November 29, 2021

How Elizabeth Holmes Soured the Media on Silicon Valley

Now as Ms. Holmes, 37, stands trial, the media’s role in Theranos’s rise and fall has been laid out in painstaking detail. Ms. Holmes used positive articles like Fortune’s to gain credibility with investors, who poured $945 million into Theranos, prosecutors have argued.

Those investors were often wowed by the media coverage. Chris Lucas, a venture capitalist whose firm had invested in Theranos, testified that reading the Fortune article had made him “very proud of the situation, proud we were involved, very proud of Elizabeth, the whole thing.” Lisa Peterson, who managed a $100 million investment in Theranos on behalf of the wealthy DeVos family, lifted language directly from the Fortune article into a report she prepared.

The media was likewise eager to embrace Ms. Holmes’s narrative of a brilliant Stanford University dropout on her way to becoming the next Steve Jobs. Here was a young, self-made female billionaire who was being compared to Einstein and Beethoven. She embraced iconography, dressing like Mr. Jobs in black turtlenecks, as well as an esoteric lifestyle, telling Mr. Parloff that she was a vegan Buddhist who eschewed coffee for green juice.

“There was a hunger for that kind of story, and she seized that opportunity and worked that very carefully,” Ms. O’Mara said.

The media’s fascination with Ms. Holmes became so intense that in 2015, her business partner and boyfriend at the time, Ramesh Balwani, who is known as Sunny, warned her that the hype was getting risky.

“FYI, I am worried about over exposure without solid substance, which is lacking right now,” Mr. Balwani wrote in a text message that was included in court filings.

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