We can not get enough of Elizabeth Holmes. The founder and CEO of Theranos once took the imaginations of venture capitalists and magazine writers who are also a very good story of a revolutionary blood testing technology. Three years, numerous federal investigations, and eleven felons that belonged later, our appetite shifted to devouring the story of how Holmes deceived the world. The biography of Silicon Valley ̵1; a real crime scene with a dash of Fyre Fest-schadenfreude and the added bonus of a frozen blonde with a mysterious deep voice – has inspired inspiration for a best-selling book, a popular podcast, and two documentaries, a feature film and real-life criminal trial still to come.
One of the documentaries, The Inventor: Out for the Blood in Silicon Valley, debuts Monday at HBO. The film, through Oscar-winning director, Alex Gibney, presents a surprisingly simple picture of Holmes as a modern-day Thomas Edison-nothing wrong. The Wizard of Menlo Park, reminding us of Gibney, is a master of "faking it until you do it" that raises money from a promise before he or she knows how to make a bright bulb. Of course, eventually Edison arrived, while Holmes was facing up to 20 years in prison, and his company was forced to deprive tens of thousands of blood tests for Arizona patients.
Gibney spent the career of what he called "fraud beat", including topics including Enron, the Church of Scientology, Lance Armstrong, and the Catholic church.
What caused you movie about Theranos?
I'm interested not just about the details of the story but what it says about the psychology of fraud – not just how others mislead others, but how they deceive themselves to deceive others, and how deceived people are deceived. How did this happen?
We are in the middle of a national delight in scammers. Do you see Elizabeth Holmes as part of an American archetype of a trickster?
I was in this beat for a moment – the fraud was a winner. I think what's interesting about Elizabeth is: What happens when you pursue a dream and your dream is not working? Do you admit it? Or are you still looking for ways to continue the dream and pretend that it really works if not?
I think we are Americans – coming back to movies like The Music Man – there is a kind of attraction to a trickster, a person who restricts the rules. We want to see them brought and punished.
But I think the more important thing about Elizabeth to me is that he has a mission – a great mission, in a way – he wants to fulfill. And what brought her is the notion that the police call "the noble cause of corruption" or "the conclusion is invalidating the ways".
I wonder how you believe his first motivation is so honorable.
There are cues in the [Wall Street Journal reporter John] Carreyrou book in early cutting corners and lying to the people. But I think that if he wants to make a lot of money, he can do more than he did. If he is Bernie Madoff and is trying to do this to make a bank and then leave, he may be able to repay himself more beautifully than he did.
Fraud has become a way to your career. What is the connection between Scientology and Silicon Valley or Silicon Valley and Enron?
I think the connection between scientist and Elizabeth Holmes is the "prison of belief". See what will happen to [Theranos board member] George Shultz – the grandfather of [eventual whistleblower] Tyler Shultz; the said Secretary of State. Even though his grandfather approached him and said, "You know Grandpa, there is a wide scam in Theranos", he can not undo or withdraw or leave the belief that he has. He was in a prison of Elizabeth Holmes's conviction. He is focused on him, and for him to say, "Oh wow, that's terrible", that means he must go back to the beginning and admit he was deceived and deceived.
On the other hand, get something like Enron and you're looking at people like Jeff Skilling. Jeff Skilling, in my opinion, does not like Bernie Madoff. He has a mission. His mission is that the fully untethered unregulated free market will end up with massive social benefits.
This idea of ending dissolves methods and tries to manipulate the truth to follow the dream, those, I think, are the same.
Many people around Silicon Valley point to Theranos and say, "They're not really Silicon Valley."
There is an element of truth and there is an element of misbehavior . Fake it until you do this is something that is filled with DNA by many Silicon Valley companies. And there are many powerful Silicon Valley companies – the most respectable – still lying in the crowd. Check out Apple and the battery. See Facebook and Google in terms of how they process our data and how they treat information as well as the kind of ruddering in our most serious instincts.
In some ways Elizabeth was an outcome, and it was true that many powerful Silicon Valley VCs did not invest in him because they did not see the evidence and they were suspicious of him. But I think, in the ethics of "fast shrinkage of things" which does not really take into account the damage that may be caused and how it may be a cultural problem, he shares some DNA with other Silicon Valley firms.
