Not since reading All the President’s Men have I found another book that captures the importance – not to mention the effort and the drama – of good investigative journalism. But Bad Blood, John Carreyrou’s story behind the collapse of Theranos comes very close.
It is an absolute must read for those interested in politics, corporate spin, government oversight, and the need for strong whistleblower protection.
Theranos was the darling Silicon Valley start-up run by 20-something, Stanford educated Elizabeth Holmes, who wanted to revolutionize the field of blood diagnostics. At one point she was thought to be the youngest self-made female billionaire and feted by Wall Street and presidents alike. She recruited to her Board of Directors the likes of former US Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Schultz, as well as current (at least until after the mid-term elections!) US Secretary of Defense James Mattis. In hindsight, it might have been helpful to have a few people who knew something about life sciences.
Theranos claimed to offer dozens of blood tests, both simple and complex, with just a few drops of blood plucked from a patient’s finger. Holmes claimed her technology would revolutionize health care delivery as we know it; in hospitals and in homes, on the battlefield of war and in the halls of government. Walgreens and Safeway became early multi-million dollar investors and built small labs within their stores in anticipation of patients who would come flocking to receive their convenient and painless blood tests.
But behind the labyrinth of security at the Theranos Palo Alto headquarters was an entirely different story that is almost hard to believe. Blood tests conducted by secretly using competitors off-the-shelf technology. Fake blood labs built solely to fool investors, regulators and politicians. Unsuspecting patients receiving false positive tests on critical blood tests. Employees being led to shout “F—k you Carrey-rou” in unison when the Wall Street Journal reporter’s stories began to bite.
But it’s not all depressing.
Imagine being the 23-year-old grandson of Theranos board member George Schultz, who acquired a job at the company through his grandfather but he still had the courage to help blow the whistle in the face of withering pressure from his own family.
Or how about publishing magnate Rupert Murdoch who you don’t often hear good things about. He was a late investor of $125 million in Theranos but, as the owner of the Wall Street Journal, refused to intervene when Holmes asked him for help to spike the Carreyrou’s story. Murdoch ultimately sold his shares back to the company for $1 and lost more than $100 million to claim a large tax write off. But he left the news decisions to his editors.
Hats off to Carreyrou! At a time when the media is under a daily attack by the supposed leader of the free world, Bad Blood is a clarion call for the importance of the fourth estate.