully, it is being routed out.
But the danger in such purges is that they can easily become pogroms and witch hunts.
At this point, rhymes aside, Martha isn't a witch.
Allen Wastler is Managing Editor of CNN Money and a morning commentator on CNNfn. He can be emailed here.