Glenn Fawcett, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Over the weekend, the New York Times published a quickly-viral profile of Elizabeth Holmes, the Theranos founder whose massive fraud put lives at risk, squandered hundreds of millions of dollars, and resulted in her receiving an 11-year prison sentence. The Theranos story has been best written by journalist John Carreyrou in his book Bad Blood; it’s also the subject of an excellent podcast and a television series I haven’t seen yet. And now, Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos, with her black turtlenecks and red lipstick and unblinking arctic eyes and baritone voice is remade as Liz: A mom of two babies, make-up free and enjoying the simple things, a kind of California trad wife who simply wants to take her kids to the zoo.
The reporter who wrote the piece, Amy Chozick, suggests a few things: That this version of Elizabeth Holmes feels authentic, relatable, and sympathetic; that Elizabeth Holmes does not actually believe she did anything wrong and is in fact a dogged optimist convinced of her own potential for greatness; and that both Elizabeth Holmes and her partner Billy Evans know that she is charismatic, persuasive, and highly effective at convincing other people to believe that she is authentic, relatable, and sympathetic (or whatever it is she wants to be).
Holmes also makes the case that she’s been victimized many times over. She tells Chozick, and told a jury, that she was raped in college, and has a police report to back it up. She tells Chozick, and told a jury, that she was manipulated, abused, and at least partly controlled by her boyfriend Sunny Balwani, who she met when he was 37 and she was just 18. And she also makes the argument that as the nation’s most prominent and wealthiest young female founder, she had a target on her back.
I believe all of these things are true. I believe that Elizabeth Holmes was raped in college. I believe that she was in an abusive relationship with a controlling man determined to mold her to his liking (what other kind of 37-year-old adult dates a teenager?). I believe that part of the fascination with her and the vilification of her comes from the fact that she is a woman in a largely male field, and that she is a young, attractive, highly ambitious woman at that.
I also believe that Elizabeth Holmes is a fraudster, a master manipulator, and quite possibly a sociopath.