The Theranos Story, ch. 19: the dramatic denouement, including human tragedy

click to enlargeThe deconstruction of Theranos continues, con il dramma, rounding back to those who touted it. There isn’t all that much new in Nick Bilton’s Vanity Fair article, but it adds context and color to this (literally) Bloody House of Smoke and Mirrors. (Ah, where’s Christopher Lee when you need him?–Ed.) There’s the usual Inside Baseball of closed-door meetings in ‘war rooms’, G150 jetting to awards, bodyguards, threatening lawyers, crisis managers, COO ‘enforcers’ (Sunny Balwani) and playing the Silicon Valley investor game (with Google Ventures taking a very smart pass). Where this gets unusual is the portrait of Elizabeth Holmes as an obsessive, secretive, blondined Steve Jobs knockoff from the age of 19, with a hot idea that never matched scientific reality from the start, but with a great line of ‘making the world a better place’ magnified by Silicon Valley’s incessant, We’re The Top And You’re Not narcissism.

Even Narcissus ultimately saw a fool in that pool. Played and tarred to a greater or lesser degree were: the only major SV VC lured in, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, and off-SV investors like mutual funds and private equity have lost it all; Fortune, Forbes, CNN plus much of the tech and financial press; and respected people lured to the board like Marine Gen. James Mattis, who had initiated the pilot program in DOD, Henry Kissinger and former Senator Bill Frist MD. Then the alphabet agencies marched in after the author: FDA, CMS, SEC and DOJ.

Oh yes, that Zika test announced in early August? Withdrawn at end of August. Ms Holmes is appealing her two year lab ban. But she still has absolute control of what’s left of the business. Business Insider

Finally, the lede in many articles is the suicide of British chief scientist Ian Gibbons and Ms Holmes reaction. Already ill with cancer, he came on board in 2005 and soon realized that the reality of the science didn’t match the messaging. The tests were off and remained off. By 2013, he knew Ms Holmes was going to fire him over control issues and having to testify truthfully in a court case (ironically instigated by Theranos). His suicide, Ms Holmes’ chilly reaction to it, and the company’s threatened legal action against his widow, Rochelle Gibbons, tells a great deal about Ms Holmes.

Ultimately the only heroes here are the Wall Street Journal‘s John Carreyrou and his team, who deserve a Pulitzer Prize for their continuing investigative work. They’re conducting a refresher course to Silicon Valley, those of us in the Writing Game and the industry. Dig Deeper, indeed.

See here for the 18 previous TTA chapters. Also Inc and Business Insider for shorter takes than VF. 

Categories: Latest News, Opinion, and Soapbox.

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