On Sunday evening, Elle published a truly wild profile of Christie Smythe, a former Bloomberg journalist who left behind her job, apartment, and marriage to pursue a relationship with one of her subjects, Martin Shkreli, the so-called Pharma Bro who first gained notoriety in 2015 when his pharmaceutical company bought the patent for a lifesaving drug and then hiked up the price by 5,000 percent. Shkreli is currently serving a seven-year sentence in federal prison for fraud.
The story is riveting. It’s full of astounding quotes and details (the prison visiting room where she and Shkreli first kissed smelled like chicken wings, Smythe recalled) and has a twist ending so jarring I felt like I needed to go lie down on the floor and stare at the ceiling for a while after I read it. How could a successful woman be inspired to blow up her life by a guy so obnoxious that his own lawyer once said he wanted to punch him in the face? How did Smythe’s husband, with whom she went on “literary pub crawls,” feel about being left for this guy? Smythe prints out memes to send to Shkreli? How long until I will have to stop running my hand along flat surfaces in a vain attempt to ground myself in reality?
And yet there’s one notable aspect of Shkreli’s time as a public figure that the piece glosses over, an aspect that seems crucial to any story about his relationship with journalists and media: his pattern of harassing female reporters online. The Elle story nods to it with a brief reference to Shkreli’s treatment of Emily Saul, a former New York Post reporter. Saul told Elle that Shkreli — or one of his supporters — created a fake Facebook page for her and falsely claimed that they were in a relationship. He also purchased emilysaul.com for less than $12 and then held the domain hostage, offering to sell it for thousands of dollars.
In the article, Smythe defends the behavior, further evidence of her unwavering loyalty: “He trolls because he’s anxious,” she says. But it’s worth noting that the extent of Shkreli’s “trolling” goes far beyond his treatment of Saul — in 2017, Business Insider reported that Shkreli bought up the personal domain names of 12 reporters who had written about him, websites he later customized to mock the journalists in question.
And he was particularly fixated on women in the media industry. Take his 2017 harassment of writer Lauren Duca. 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.
After the Elle piece went up, some journalists on Twitter began to share their own experiences of being targeted by Shkreli.
“Martin Shkreli harassed me and many other women throughout 2016,” New York Times reporter Taylor Lorenz told the Cut. “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.” And though it happened years ago, Lorenz says she’s still feeling the effects of Shkreli’s harassment today. “When I get attacked online, Martin’s fans still contribute to pile-ons.”
How does Smythe feel about all of this? On Sunday, she replied to a Twitter user who asked about Shkreli’s treatment of Duca, writing, “It was kind of a two-way street with that awful nonsense. I don’t approve.”
Though she may not approve of Shkreli’s actions, Smythe certainly seemed quick to come to his defense. According to Elle, after she went to Shkreli’s apartment to listen to the sole copy of a Wu-Tang album he bought for $2 million, Smythe “tweeted a photo of her holding the album, tagging a female journalist whom Shkreli had harassed online and writing, ‘I don’t think he would hurt a woman, even a journalist. Behold: me and the #wutang album.’”
Ultimately, the Elle article wasn’t an analysis of Shkreli’s treatment of women; it was a story about the mystifying nature of love and/or desire and the baffling things it can make us do. But Shkreli’s history of mistreating female journalists seems like important context, too, not only for a better understanding of him, but for a better understanding of Smythe — and everything she chose to overlook to pursue a life with the man she loved — whom Shkreli ghosted from his prison cell.