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Elizabeth Holmes alone

The New York Times’ 5,500-word profile of Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes was criticized this morning for being too sympathetic. However, Amy Chozick is complicit. Her story may reveal how Holmes captivated investors, business partners, and the U.S. media before The Wall Street Journal exposed her company in late 2015.

It’s tricky. First, as any reporter will tell you, writing a profile without puffery is difficult, and profiling Holmes is even harder. Since 2016, she hasn’t spoken to the media and has persuaded many powerful people.

According to whistleblower Tyler Shultz, Holmes is “very, very charismatic.” She makes you feel like the most important person in her world when she speaks. People can get sucked into her reality distortion field.”

Chozick’s story is brilliant because she doesn’t write a heavy-handed story that reflexive readers might prefer. She lets Holmes do her magic but peeks behind the curtain.

Holmes conjures a lot. Chozick spends time with Holmes, Billy Evans, their two children, Holmes’s parents, and others in Holmes’s circle. Holmes and Evans take Teddy and Chozick to the beach. They invite her to their quaint Pacific coast rental home for Mexican food. Evans makes croissants, berries, and coffee for them after their San Diego Zoo visit. Chozick didn’t need to mention each of these outings discretely, but she did so to let us experience Holmes’s subtle charm campaign.

Holmes, whose prison sentence was recently postponed, becomes so confident in Chozick that she considers creating another Theranos. Holmes tells her, “I still dream about contributing in that space.” “I still feel the same calling to it and think the need is there.”

Campaign almost works. Chozick writes that she realized she was writing about two people. Elizabeth was a rock-star inventor whose criminal trial captivated the world. Mr. Evans and her friends call her “Liz,” a mom of two who has volunteered for a rape crisis hotline for a year. Who can’t watch R-rated movies and who ran after me one afternoon with a paper towel to wipe sand and her dog’s slobber off my shoe.”

After her editors snap her out of her trance, the writer sees the picture more clearly.

Chozick admits, “I was swept up in Liz as an authentic and sympathetic person. She exudes quiet charm. “Amy Chozick, you got rolled!” my editor laughed when I shared these thoughts.

She initially doubts her editor, saying she knows Holmes in a surprising way. “Something very strange happened,” she adds. I spoke to Ms. Holmes’s friends, family, and longtime supporters, whom she and Mr. Evans recommended. One friend said Ms. Holmes had good intentions at Theranos and shouldn’t be imprisoned. Then, this person requested anonymity to warn me not to trust Ms. Holmes.”

Chozick writes, “Ms. Holmes’s story of how she got here — to the bright, cozy house and the supportive partner and the two babies — feels a lot like the story of someone who had finally broken out of a cult and been deprogrammed. Ms. Holmes said, ‘I began my life again’ after Mr. Balwani left and Theranos collapsed. I remember Ms. Holmes ran the cult.”

Chozick marvels at how much more time Holmes and Evans want to spend with her, inviting her to join them and their friends for another dinner and asking if she would like to return to the zoo with her family. “I appreciated their hospitality but didn’t fully understand it,” she writes. Interviewees usually want me gone.”

Chozick realizes why they “keep opening the door wider.” “In her presence, it is impossible not to believe her, not to be taken with her and taken in by her.”

In that CBS News interview last year, Shultz mentioned another Theranos-related comment. “I could go and have a five-minute conversation with Elizabeth and feel like I was saving the world again,” he said.

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