It’s pretty hilarious, starting with the article title.
In May, the journalist John Carreyrou, who made Theranos his white whale for years, published Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, a potboiler about the company; I devoured it. But it didn’t slake my thirst for enlightenment about that epochal evildoer: Holmes herself. Holmes herself.
Holmes is no one’s maidservant or adjunct. She’s not Imelda Marcos or Ivanka Trump or Kellyanne Conway. Holmes is the master puppeteer of Theranos. It’s clear in Bad Blood that it was she—and no one else—who managed to drive the company’s value up to $9 billion without a working product; and she alone who was able to win unholy investments of trust, as well as a whopping $900 million from superstar investors, including education secretary Betsy DeVos and her family ($100 million) and good old Rupert Murdoch ($125 million). Holmes, in the book and now the indictments, comes off like a cheat, a pyramid schemer, an evil scientist, for heaven’s sake.
She’s also a woman. And we’re not used to self-made young female oligarchs lying outrageously, fleecing the hell out of other billionaires and conducting thunderous symphonies of global deception. There’s no American template for a powerful woman gone so gravely wrong. Holmes wasn’t insane. She wasn’t dissembling all those years to care for a sick child, or pursue another altruistic, if desperate, end. It wasn’t men, either. Though some have tried, she can’t—as the facts are laid out in Carreyrou’s book—be explained away as a victim of her deputy, sometime boyfriend and codefendant Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani. She wasn’t caving in to patriarchy.
I suppose the actual irony is that every other pyramid scheme or implosion of large companies like Enron are mainly blamed on the CEOs and people in charge: men. But let’s not get those facts in the way.
Like many who sell blind faith, Holmes’ pitch turned on gravitas, pathos, and invocations of pain and suffering. She trafficked, quite literally, in blood; she promised Theranos would save lives in hospitals, in homes, and on the battlefield. Bernie Madoff would never have sounded so earnest. P. T. Barnum would never have played his con as morally urgent. But that’s why Holmes was—for a time—the billionaire they never were.
Eventually Holmes, like so many of us, got what she feared most: a whole universe of people who don’t believe in her. Holmes’s extraordinary gift was for tragedy. With Theranos, she pulled it off.
Ah, yes, the heroine of a great tragedy. You can’t make this stuff up.
I guess that’s what you get when you have no objective moral standard though. Famous women who are fraudsters — lobbying for investment money which takes away from the pool of funding for legitimate medical companies trying to save lives — are your heroes.