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That “I left my husband and job for Martin Shkreli” story elides his history of harassing women

The unlikeliest Romeo

On Sunday, Elle magazine posted one of the strangest stories I’ve read all year, describing how business crime reporter Christie Smythe left behind her job and her husband to pursue a relationship with one of the men she covered on her beat.

Strange enough, but what makes the story utterly, jaw-droppingly surreal is that Smythe’s knight in shining armor is none other than “Pharma Bro” Martin Shkreli, the hedge fund manager and erstwhile pharma CEO most famous for jacking up the price of an HIV drug from $13.50 a dose to $750. He’s now serving a term in Federal prison for securities fraud.

None of this seems to daunt Smythe. Nor does the fact that he stopped talking to her after he first learned she was telling her story to Elle. Unable to call him — you can’t make incoming calls to prisoners — she’s literally waiting by the phone for his call.

Neither Smythe nor Shkreli come across well in the Elle piece. But, as Madeleine Aggeler points out in The Cut, the story pulls its punches in one critical respect, largely eliding the fact that Shkreli has been an energetic harasser of female journalists online.

Shkreli was perhaps the most relentless in his harassment of journalist Lauren Duca, on whom he claimed to have a crush. As Aggeler notes,

After Duca declined his invitation to attend President Trump’s inauguration as his plus-one, he changed his Twitter avatar and cover photos to pictures of Duca and made his bio “small crush on @laurenduca (hope she doesn’t find out).” His harassment of Duca became so severe that Twitter suspended him.

But he harassed many other women as well. The Elle story mentions one: journalist Emily Saul, in whose name Shkreli or a fan of his made a fake Facebook page suggesting she was in a relationship with him.

Meanwhile, New York Times reporter Taylor Lorenz explained to The Cut that

Martin Shkreli harassed me and many other women throughout 2016. .. He made our lives a nightmare by encouraging followers to relentlessly post about us. It’s very frustrating to see people minimize his harassment now. … When I get attacked online, Martin’s fans still contribute to pile-ons.

Smythe, for her part, dismisses Shkreli’s harassment as mere “trolling,” saying he does it to relieve his anxiety. And in a Tweet on Sunday she suggested that his harassment of Duca “was kind of a two-way street with that awful nonsense. I don’t approve.”

Shkreli is also known for harassing assorted journalists — both women and men — by buying up domain names related to their names and posting mocking things about them dripping with right-wing buzzwords. He then offers to sell them back to his targets for many thousands of dollars.

A history of harassing women (or men) is a huge red flag for a relationship, possibly even presaging future physical abuse. I can only hope that the stunned reactions to the Elle piece cause Smythe to think twice about her peculiar relationship to Shkreli.

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Cyborgette
Cyborgette
1 year ago

@Naglfar

Oh, no offense taken. It’s more just that IME being autistic makes people extra vulnerable to manipulative abusers, so it’s something I want people to be aware of.

LindsayIrene
1 year ago

Is charisma just manipulation, then? Are actors considered charismatic because they can manipulate our emotions through their acting? Charisma may just be another concept I’ll never fully grasp, like flirting.

Dalillama
Dalillama
1 year ago

I rather suspect the whole matter of vulnerability to propaganda/manipulation has a great deal to do with how people define their sense of self and how strongly various elements of it are weighted, which is at least partially a learned thing and at least partially not. Specifically, people often tend to define themselves in terms of roles, which in turn govern how they act and where their levers are. Take Americans, for example. Most Americans, especially most white Americans, are really invested in being American, and Americanness is a key part of their sense of self. As such, they’re extremely vulnerable to American propaganda and extremely resistant to hearing anything that implies that America itself is anything less than idealistic, democratic, and mildly flawed. This is, apparently, because they conflate America with themselves and take both praise and criticism of the nation personally. In terms of abusers, this can apply equally well yo roles like e.g. wife or more generically ‘good girl’ (as Cyborgette notes). It’s quite common for autistic people to not grasp as firmly to, for lack of a better term, political roles, but aren’t any more resistant than anyone else to personal roles (or at least not entirely resistant, I dunno), hence not seeing ‘political’ charisma while still being vulnerable to gaslighting and manipulation in personal relationships (I think the principal thing is that autistic people are less likely to self-define relationships with public figures as personal relationships). I personally had a deeply strange upbringing, which left me functionally estranged from mainstream society. There’s a lot of downsides, but one upside is a keen eye for propaganda, and fewer personal levers than a lot of people. If someone manages to hit them anyway, though, we start getting into parts of my life I prefer not to remember, let alone talk about.

.45
.45
1 year ago

@ Cyborgette

It may be sexist, insulting, etc, etc, but I have often thought over the years that the main difference between a (cis, AFAB, etc) girl and a woman is that a girl will work hard to support a cheating abuser who does nothing but smoke pot and play Xbox, while a woman will kick him to the curb. Usually experience with the former scenario leads to the latter.

Like I said, insulting to both women and potheads, puts the blame on the victim, etc, but I think there is some truth there.

