ALDERSON, WV - Have you ever seen rows of media satellite trucks parked along a nice peaceful road and wondered what all the hoopla could be about? Martha Stewart arrived at the Federal Prison Camp for Women here Friday, Oct. 8, 2004 managing to sneak past hundreds of journalists who had gathered to report on her arrival. The town's population of 1,100 had nearly doubled because of the number of reporters and photographers who streamed to town for the event. One of Stewart's top supporters and longtime admirers, Edd Townsend, was on hand as he and several locals "watched the media watch Martha". At about 5:57 a.m., a teal colored Ford Expedition drove up to the prison gate. Stewart was seated in the rear with her daughter, Alexis; two bodyguards sat in the front. The SUV paused briefly, then sped through a stop sign and inside the stone gate. As the desperate gang of journalists later realized that they had missed their chance to ogle Stewart on her way to the FPC, they really turned rather ugly. By Saturday morning, detailed accounts of Stewart's cavity search were making headline news, along with even less tasteless speculation concerning potentially violent or homosexual encounters she may endure while being incarcerated. One New York based gossip magazine reporter even obtained some candid photos of Ms. Stewart, her daughter Alexis, and friend Kevin Sharkey as they were seated at the visitor's center within the prison camp. Go figure! How did this journalist obtain the photos of Martha while she was seated at the FPC visitor's center? Did the journalist make prior contact with an inmate in order to procure such images? Is such action as this permissible by law?

Apparently, the media is a decision structure of a unique kind. The mainstream media may be helping in the sense that the information it provides to the public is essential to the smooth and effective functioning of a democracy. But, it also can be controlling. In the hands of a despot the media can be used to publish biased, selected or even false personal information about people for the purpose of controlling their behavior or the behavior of those around them. Armed with First Amendment rights and a belief that the public has a right to know, whether justified or no, the media often is aggressive in its attempts to penetrate the defenses of other decision structures in order to get information about people which they think can be used to present a good story. Such actions sell newspapers and build television and radio audiences. Moreover, the privilege our society accords reporters to protect their sources provides a shield under which the press can operate more freely than most other institutions and decision structures.

As a semi-retired newspaper columnist, and since I understand how certain members of the media can distort the truth, I agreed to accompany and photograph Edd Townsend on this beautiful fall weekend in October of 2004 as he toured the town of Alderson, WV in order to obtain first-hand knowledge concerning Martha Stewart's unfortunate situation. - by: Bob Hopson; SCT Newspapers



ALDERSON, WV - You might say Edd Townsend is a Renaissance man for the 21st century. He is an aviator, Internet entrepreneur and a professional musician. With his "salt-of-the-Earth" personality, he is also a huge fan of Martha Stewart. Such a big fan, in fact, he has written, produced and performed on a compact disc expressing his devotion to the embattled domestic arts maven. Townsend, an accomplished professional guitarist, offered his CD, "To Martha with Love," on his Web site at eddtownsend.com. Townsend's fondness for all things Martha has earned him an added degree of notoriety even among the most die-hard Stewart fans. According to the results of an online poll conducted by SaveMartha.Com, Townsend has been listed as the top prospect to marry Stewart. He believes it has been his innovative ideas for demonstrating how much he supports Stewart in her time of need that has won him accolades from Martha fans nationwide. One such idea was to pilot a plane across the country collecting names from "San Diego to Maine" on a card that he planned to present to Stewart on her birthday. Townsend has also told savemartha.com that he would meet any of Stewart's critics in the boxing ring. After all, he says, it was watching "Martha Stewart Living" on television that got him interested in the domestic goddess to begin with.

"I started watching her show a few years ago while I was working in my studio," Townsend said. "I really liked the background guitar music that was edited into the show, so I decided to send her some of my own music to see if she would use it." Townsend said he became "addicted" to watching Stewart as she took on a variety of cooking and craft projects each weekday morning. "I started herb gardening myself," Townsend said. "My family thought I was nuts." His fascination with Stewart's ideas is all in good fun, says Townsend, who has visited Martha's homes in Westport, CT. and East Hampton, NY, and has photographs to prove it. "Using those good tips from her TV show was a lot of fun and helped me to create a fabulous herb garden," Townsend added.

