Spin

Last week there was yet another Theranos piece in Vanity Fair, and it amounts to little more than silly gossip. Apparently Elizabeth Holmes got a Siberian Husky named Balto. All dogs have some wolf lineage, so Holmes tells people her dog is a wolf — akin to the way a child might call a bagel a big cheerio, or Elizabeth Warren might call herself a Cherokee. The goal here is to portray Holmes as an imaginative idiot or pathological fraud.

Here’s more:

She wore a black turtleneck, drank strange green juices, traveled with armed guards, and spoke in a near baritone. In an industry full of oddballs, Holmes — a blonde WASP from the D.C. area — seemed hell-bent on cultivating a reputation as an iconoclastic weirdo. Having Balto seemed to help fortify the image.

OMG what a freak! That the media is still milking this story for clicks is not surprising, but stands in stark contrast to the adulation Holmes received just a few years ago. Here’s New Yorker, circa 2014:

Her home is a two-bedroom condo in Palo Alto, and she lives an austere life. Although she can quote Jane Austen by heart, she no longer devotes time to novels or friends, doesn’t date, doesn’t own a television, and hasn’t taken a vacation in ten years. Her refrigerator is all but empty, as she eats most of her meals at the office. She is a vegan, and several times a day she drinks a pulverized concoction of cucumber, parsley, kale, spinach, romaine lettuce, and celery.

Wow, a modern-day stoic! A CEO with such a spartan lifestyle will certainly be a responsible custodian for investor funds!

Here’s NYTimes, circa 2015:

She applied for her first patent at 19, a wearable patch to help administer drugs and monitor variables in one’s blood while adjusting the dosage as needed. (She currently has 27 U.S. patents in her name.) Since dropping out of Stanford’s School of Engineering during her sophomore year in 2004, she has spent nearly every waking moment working on bio-engineering breakthroughs in diagnostic testing and persuading lawmakers that every person has a basic right to information about his or her own health. (She only pauses in her work to run — seven miles a day.)

This year she helped draft and pass a law in Arizona that will act as a national model for allowing more people to take charge of their health through the ability to obtain and directly pay for any test without first being required to get a health care provider’s order or work through insurance eligibility. 

A veritable saint! We just know her company will succeed, because this woman is driven. Anyone who runs seven miles a day must have immense grit and willpower and discipline! Just reading this passage makes me want to give her all my money.

That’s what we call spin. Computers may have mastered factual reporting, but journalists still own the market when it comes to propaganda. Here’s how Nick Bilton, in the first article, describes Silicon Valley:

Steve Jobs wore the same black turtleneck every day and tended to only park in handicap spots. Mark Zuckerberg went through a phase during which he would only eat the meat of animals he had personally killed. Shigeru Miyamoto, the Nintendo video-game legend, is so obsessed with estimating the size of things that he carries around a tape measure. It can get even weirder. Peter Thiel has expressed an interest in the restorative properties of blood transfusions from young people. Jack Dorsey drinks a strange lemon-water concoction every morning, and goes on 10-day silent retreats while wearing designer clothing and an Apple Watch.

Allow me to translate:

Steve Jobs liked to park near the building entrance and was often inconsiderate in doing so. Zuck makes an annual resolution, and in 2011 he became vegetarian by enforcing a rule that he could only eat what he killed. Jack Dorsey drinks lemon tea and went on a meditation retreat for his birthday while wearing his normal clothes. A Thiel Capital associate once looked into a parabiosis startup, and people have been calling Peter Thiel a vampire ever since. Oh and here’s a random fact about some dude in Japan, and hopefully you won’t notice that Kyoto is nowhere near Silicon Valley.

The intention here is to portray tech founders as uncanny Others, dehumanize them to encourage popular resentment. The United States Information Agency used to do this exact thing to build support for going to war. Here’s a WWII documentary about Japanese people. They’re a bunch of funnylooking midgets who eat nothing but rice! Yuck, let’s nuke ‘em!

Anyone can do this, see:

Journalism is an industry full of iconoclastic weirdos. Nick Bilton, for example, drinks a dark liquid infused with exotic plant seeds harvested by South American slaves. It can get even weirder. He often likes to add the bodily secretions of female ungulates to his beverage.

Ew.

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