Cyborgette
Cyborgette
1 year ago

@.45

It may be sexist, insulting, etc, etc,

Then why did you go ahead and say it, eh?

TBH I don’t think that’s “truth” so much as Truthy, dangerously simplistic, and yes, victim-blaming. There are some astonishingly mature and capable women out there who have had their lives wrecked by abusers after accomplishing great things, and calling them “girls” and “immature” and whatever does them a disservice – and makes light of how catastrophically dangerous abusers are.

@Dalillama

Woof. Sounds like we could have an interesting conversation. Your life experience sounds a lot like mine, and yeah, being less easily swayed along lines of “patriotism” does fit.

Lollypop
Lollypop
1 year ago

Edit: re “the charisma thing”. Might be you’re lucky, might be (putting it very bluntly) that you just haven’t met anyone yet who could figure out your buttons well enough. I’m also autistic, and almost everything wrong in my life has been due to charismatic abusers.

I relate to this. I think I’m pretty easily manipulated in some ways, but totally impervious in others. My ex played a lot on his bad childhood, and I’m a sucker for the idea of childhood suffering. I just felt so sorry for him, even when he was an unforgivable arsehole who I barely even liked.

Is charisma just manipulation, then? Are actors considered charismatic because they can manipulate our emotions through their acting? Charisma may just be another concept I’ll never fully grasp, like flirting

BBC Radio 4 in the UK just did a really interesting series on this. Apparently according to “charismatic” individuals who are actually very shy, there’s huge power in genuine eye contact. I always think of Freddie Mercury as a charismatic person, and I think in a non-problematic iteration it’s just a sense of sheer confidence and enthusiasm that makes people feel included and special.

LindsayIrene
1 year ago

Apparently according to “charismatic” individuals who are actually very shy, there’s huge power in genuine eye contact

Ah. I guess that’s where my issue lies. I don’t like eye contact, to the point that I don’t even like photographs where the subject appears to be looking at me.

Cyborgette
Cyborgette
1 year ago

@Lollypop

Oh mood. One of the most reliable ways to control me is to appeal to my need to help, protect, and comfort others. A lot of my abusers in the queer community have had childhoods much more traumatic than mine.

Another reliable one is threatening suicide or self-harm. I’ve gotten a bit better at keeping my wits lately when people do that, but it’s still very difficult, because statements like that must be treated as honest. (And I know from bitter experience how damaging it can be when they aren’t.)

Re charisma: interesting. Eye contact does seem to be part of it, though a lot of my experiences have been with people who were also charismatic online, over text communication. IDK how to explain that, except that random-reward dynamics seem to play a role. (They’d tend towards mild contempt as a default, and very occasionally reward followers with gushing praise.)

Gender Defiant
Gender Defiant
1 year ago

Women like this honestly make me kind of ashamed to be a woman sometimes. “I know the guy is worse here, but honestly I know way to many women that really are attracted to asshole men.

.45
.45
1 year ago

@ Cyborgette

I don’t have any good explainations or excuses. You make good points.

Ooble
Ooble
1 year ago

@LibbyGoodheart that’s not how being gay works.

Jesalin, Sapphic Goddess of Lust
Jesalin, Sapphic Goddess of Lust
1 year ago

@LibbyGoodheart that’s not how being gay works.

Glad someone commented on that.

redmanticore
redmanticore
1 year ago

it´s not a mystery at all if you know women. every red-pilled male would know the outcome of the female reporter and him from the get-go.

it´s also traditional on feminist sites, that adult women are never said to take responsibility for their own actions, even in this comment section. western world adult working women are suddenly described mentally as absolute children, that cannot have an agency by the comment section, for some reason. suddenly feminist commenters turn into biggest misogynists, claiming all adult working women are always constantly “manipulated”. manipulation is a huge meme.

she got her vagina tingled from money+bad boy+social status press fame. she is a coomer that leaves her children if something turns her on. the end.

Last edited 1 year ago by redmanticore
Elaine The Witch
Elaine The Witch
1 year ago

@troll

You got a real stick up your ass don’t you? And I guess men are just helpless victims of pussy huh? manipulated by women somehow and it’s always the fault of women when a man does something. Men are never responsible when they rape, beat, abuse, abandon or cheat on women right? A woman drove him to it somehow right? That’s like your guys main philosophy. Also stop necroing old threads and be brave and do a recent one if you want to troll. Other wise you look like a pathetic coward.

Naglfar
Naglfar
1 year ago

@redmanticore

it´s also traditional on feminist sites, that adult women are never said to take responsibility for their own actions

That’s a very antifeminist idea and I’ve never seen any feminist advocate that.

even in this comment section.

Did you miss all the people pointing out that she shouldn’t have done what she did?

western world adult working women are suddenly described mentally as absolute children, that cannot have an agency by the comment section, for some reason.
suddenly feminist commenters turn into biggest misogynists, claiming all adult working women are always constantly “manipulated”. manipulation is a huge meme.

Can you show me a comment that says that? I haven’t seen one here. You seem to be projecting, because that sounds a lot like the red pill view of men.

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