Yes, Edd Townsend is very well known these days among Martha Stewart fans as well as many media pundits. Lately, while listening to several of these media pundits as they analyzed whether or not Townsend is some sort of a "stalker", of which Townsend says he 'truly isn't,' it reminded me of the experience so often observed when one reads a movie critic’s review of a current film and then watches the movie, leaving with a totally different impression than that created by the critic. It seemed as if almost all the media pundits were trying to convince everyone, including strong Martha-fans, that Townsend must be "some sort of a stalking nut" simply because he openly supports Martha Stewart and mostly, according to Townsend, because "they found out I wanted to take her out on a date a couple of years ago to hear the Four Freshmen sing jazz one night in New Canaan, CT." Townsend has claimed that while in Alderson, WV, where Martha Stewart will serve five months in the FPC, media reporters and journalists have followed him, tried to interview him, and spoke to him while they focused on superficial things such as how his statements were delivered, “head room”, tone of voice and demeanor. Townsend said, "I think they are following me because they discovered I may be teaching a guitar class here at Alderson, and there is a possibility that you-know-who may be in that class." Are these pundits really so shallow? Yes, I think they are, because perception seems to be everything with them.

While at the FPC Alderson gate, a bystander mentioned: "The national press reported that [Alderson] locals were negative. Nothing could have been farther from the truth. Again the media led the opinion rather than reporting the truth about the opinion." She later said, "Martha supporters cannot be heard because it's not popular with the press." So since when does the press get to tell us what we think or don't think?

Edd Townsend’s open support for Martha Stewart is effective but with the "he-wants-to-marry-Martha" filter and warped bias applied by the spin machine in the mainstream media, the only ones who hear and get the full import of Townsend's message are those listening to him in person. - by: Bob Hopson; SCT Newspapers; with chosen excerpts by Robert Houk; Johnson City Press



ALDERSON, WV - Do the readers of the New York Daily News ever stop to think about where those detailed front-page photos come from? Here we see what appears to be Martha Stewart walking the grounds of the FPC here in Alderson. Any idea as to whom the camera-snapper might be? Where was the camera-snapper located when this photo was taken? Was this photo snapped by an inmate or was it taken through a high-powered zoom lens from a makeshift media-hobo camp located on the north side of the railroad tracks? Do you think the media is in fact "stalking" Martha?

According to the NY Daily News, "With the leafy trees and classic red brick buildings of the federal prison camp in Alderson, W.Va., in the background, it almost looked like she could have been out for a leisurely walk at her sprawling upstate Bedford estate." "But those weren't Ralph Lauren khakis Stewart was wearing; they were standard-issue slacks from the prison supply closet." "And she wasn't checking on the autumn flowers in her greenhouse." Come on now, Ms. Bode... how cute does this "news bit" have to be before it is acceptable by your boss in New York City? Maybe Tracy O'Conner was back in New York at the Daily News headquarters rushing around the office at break-neck speed in the same manner in which she scrambled to get out that story about Martha-supporter Edd Townsend when he was preparing to fly cross-country on Martha's birthday back in 2003.

Apparently, either the staff of the NY Daily News or someone working with them went to great pains to get this first photo and story concerning Martha Stewart at FPC Alderson. "She was pacing a grass lawn between one of the austere 'cottages' where the inmates double-bunk at night and the prison visitors center", the NY Daily News reported. This leads one to conclude that virtually all decision structures form a kind of love/hate relationship with the media. Being given visibility by the media can support a structure's activities and help it achieve its goals. On the other hand, demonization by the media or its untimely or injurious release of personal information can lead to bad consequences such as shame, discrediting or the loss of personal space and options for the first party. Lives and careers can be destroyed. The approaches used by the media are broad, ranging from the incessant stalking of the paparazzi to the dogged trailing of investigative reporters intent on ferreting out wrongdoing. - by: Bob Hopson; SCT Newspapers