You could not speak to Elizabeth Holmes.
My producer sits at the start for almost five hours from the record to try to encourage him to join, and we have not been successful. We went back and tried to talk to her, and she refused. He said, "When we get back to our feet, you can see the successful Theranos." That never happened.
At first we had a very difficult conversation with the employees because they were all frightened at [Theranos lawyer and board member] David Boies and were acclaimed. There has been a long-term development of momentum in terms of having people on record and then we got very lucky in terms of someone from within giving us a treasure trove of video.
Roger Parloff, the Fortune magazine reporter who wrote the first profile of Holmes's magazine, performed a certain amount of repentance for helping to create the myth of Theranos , but he was also the only person in the movie who expressed any actual remorse for what had happened, so he came across as this very tragic figure.
I see him as the beating of the movie. He took it inside to get him wrong and that he put him on the cover. To see the moments where both his embarrassment but his anger also almost renders him speechless – this is a very powerful moment. We live in a time where we have a fraud-in-chief for the president and everything is angled for each self cognitive biases, but Roger thinks I really took this idea seriously in pursuing the truth .
Publishers are both truth-seeking but also narrators. By coming to Elizabeth Holmes, this is a powerful story they really want to tell a young businesswoman to the Silicon Valley-led girl who really comes to something that works out well. But when you see something like a wonderful story, sometimes you have to wonder if it's a fairy tale.
One documentary find is the long list of older men who seem to have been captured by a very young: publishers Parloff, Ken Auletta and Charlie Rose; investors Don Lucas, Larry Ellison, Tim Draper and Rupert Murdoch; board members George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, Jim Mattis and Channing Robertson; and more, including Joe Biden and Bill Clinton.
I mean, I think it's very clear. Phyllis Gardner [a Stanford professor of medicine] refers to the board and says, "They are clearly surrender to a beauty." We are so small, but it is clear that they have arrived at a beauty. She is young. She's beautiful. He blindfolded them in a certain way.
I think Elizabeth has made her own work on this youth idea – young people compare to everything. Steve Jobs dropped to Reed College. I'm going to drop out of Stanford. You do not need to study bullshit. All you need is genius. Well, maybe if he stayed in Stanford for several years and studied some courses, we might have done some good.
We do the kind of honor to the youth in some ways, and Elizabeth is deeply used by that company. He has real distrust among older people, either because they are experiencing and showing him, or they have not got it in the way of getting Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. You move quickly, you break things, you do not ask for a lot of questions, do not give me your old paradigm bullshit. Well, sometimes you know that experience can be very important, right?
Fortunately, two whistleblowers are too young to carry him down. Because they are not worried about the families they need to support, and I think they are more desirable. They come from college and have not been so crazy.
I think the men fell for him. It is clear and clear that he understands. There are no women on board. How surprising that a woman is the CEO?
Do you worry about the collapse of the same trap? Personally, I'm glad that the movie has been more agreeable with her than …
Than it deserves?
… than I feel, giving his motives altruistic. And I think comparisons of Edison are generous.
It's a good one, and there are a few reasons I went there. One is, I do not really think that he is a Madoff character. So I give him credit for at least the meaning of the mission. But it is true in my view that the good news is not necessary. You can look at Hitler and say he is a man who believes that the end is abusive in ways, right? That's not good news.
Comparing Edison – yes, Edison is a true inventor. But let us also be faithful: Elizabeth exists in a spectrum of people who are excessive promises and sometimes the way under delivery and sometimes makes fraud. I do not want to do the movie where the Silicon Valley is off the hook. Because if he's the only bad apple – you know what they said about people in Abu Ghraib. These are only bad apples, and thus they have nothing to do with the general system. Well, that's ridiculous for the Abu Ghraib and I think it's prank for Silicon Valley. I think he exists in the context of the Silicon Valley culture even though he is a very few in many ways. So my tension is interested in gaming.
I wonder if I'm too generous. But it's hard to know. She is very sensitive to her being a victim. And that is a difficult thing to count. And that's why I put Phyllis at the end saying, "You're not a victim." You know, it was you who stopped you, Elizabeth Holmes.
This interview has been edited and remedied for brevity and clarity.