Sunday night, Christie Smythe transformed from journalist to subject when ELLE’s history about Smythe’s romance with “pharma bridge” Martin Shkreli went live. Shkreli, a pharmaceutical director who became infamous when he raised the price of a life-saving drug by 5,000 percent, was subsequently arrested on federal charges – and Smythe broke the story of this arrest. I knew Smythe from our days in the Brooklyn Federal Court press room, where she wrote for Bloomberg and I wrote for Times, and I covered Shkreli’s case with her. At the time, Smythe was writing a book about Shkreli, and the more she talked about him in the press room, the more I began to wonder if more than a relationship was developing between journalists and sources.
We kept in touch over the years, and early this year, when I was told that Smythe and Shkreli were in a committed relationship, I reached out to Smythe and asked if she would tell her story. She gave up a lot to be with Shkreli: her marriage, her apartment in Brooklyn, her Bloomberg job, which she resigned when her bosses told her that her Twittering about Shkreli had become problematic. She took a dramatic leap that many people might think of taking, but few do, and I hoped she would explain why and what life looked like on the other side. I spoke to her on Monday to hear her reaction to the story, why she has been active on social media since the story went up, and whether she still believes she has a future with Shkreli.
It’s been a weird 18 hours.
Oh my God. I do not think I have slept too many of them.
This went up around six o’clock last night. When did you start hearing the reaction?
It was quiet for maybe 15 or 20 minutes and then it started pretty quickly. I had stories that I was trying to edit, and yes, unfortunately no editing was done.
How did you feel about it when your long-kept secret was basically revealed in public?
It was a huge relief. A large part of me who does this is not image-based. It’s about just getting something off my chest. It has been really hard to carry around.
What do you think of the reaction to the play? How does that compare to what you expected?
It’s definitely a lot. It’s probably very close to what Martin got online in terms of volume, but that’s not unexpected. It’s a little depressing and sad because I do not like to be called “the victim”, “mentally ill”: none of these things are correct. I respect and understand if people criticize my decisions. That’s fair. I put it out there. It’s fair game. But I made these choices very deliberately.
Yes, I was surprised by that: There has been a little thread of: “This woman definitely has a mental illness.” It seems such a weird label to give to someone you have never met or interacted with, and it’s such a reductive way to frame your story that it’s the only possible reason you could do this.
In a weird way in almost a sociological way, it’s interesting to see the threads of the attack and look for sexism buried in the themes and all these fights that people have with someone who just comes up and says they love him.
What kind of themes?
Like the mental illness, like the victim’s thing, like “He bound you.” I mean, people can have the opinion they want. I can ‘t do anything about it. But it’s all trying to somehow circumvent the fact that I’m not what they expected. I think people have a certain image of him in their heads and I do not fit what comes in that box; they will have to explain it somehow.
You said you saw sexism buried in some of the themes.
What feels very sexist to me is, why am I a victim? I chose to do this. There is nothing bad that has happened to me other than a bunch of people are unpleasant to me online.
It also seemed to be part of the reaction to your reaction, like ‘As a victim, she should not tweet about this.’ Or it was like behavior that did not become a proper lady.
I obviously do not want to go crazy online, but I can engage, I am not scared and do not go away. I find it very insulting when people think I want to get out of Twitter. It’s like, what am I doing? Am I hurting anyone? Am I harassing you? I’m not doing any of these things. I’m just talking about me.
And you were at the clubhouse last night. I’m so out of it, I do not know what it is. What is a clubhouse?
It was wild. I did not know what the clubhouse was; I should have googled it. Apparently it’s something in Silicon Valley, and it had some connection to trolls, and I did not know that directly. Someone invited me to go because they said they were talking about me. And I said, okay. The moderator was fantastic. She was very much out of respect. And that was actually a very good and healthy discussion, I think.
What would people know?
Oh, everything. I mean, they would know about my decisions to leave Bloomberg, if I had switched to another battle, they would know about Martin – the moderator did a good job of trying to keep it away from just an argument about Martin. I offered some of my thoughts on drug pricing that I am not a fan of, of course I have never supported it, and his harassment of women online, which of course is also very disturbing.
What has been your family’s reaction? I saw a nice supportive tweet from your brother-in-law.
I have had both family members and many friends from all over the country send me an email and reach out and say, “I hope you are well. We are here for you. “I heard from people I have not seen in decades. I have heard from some women tell me, “Hi, I also had the perfect little life and I threw it all away for my dreams. And I have never looked back. ”
What about your parents?
They text and tell me we love you, we are here for you.
Have you heard from your ex-husband?
A few texts. They were not happy lyrics. It’s up to him, whatever he wants to do, it’s his business.
What about other people online who say Martin flirted with them?
I’m sure he flirted with all people. He received lots of letters.
What do you like most about Martin?
His intelligence and his energy and endless curiosity. He can talk about anything, literally anything, can have a fascinating exploratory discussion on almost any topic, both low and high culture.
Do you expect to hear from him?
I do not know. I could not possibly guess what he would do. His friends have been very supportive. I’ve gotten a lot of good emails from those who say they think it’s cool what I’ve done, what the story is, and get it out there.
This is such a weird thing for me to ask as an interviewer, but some of the reactions online have said that I’m manipulating you to make this story.
We are all in this journalism. So why did you agree to make the story?
Well, the COVID situation got worse, and sitting and doing something did not work wonders for my anxiety. This felt like doing something – I do not know if it will be effective, but it has been a very long time and my nerves were just shot from having to carry this story inside me and not know what to do with it . I will always tell myself, if anyone comes to me who knows what to ask and asks the right questions, I will tell them.
You mentioned that the COVID situation in Shkreli’s prison, Allenwood, is getting much worse.
I will not blame the people who work for the prison; it’s not their fault. It is the fact that the prisons are built that way.
People wanted to know about the fashion shoot.
It has been so hard; this whole experience has been so tough. Getting in some fun clothes was essentially a moment of joy. I enjoyed it. I had been through so much. I expected to go through a lot more with regard to being attacked online. So if I can have some fun and wear some fun clothes, fine, I will do it.
And we must be clear that they are not your clothes and that you are not allowed to keep them.
Not my clothes.
What happens to the book? Have you revived interest in it?
Et par nibber. We will see.
Tell me more about why you decided to get involved online. I think a lot of people expected you to be quiet.
Oh, I’m so offended by the fact that people would think I would be afraid to stand up for what I said. Why would I do that? Why do I get rid of? It does not sound like me.
This interview has been condensed and edited for the sake of clarity.
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