ALDERSON, WV - How many times have you been in the check-out line at the super-market or at a convenience store waiting on the lady in front of you to get her check cleared and could not help but noticing that all-too-flashy tabloid rack under your nose. You glance up and see some nice cleavage on the front cover... all of a sudden you find that you are innocently looking at a mystical paparazzi photo aimed directly down the top of Martha Stewart's one-piece bathing suit! My goodness! Wow! Maybe someone on the Enquirer's staff is a movie history buff and remembered how much controversy Howard Hughes got into by filming actress Jane Russell in the same manner for the movie "The Outlaw". Nevertheless, your brain quickly goes into those normal procedures in which it has been used to functioning.

Depending on who you are and what you have come to believe about Martha Stewart (or depending on how much tricky media exposure you've been subjected to during the past three years)... you will react in one of several ways. (1) You consider yourself a Martha-fan and feel outraged that the tabloid would feature her on the front-cover... you thumb through the photos, but you do not buy the publication. (2) You consider yourself a Martha-hater and feel overjoyed that the tabloid would feature her on the front-cover... you thumb through the photos, but you do not buy the publication. (3) You consider yourself a Martha-hater and have mixed feelings about the tabloid featuring her on the front-cover... you thumb through the photos, then plunk down the money to buy the publication. (Chalk up a win for the weasels, they met their objective: to sell copies of "their untrue fantasy version" of what just might be going on in actual reality.) Or, (4) you consider yourself a Martha-fan and have uncertain feelings that the tabloid would feature her on the front-cover... you thumb through the photos, then plunk down the money to buy the publication. Or, (5) you react in your own unique way which may not be mentioned above. Read on. Here's an actual account of how one of Martha's top fans reacted:

As a part-time journalist, I traveled to Alderson to photograph the autumn foilage and to write a column for a couple local newspapers on the topic of fall colors. While waiting for my cheeseburger at the Riverview Exxon, one could not help but notice Martha's super-fan Edd Townsend at the check-out counter as he discussed the tabloid matter with a male teenage cashier. As Townsend was paying for his two hot dogs, Diet Coke, and, yes, a National Enquirer (the issue pictured above left), he spoke with the cashier as they both studied the photos on the tabloid's front cover. "Well, I guess I'd better see what these liars are saying about my future wife!", Townsend jokingly exclaimed. "The sneaky paparazzi weasels spied on her all last week while she went to a friend's wedding in the Bahamas!" With that, the polite West Virginia convenience store cashier lit up like a Christmas tree and said, "Yeah! I've looked at that entire article and those jerks are giving Martha a bad rap, man!" "Look at that fake picture of that prison!" the cashier added while pointing to the barbed-wire. "This picture isn't Alderson, man!... They don't even have any barbed-wire here!" (see photo, above right) "She's not even behind bars, plus, they don't even have a fence here!", the nice gentleman said. Pointing to the wording beside the photo of Martha on the National Enquirer's front-cover, the cashier also told Townsend, "We do not have violent guards here... also, I've never heard of any brutal attacks by inmates." "I've lived here all my life and I can tell you that this tabloid is full of crap, man!"

As I watched Edd Townsend receive his change and exit the Riverview Exxon, I saw that three local patrons overheard the conversation and followed the Martha-enamoured supporter out the door. I later noticed Townsend discussing Martha Stewart and her situation with about eight or ten local people outside the store. From what I overheard, almost everybody in the patriotic town of Alderson, WV feels that Martha was not only railroaded by the prosecutors, she's being railroaded by the media as well. As I opened my car door to leave I looked over to see an elderly lady walk up to Townsend and she told him, "Mr. Townsend, if you and Martha should ever in fact marry someday... we have a nice Baptist church here... you both are welcome to come visit us... we'll be tickled to have you here... be sure to tell Martha to bring Paw Paw and all the pets if ya'll buy a house someday in Alderson!"

Hummn... nice place, this Alderson, West Virginia! - by: Bob Hopson; SCT Newspapers



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