Martha Stewart rode out of federal prison in Alderson, W.Va., today to launch an audacious comeback campaign that might be tougher than anything she faced during her five months behind penitentiary walls.
Her carefully scripted departure at 12:30 a.m. was carried live by cable news channels, complete with helicopters chasing her SUV on its 22-minute drive to Greenbrier Valley Airport.
Transcript: Newsweek senior writer Charles Gasparino was online to discuss the release of Martha Stewart from prison and the future of her business.
Photo Gallery: Martha Stewart Released From Prison
Video: Wasting no time, Martha Stewart left prison early Friday and quickly set her sights on rebuilding her homemaking empire after serving a five-month sentence for lying about a stock sale.
Video: The Washington Post's Jerry Knight discusses corporate scandals and compares Martha Stewart's crime with those of Worldcom's Bernard Ebbers and Tyco's Dennis Kozlowski.
On the night of her release, Stewart appeared to be everywhere. CNN dedicated hours of coverage, including a one-hour biography special featuring grainy, hand-held camera footage by an inmate. Stewart was not interviewed for the show, but she could be seen in prison, chatting with and hugging other inmates.
In Alderson, W.Va., the media and Stewart supporters kept vigil. Four television satellite trucks and at least as many ad hoc broadcast sites crowded the space between a railroad crossing and the modest stone gates of the minimum-security prison. About three-dozen fans braved the below-freezing temperatures, one from as far away as Seattle.
Stewart, in sweater and jeans and flanked by her daughter Alexis, waved to cameras as she walked to her private airplane shortly after 1 a.m. At that time, she released a statement, saying, "The experience of the last five months in Alderson, West Virginia has been life altering and life affirming. Someday, I hope to have the chance to talk more about all that has happened, the extraordinary people I have met here and all that I have learned."
Stewart said she "will never forget the friends that I met here, all that they have done to help me over these five months, their children, and the stories they have told me."
Her personal appeal has been rising while she has been in prison, but the future of the firm is far from certain.
Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. last week reported a fourth-quarter loss of $7.3 million and predicted an even larger loss for the first quarter of this year.
And there are questions about how Stewart will work with the company's strong new chief executive, Susan M. Lyne, a widely respected former ABC entertainment head who is moving to put her own mark on the company. This week, the company's publisher and executive vice president, Suzanne Sobel, said she was quitting to pursue "new challenges."
Martha Stewart checks on her horses behind her home in Bedford, N.Y., after her release from a West Virginia correctional facility. (Jeff Zelevansky - Reuters)
When Stewart officially returns to work, she will take the title of "founder." While she could technically reassume the chief executive job, legal experts say she is unlikely to do so because she still faces a Securities and Exchange Commission civil suit that seeks to bar her for life from serving as a director at a public company and limit her ability to serve as an officer. The SEC case is suspended until Stewart completes the appeal of her criminal conviction.