Thirty-year-old Elizabeth Holmes is the founder and CEO of Theranos, a blood diagnostics company that has been valued at $9 billion. The startup’s technology uses a tiny fingerprick to draw blood that can be used for a wide range of diagnostic tests. It should completely revolutionize medicine…that is, if it works.
An in-depth Wall Street Journal investigation published two weeks ago raised questions about the viability of Theranos’s central technology. It turns out Theranos has only been using the fingerprick technique in one of its tests to date, and Holmes has resisted submitting her technology to peer review.
Theranos may yet prove that it’s the real deal, but as of right now, no one outside the company has concrete evidence that it can back up its bold claims.
Understandably, Holmes has been under fire since the WSJ report went live. She’s defended her company, saying that they’re waiting on FDA approval before they introduce more fingerprick blood tests to commercial markets. But plenty of doubters remain, and their questions keep piling up.
What makes this all even more interesting (from our perspective) is the media’s swift about-face in its treatment of Holmes, upon whom it had previously heaped a mountain and a half of praise. In the past year, she has been compared to Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, profiled in The New Yorker, named one of Time’s Most Influential People in the World, and made a United States ambassador for global entrepreneurship by President Obama.
This woman has been more hyped than Y2K, and her nascent fall from grace has got us thinking: how much of the glowing coverage was related to the fact that she was a young woman succeeding in a field where many other women have struggled? Is this merely a one-off case of the media meeting a narrative it found irresistible and failing to do its homework? Or does it say something larger about the media that it was so eager to hold up Holmes as an inspirational feminist role model?
Only time will tell whether Holmes can succeed despite the bad press she’s receiving at the moment. There’s still plenty of room for her to right the ship and wind up in history books one day. But in the meantime, members of the media are realizing they had rose-colored glasses on, and they’ll be watching every move she makes with a sharp eye.
If you’ve been following the story, tell us: what effect (if any) do you think the Theranos scandal will have on how the media treats women leaders in the future?