Elizabeth Holmes vs. Silicon Valley: How the Airing of Grievances Played Out in Hollywood

As President Donald Trump prepares to sign his 2018 budget into law this week, one fast-food chain has a message: We’re open for business. And that’s what Elizabeth Holmes is trying to do in Silicon Valley too. But when it comes to how people view her and the technology she champions, they are not quite so optimistic.

Her apparent cure-all startup was expected to be a glittering success, the product of America’s high-tech talent. She turned out to be far more snake pit than brilliant newmmer. She was more like something out of Medea, plotting the destruction of a tech empire that threatens to take over the world. Her downfall is cause for regret in Silicon Valley, but she’s being glorified in Hollywood. Why? Because she sank the largest funding round in U.S. high-tech history for a company she hated.

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The Valley is a non-profit. It’s funded by tech giants like Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon. It’s worth $3.7 trillion. When her company, Theranos, was worth $9 billion, Holmes declared, “We are changing the world.” That was 2014. What’s it worth now? About $2.4 billion. Or $7.4 billion if you back out all the debt.

“I’m glad that the bad press is helping to raise the likelihood of fixing Theranos,” said James Volker, who left Theranos in 2016 and received a $26 million taxpayer-funded settlement.

Mikhail Biskupic, a former Theranos staffer, wrote in The New York Times, “It is still unclear exactly how many Theranos tests were inaccurate or incomplete, or what steps were taken to reverse the quality problems.”

The regulator that shut down the company was the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. For its part, Theranos disputes the facts on CMS’ behalf. “Theranos thinks CMS is charging and damaging the company beyond its high levels of success in laboratory testing,” the company said in its brief to the CMS judge presiding over the case.

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There are indications that might be correct. According to a Reuters investigation, CEO Holmes “frequently damaged the company by making statements about how Theranos was inventing technology no one knew existed.”

Her ongoing shenanigans shocked the media, leading one person to tell the New York Times, “You would think she was a real villain.” That “villain” got a well-deserved Hollywood ending.

The misfortune to be caught is a pretty good story. In fact, Tom Cruise got hitched in the 1990s to Katie Holmes and turned himself into a tabloid sensation. There has always been a Hollywood connection between technology geeks and Hollywood stars — or anything that can be turned into a high-grossing movie.

“Ever since the days of Tom Cruise, there has been a Hollywood fascination with tech people,” notes a 2015 Forbes column. “Their high-falutin, controlling personalities evoke the entertainers of their time.”

A frustrated high-tech entrepreneur once argued, “I wake up in the morning — I hope it’s Halloween, I hope I don’t have a heart attack — I turn on the news and find somebody stabbing a tech person.”

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What is left after the assault? A life sentence on the farm. Elizabeth Holmes has been dismissed from the United States Senate. She has gone from “We are changing the world” to “We hate each other.”

W.W. Norton is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a managing editor for the best-selling biographies of Winston Churchill and Richard Nixon.

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