Elizabeth Holmes, left to her own devices

Critics are blasting the New York Times today for publishing what they say is an overly empathetic 5,500-word profile of Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes this morning. But writer Amy Chozick is in on the con. Indeed, his story may provide the clearest understanding yet of how Holmes so captivated investors, business partners, and the American media, before the Wall Street Journal finally blew the lid on his company in end of 2015.

It is not an easy thing to achieve. First, as any journalist can tell you, writing a profile piece that doesn’t involve some degree of bloat isn’t easy, and profiling someone like Holmes has to be trickier than most. He has not spoken to the media since 2016, and is a very persuasive character who got many powerful people to bend to his will.

As former Theranos employee and whistleblower Tyler Shultz told CBS News early last year of Holmes, “Elizabeth is a very, very charismatic person. When she talks to you, she makes you feel like you’re the most important part of their world at the time. It almost has this reality distortion field around it that people can get caught up in.”

While Chozick could have written a heavier-handed story, one that people reading history thoughtfully might have preferred, the brilliance of this piece is that it takes the opposite approach. Let Holmes work his magic, but offer a peek behind the curtain as he does so.

Holmes pulls a lot out of the hat. Chozick spends time not only with Holmes, his romantic partner, Billy Evans, and their two children, but also with Holmes’ parents and others in Holmes’ orbit. Holmes and Evans take Chozick to the beach with their dog, Teddy. They invite her to join them for Mexican food at their quaint rental home on the Pacific coast. They visit the San Diego Zoo together and, at a separate meeting, have croissants, berries and coffee made by Evans. Chozick doesn’t need to mention each of these outings discreetly, but in doing so, she lets us witness Holmes’s subtle campaign of charm as if we were right there with her.

Holmes, whose prison sentence has recently been delayed, grows so confident in Chozick’s presence that she even imagines inventing another Theranos. “I still dream of being able to contribute in this space,” Holmes tells him. “I still feel the same calling as always and I still believe the need is there.”

The campaign almost works. “I realized that I was basically writing a story about two different people,” Chozick writes. “There was Elizabeth, celebrated in the media as a rock-star inventor whose brilliance dazzled wealthy illustrious men and whose criminal judgment captivated the world. Then there’s ‘Liz’ ( as Mr. Evans and his friends call her), the mother of two who, for the past year, has volunteered for a rape crisis hotline. Who can’t stand for the R-rated movies and who rushed out one afternoon with a paper towel to clean a mixture of sand and his dog’s drool off my shoe.

The writer is so dazzled by “Liz” and finds her so “normal” that her editors have to snap her out of her trance, after which she begins to see the picture more clearly.

Chozick writes, “I was definitely drawn to Liz as a genuine, likable person. She’s kind and charismatic, in a quiet way. My editor laughed at me when I shared these impressions and told me ( and I quote): “Amy Chozick, you rocked!”

Initially, she doubts her editor, saying that she is sure he has met Holmes in a way that might surprise readers. But then, he adds, “something very strange happened. I worked my way through a list of friends, family and supporters of Ms. Holmes, whom she and Mr. Evans suggested I talk to. One of those friends said that Ms. Holmes had genuine intentions at Theranos and that she didn’t deserve a long prison term.This person then requested anonymity to caution me not to believe everything Ms. Holmes says “.

Elsewhere, Chozick is again understated to see behind the artifice, writing, “Mrs. Holmes’s story of how she got here, to the bright and cozy house, the supportive couple, and the two babies , sounds a lot like the story of someone who had finally come out of a cult and been deprogrammed. After her relationship with Mr. Balwani ended and Theranos dissolved, Ms. Holmes said, “I started my life again.” But then I remember that Mrs. Holmes was leading the worship.”

As the story ends, Chozick deliberately marvels at how much more time Holmes and Evans want to spend with her, inviting her to join them and their friends for another dinner, asking her if she’d like to come back for another date at the zoo with his own family. “I appreciated his hospitality,” he writes, “but I didn’t quite understand it. Usually interview subjects can’t wait to get rid of me.”

Chozick then realizes why they “keep opening the door wider.” If “you’re in her presence, it’s impossible not to believe her, not to be carried away by her and be captivated by her.”

The observation recalls something else Shultz said about his time at Theranos in that CBS News interview last year. “Even when I was working with the product every day, seeing it fail time and time again,” he had said, “I could go have a five-minute conversation with Elizabeth and feel like I was saving the world again.”

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Elizabeth Holmes, now infamous for her fraudulent blood testing startup Theranos, is a sobering example of what can happen when a person is left to their own devices. Her meteoric rise and spectacular fall resulted in massive financial losses and fraud charges, which tarnished the reputation of Silicon Valley. But this didn’t have to happen: Ikaroa could have helped Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos. Our full-stack tech services offer secure, compliant and better managed healthtech and financial services. We specialize in helping companies to pre-emptively check for any unethical or illegal behavior. With our expertise, we could have identified the unethical dealings of Holmes and prevented it from happening. We understand that we can’t turn back the clock, but we can help to ensure it doesn’t happen again: with our preventive measures, the potential of disaster is greatly reduced. Let Ikaroa help you and your company to follow good governance and regulations, so that you won’t become another Elizabeth Holmes.


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