The news media were fascinated by Martha Stewart's surprise request yesterday. She said she wanted to put the entire ImClone Systems (NASDAQ:IMCL) mess behind her and pay her debt to society, which includes a five-month jail term for lying to the Feds. I have to confess I wasn't nearly as surprised myself.

No, it's not because I thought Martha would heed my call to finally shut up and do her time.

It's because I know what makes Martha tick, and that's money. Love of money got her into this mess, and maybe it will lead her out.

Sure, she's got plenty of dough already, but there's always more to be had. Her panicked exhortations on the courtroom steps -- which went something like, "Please, keep buying my stuff!" -- must look pretty desperate in retrospect. The thing about being too important for jail? Not the best PR. The line about being like Nelson Mandela? I'll bet she wishes she could take that back too.

In her case, the best way to get back on the Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (NYSE:MSO) gravy train is to finally come up with some contrition and begin a very public makeover. Don't think for a minute that it won't work. Ever watch rasslin' from World Wrestling Entertainment (NYSE:WWE)? No one's more popular than a reformed heel. And no one's more hated than the good guy gone bad.

And don't bother writing to berate me for impugning her motivation. There's no disguising the fact that this is about repairing a brand in order to sell more magazines, more towels at Kmart (NASDAQ:KMRT), and more books on (NASDAQ:AMZN). The proof is in the press conference. This was no introspective, sitting-room interview. The road to rehab began at a very prominent Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia rostrum.

But that should be worth something to shareholders. When Martha does well, their prospects are better. Her ethical renovation may not be complete by my standards or yours, but this is business. However self-serving her motivation, by putting on a brave face and taking her medicine, she's finally acting in her shareholders' best interests. For that, at least, she deserves some applause.

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Seth Jayson wishes he could bake like Martha, but at the time of publication, he had positions in any company mentioned. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here. Fool rules are here.