When hearing about people who got conned into unsavory organizations or relationships—NXIVM, anyone?—it’s easy to pat one’s self on the back for not being susceptible to such manipulation. But a recent Elle article about the budding romance between pharma-douche Martin Shkreli and Christie Smythe—a Brooklyn journalist who wrote about his downfall for Bloomberg—is a reminder that even the most intelligent and self-aware of us can be vulnerable to predatory criminals.
In 2015, Smythe broke the news that Shkreli was under federal investigation for violating security laws, then was more or less on the Shkreli beat for Bloomberg, covering his arrest and eventual court trial. While she was initially skeptical of Shkreli’s motivations and tactics, he began to garner sympathy from her when, during a routine phone call for a comment, he expressed worry for his future and asked her for legal advice.
As remembered by Smythe, everything snowballed from there. In-person meetings led to her writing a book about her subject, followed by a friendship, her journalistic integrity being compromised, a divorce from her husband, her resignation from Bloomberg, and an unconventional romance with Shkreli. The article is filled with twists as bizarre as you’d expect from anything having to do with the pharma-douche saga, such as the aroma of chicken wings in the air when Smythe and Shkreli shared their first kiss during a prison visit and a Tweet of her holding that Wu-Tang Clan album he bought a while back.
What’s most heartbreaking is that, even from early on, Smythe seemed to be aware of Shkreli’s game—how someone can just keep feeding you lies to get what they want. One of her professors for a prestigious journalism fellowship at Columbia remembers how, as early as 2016, she wrote “quite candidly about how [Shkreli] had so successfully drawn her in.” Elsewhere, Smythe describes Shkreli as “toying” with her, and identifies him as someone who likely “trolls because he’s anxious. She adds: “He really, really wants to be somebody.”
And yet, even to this day, she still has feelings for Shkreli, despite him having cut off communication with her after finding out about the Elle article. Stephanie Clifford, who wrote the feature, posits in the final graf that the whole interview may even be a ploy on Smythe’s part to give her more power and recognition in hers and Shkreli’s increasingly strange romance.
Check out the whole thing over at Elle.
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