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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