People Are Losing It Over Journalist's Romance With "Pharma Bro" Martin Shkreli

A journalist who quit her job and divorced her husband fell in love with her disgraced subject, whose sentencing appeared to awaken her to America’s broken criminal legal system.

Pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli arrives at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York on June 6, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. | Getty Images
Pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli arrives at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York on June 6, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. | Getty Images

It is a tale that you simply could not make up. In a splashy ELLE Magazine spread, a journalist who broke the story that reviled “pharma bro” Martin Shkreli was arrested way back in 2015 subsequently falls in love with him, gets ghosted by him while he was incarcerated, and then vows to “be here” for him at the end of his seven-year jail sentence. 

Between first covering the story of Shkreli marking up the price of a life-saving AIDS and cancer drug by 5,000% overnight and appearing in the ELLE profile published online Sunday, Christie Smythe has also gotten a divorce from her husband, with whom she shared a “perfect little Brooklyn life,” and resigned from her job at Bloomberg News. 

The piece by reporter Stephanie Clifford is headlined “The Journalist and the Pharma Bro,” a play on writer Janet Malcom’s famous study “The Journalist and the Murderer,” which explores the tangled ethics of a reporter covering crime.  

In a nine-month stretch between 2018 and 2019, Clifford writes, Smythe opted to “upend her life and stability” to stand by Shkreli. 

“I fell down the rabbit hole,” Smythe told Clifford, speaking from “her bright basement apartment in Harlem,” adding that she is “happy here.”

Readers of the profile are, naturally, in shock that Smythe would risk so much for  a hedge funder who has been known to troll and harass women journalists, pull headline-making moves such as buying a one-of-a-kind Wu-Tang Clan album for a reported $2 million, and make even Donald Trump call him a “spoiled brat.”

In 2018, Shkreli was sentenced to 7 years in prison for committing securities fraud; a judge ordered him to surrender more than $7 million in assets. He was jailed in 2017, ahead of his sentencing, after offering his online followers $5,000 for a strand of Hillary Clinton’s hair (the former presidential candidate had criticized his price gouging). ELLE reported that Smythe backed Shkreli’s request for early release during the COVID-19 outbreak this spring, which he was denied. (They haven’t seen each other in more than a year because of pandemic safety guidelines.)

For her own part, Smythe has a lot of conventional professional accolades: breaking news and legal journalism chops, a degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, and the Knight-Bagehot Fellowship from Columbia University. That’s part of why many can’t wrap their heads around her breach of basic journalistic ethics by getting too close to a subject, as well as defending so many indefensible actions, including Shkreli’s trolling as the behavior of an “anxious” person who “really, really wants to be somebody.” 

In one particularly jarring scene, Smythe visited the incarcerated Shkreli shortly after quitting Bloomberg in 2018 — one of many visits — but the nature of the meeting changed. ''

“I told Martin I loved him,” Smythe told ELLE. “And he told me he loved me, too.”

Clifford reports: “She asked if she could kiss him, and he said yes. The room smelled of chicken wings, she remembers.” Smythe also disclosed that she froze her eggs after she and Shkreli discussed their future together, including concerns that she’d be too old to give birth after he is released from prison.

But according to Clifford’s reporting, Shkreli stopped speaking to Smythe once she disclosed that she was participating in the ELLE story. “Mr. Shkreli wishes Ms. Smythe the best of luck in her future endeavors,” he said in a statement.

Since the story was published, Smythe has tweeted multiple times about the response. 

“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,” she wrote in one tweet. “But that's OK.”