We spend a lot of time covering the sociopaths in politics. According to the American Psychiatric Association, they make up 3-5 percent of the population. But they are also prevalent in business and in the media too. The sad and frightening tale of the twisted relationship between journalist Christie Smythe and Martin Shkreli is also a cautionary one.
Christie Smythe was the Bloomberg News journalist who broke, then followed up on Martin Shkreli, the “Pharma Bro” who jacked up the price of a life-saving drug Daraprim by 5,000 percent overnight. Shkreli is notably a horrible human being; most everyone who has covered his story believes this. But for reasons not even known to Smythe, she upended her entire life to be with him.
Smythe decided to tell their story through an exclusive in Elle magazine, replete with a photo shoot in a designer dress.
“Over the course of nine months, beginning in July 2018, Smythe quit her job, moved out of the apartment, and divorced her husband. What could cause the sensible Smythe to turn her life upside down? She fell in love with a defendant whose case she not only covered, but broke the news of his arrest. It was a scoop that ignited the Internet, because her love interest, now life partner, is not just any defendant, but Martin Shkreli: the so-called “Pharma Bro” and online provocateur, who increased the price of a lifesaving drug by 5,000 percent overnight and made headlines for buying a one-off Wu-Tang Clan album for a reported $2 million. Shkreli, convicted of fraud in 2017, is now serving seven years in prison.”
In her pursuit of an exclusive profile and then a book deal, Smythe took note of Shkreli’s manipulative nature. While it appears she failed to recognize that she was being sucked into the vortex, I suspect that was exactly what attracted her. As a journalist who is used to being detached, she wanted to make herself part of the story; one of the traits of a narcissist.
More from the Elle piece,
“Of her increasing involvement with Shkreli, she tells me now, ‘These are incremental decisions, where you’re, like, slowly boiling yourself to death in the bathtub.’ ”
No kidding; apparently, she liked the warmth and the lack of accountability. While pursuing a high profile journalism fellowship, she began to write about Shkreli and to outline her book on him. Both a professor and her own husband warned her to steer clear. Her husband’s efforts to protect her sent them into couple’s counseling. Yet, Smythe persisted in her pursuit of what she deluded herself into thinking was her opportunity.
Once Shkreli was imprisoned, she became an advocate for him, posting rebuttals and responses to news and profiles on social media. Once again, writing herself into the story; a story in which she wrote her own narrative.
This is part of what got her into trouble at Bloomberg. She tendered her resignation and they accepted it; she also chose to separate from her husband.
According to the Elle article, Smythe, who had panic attacks while driving, decided to get her license again so she could visit Shkreli in prison. It was during one of those visits that she confessed her love.
“A realization hit her. In the visitors’ room, ‘I told Martin I loved him,; Smythe says. ‘And he told me he loved me, too.’ She asked if she could kiss him, and he said yes. The room smelled of chicken wings, she remembers.”
The implosion was complete, but Smythe seems content to live among the wreckage. According to the USA Today piece, Smythe froze her eggs because she is worried she may be too old to have children by the time Shkreli is released from prison.
This from a sociopath who, as far as we know, does not feel the same.
The USA Today story concludes,
“Smythe has not seen Shkreli in more than a year due to prison COVID-19 restrictions, but she still believes their relationship will prevail, despite a less than glowing response from Shkreli that Clifford [The Elle writer] relayed to her: ‘Mr. Shkreli wishes Ms. Smythe the best of luck in her future endeavors.’ ”
Smythe interprets this thusly:
“ ‘That’s him saying, “You’re going to live your life and we’re just gonna not be together.” That I’m going to maybe get my book and that our paths will – will fork.’ ”
“She concluded: ‘He bounces between this delight in having a future life together and this fatalism about how it will never work. It’s definitely in the latter category now… I’m gonna try. I’ll be here.’ ”
I realize it's hard for many people to accept that 1. Martin is not a psychopath, and 2. a woman can choose to do something with her life (which does not affect you) that you in no way approve of. But that's OK.
— Christie Smythe (@ChristieSmythe) December 21, 2020
Denial. It’s not just a river in Egypt.