A young blonde woman (Elizabeth Holmes) looks into the camera directly in front of her while walking down a city street with a man.

This ‘New York Times’ Elizabeth Holmes Image Rehab Puff Piece Is One of the Most Embarrassing Things I’ve Ever Read

Hey, remember Elizabeth Holmes, she of Theranos fame with the black turtlenecks and the comically, artificially low voice who scammed a bunch of rich guys to invest in her sham biotech company because rich most certainly does not equate with smart? Well, guess what, she’s back baby!

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Right before Holmes is set to go to prison for fraud for 11.25 years, the New York Times felt it necessary to step in and give her the soft-focus treatment. A new profile from the paper is meant to make us feel sorry for her, meet her babies, and get to know the real Liz Holmes, because oh yeah, she goes by Liz now. Gross.

So normally, I love a good scammer trying to scam up until they go to prison for scamming because, well, you can’t keep a good scammer down, can you?! Stay scamming, scammers! However, what I find disgusting and confusing is how and why the New York Times—the paper of record for Pete’s sake—needed to get in on the image rehabilitation campaign of this mediocre white woman. She’s been convicted of multiple counts of fraud. She’s going to prison. Why did so much time energy and effort need to be devoted to her when the message of the piece was not that whatever happened was a miscarriage of justice, but simply an effort to convince us that Elizabeth Liz Holmes is actually, an alright person who is a mother now, too. Like, OK? Per the article:

The last day I spent with Ms. Holmes, I parked and walked up the long driveway to find her and Mr. Evans embracing in the kitchen. They looked like they were slow dancing, swaying slightly, the two of them against the world. Fireplace burning. Seagulls flying overhead. […] Babies (plural) sleeping.

I need you to search your heart for a moment and ask yourself: Would anyone convicted of a crime but white women get this sort of treatment?! I mean white guys of course, but it manifests itself a bit differently. They’re rarely portrayed as soft-focus victims of society, but rather get to be painted as ambitious providers, à la this perfect tweet:

Look, as a white lady who once whimpered to get out of a speeding ticket (only sort of worked, but I definitely got the cop down in severity from where it should have been because boy, I was speeding) let’s be brutally honest about the role white women have in society: We’re satan’s favorite minion as long as we play our part in upholding the racist structures the white men at the top have created. That means if we get in trouble, we do get special little treats to lessen the impact that our own actions led us to. In this specific case that means a puff piece that looks to rehab Holmes’ image (again, why? She’s going to prison!) while simultaneously portraying her as the victim.

Here’s how the Times chose to depict Holmes:

“Everybody got on the train that Elizabeth was evil, and it was great copy, and they took it and ran with it,” Ms. Holmes’s father, Christian, said.

Ms. Holmes’s defenders, stretching back to childhood, said in letters to the court, and in conversations with me, that the feverish coverage of Ms. Holmes’s downfall felt like a witch trial, less rooted in what actually happened at Theranos, and more of a message to ambitious women everywhere. Don’t girl boss too close to the sun, or this could happen to you …

“There’s an unspoken lesson for female executives: you’re allowed to be successful but not too successful,” Jackie Lamping, a Kappa Alpha Theta sorority sister of Ms. Holmes at Stanford, wrote in a letter to Judge Davila, who oversaw the trial.

I’m sorry what?! In what world was Holmes successful other than at scamming people?! She ran a fraud company based on sham science that she at best willfully ignored, and at worst, purposefully hid, and then ran full steam ahead promising people that Theranos could diagnose their problems with just one prick of the finger. As the article pointed out, a pregnant person was told that they had suffered a miscarriage wrongly via Theranos’ junk product. The article also rushed to inform us that “Ms. Holmes was not convicted on any counts related to patients.” Oh, well, OK then. I guess we’ve all been too hard on her!?

Far be it for me to want to punish someone who swindled Rupert Murdoch (who invested in Theranos) out of his money, but my issue lies in the fact that there is a clear double standard at play here. Sure, I get that Holmes is a mild to moderately fascinating figure to some people out there and I can even accept that there is a rubberneck type of fascination of what she’s doing in her days leading up to going to prison. What I cannot accept is how biased this article was, and the blatant manipulation at play. No victims were interviewed other than a pull quote of Murdoch’s from The Wall Street Journal. (Could they really not get anyone else to go on record or did they just not try?) One of the richest men in the world who also happens to own Fox News is simply not a sympathetic person to get the other side of the story from. They didn’t interview any of the prosecutorial team. The only person who said anything negative about Holmes did it off the record and cautioned Amy Chozick, the author of the piece, to not “believe everything Ms. Holmes says“—advice Chozick definitely didn’t take!

The author of the piece admitted that she was “swept up” by Holmes as an “authentic” and “sympathetic” person, and therein lies the rub. Why is it so subjective who gets to be sympathetic, and why does that distinctly typically only get applied to white women? What Holmes did to get convicted is not sympathetic. At no point in the article does Holmes ever self-reflect and admit what Theranos did was wrong, or apologize for the pain and potential suffering she may have caused (except to Rupert Murdoch, and again, no one should ever apologize to him.) American society loves to punish people, I get that, and it’s one of our lesser traits. However, we also rush to forgive white people for things they haven’t apologized for and try to make it as easy as possible for them to have a soft landing. We also don’t need to do that either. Ultimately, we should save the image rehabilitation for the people who have grown, learned, and apply the practice equally to everyone. Not just the white blonde women among us.

(featured image: Philip Pacheco/Getty Images)


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Author
Kate Hudson
Kate Hudson (no, not that one) has been writing about pop culture and reality TV in particular for six years, and is a Contributing Writer at The Mary Sue. With a deep and unwavering love of Twilight and Con Air, she absolutely understands her taste in pop culture is both wonderful and terrible at the same time. She is the co-host of the popular Bravo trivia podcast Bravo Replay, and her favorite Bravolebrity is Kate Chastain, and not because they have the same first name, but it helps.