Saturday, February 7, 2004

Activist Stewart's 'foul-weather friend'

By Heather Salerno
The Westchester Journal News

In his role as self-appointed cheerleader for Martha Stewart, John Small adopts the mission of mail carriers: to deliver, regardless of the climate. So frigid temperatures find him waving banners outside the federal courthouse in Manhattan, as criminal proceedings against Stewart proceed.

"I'm surprised there's not more fans, but it's 12 degrees with the wind chill," he says. "It's keeping fair-weather friends away."

He adjusts a chef's hat emblazoned with a "Save Martha!" logo and ponders the comment.

"I guess," he laughs, "that makes us the foul-weather friends."

Fair or foul, Martha can use all the friends she's got these days, especially among jury members who will decide her fate.

Stewart is charged with securities fraud, obstruction of justice, and conspiracy in connection with her sale of ImClone stock in December 2001.

If convicted on all charges, Stewart, 62, could be sentenced to up to 30 years in jail.

Although he says he's never met her, Small is intent on seeing her through the scandal. A 42-year-old marketing consultant, he has become known as Martha's No. 1 fan, a title the media granted him 18 months ago when he founded

Through his Web site, which he says has received 25 million hits, the New York City native is an activist among Stewart's admirers.

He organized a letter-writing campaign against late-night comedians using Martha's tribulations as punch lines.

He managed to raise $22,000 when he wanted to erect a Times Square billboard with the slogan "If her stock sale was legit, you must acquit!" (The money wasn't enough to pay for the sign; Small says he's in the process of returning cash donations.)

And he's sold "thousands" of $20 T-shirts, $22 aprons, $14 mugs and other "Save Martha" merchandise, which pay for the site.

Journalists from as far as Australia and Japan have turned to Small for his pro-Martha perspective. He's been on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and the BBC, and he's been quoted in The New York Times, Newsweek and Time.

No matter the outlet, Small's arguments remain the same: Stewart's being unfairly prosecuted; she's a scapegoat in the herd of corrupt corporate CEOs; she's a victim of American media's tendency to bash female executives.

In August 2002, just a month after starting SaveMartha, Small launched as Rosie O'Donnell battled the publisher of her namesake magazine in a $100 million civil lawsuit. (He also registered, "just in case" that talk-show titan becomes a "potential target.")

Small and representatives for O'Donnell and Stewart refute speculation that he's being paid for his efforts, and all deny that he's in any way connected to the two women.

Yet Stewart is certainly aware of SaveMartha. She mentioned the site during her November interview with Barbara Walters.

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