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Pharma bro and the journalist who loves him

As a journalist, falling in love with a person you are covering is about as taboo as it gets.  Add the fact in this case, that the subject of such affection is a person who once earned the title “The Most Hated Man in America”, and you’ve got one big story to either share or conceal.  As former Bloomberg journalist Christie Smythe tells me, it is in fact, a “crazy story.”

I sat down with Smythe for her first TV interview since revealing her love affair with Martin Shkreli, in a tell-all article published in Elle Magazine in December.   Shkreli is best known as the “Pharma-Bro”, the former drug company CEO who is currently serving 7 years in the low-security Allenwood Low Federal Correctional Institution in Pennsylvania for two counts of securities fraud and one count of securities fraud conspiracy.   Shkreli earned the nickname after raising the price of the life-saving H-I-V drug Daraprim by 5,000 percent overnight which sparked outrage and earned him the moniker for what was called his callous nature in making the dramatic price increase. 

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Smythe describes her budding relationship with Shkreli as something unimaginable at first saying, “I mean, from where I started and where I ended up, it’s like no one would believe that if you wrote fiction about it, no one would believe it. But, I’ve been I’ve been a journalist for 15 years. I’ve covered business and legal issues mostly. I graduated from the University of Missouri. I did a fellowship at Columbia. You know, I have I have a solid journalism education. I got into covering courts after moving to New York in 2008.”

Smythe began covering Brooklyn Federal Court for Bloomberg News in 2012, which is how she ended up reporting on Martin Shkreli.  She says “He was he was the villain everybody hated. So, of course, when he was arrested for securities fraud charges, massive story. My biggest story ever that was that was how I got into the story. Like that was my first introduction to him.”

Shkreli gave tabloid writers and business reporters plenty of fodder through the course of his trial, creating headlines as he rolled his eyes through testimony, and live streamed at home after court, drinking the occasional beer.

Smythe was one of the reporters who broke the story of Shkreli’s arrest in 2015.  She says that over time the two fell in love and that Shkreli is simply misunderstood, saying, “He’s just a very, very eccentric person. It doesn’t play well in public, especially in negative light. He is phenomenally intelligent and charismatic, but also has no emotional intelligence and very little common sense and is very awkward. And if you combine all of those things, you get kind of this public relations disaster.”

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Smythe who was married at the time, says her marriage was already having difficulties and her attention to Shkreli only made things worse.  But she says, she didn’t cross the line when it came to covering him.

Her former employer disagrees. In a statement, a Bloomberg News spokesperson said in part,  “Ms. Smythe’s conduct with regard to Mr. Shkreli was not consistent with expectations for a Bloomberg journalist. It became apparent that it would be best to part ways. Ms. Smythe tendered her resignation, and we accepted it.”

After Smythe left her job she says that’s when things between the two heated up, and her marriage cooled off, telling me, “After I left my job at Bloomberg and I was kind of on the way out with my husband, with my ex-husband, we were planning to split up. I visited Martin in prison and I just simply told him that I loved him.”

I asked Smythe if there was any sort of soft launch into the romantic conversation to which she replied, “No,once you’re once you’re in, you’re in.”  Smythe says that’s when Shkreli told her that he loved her too.

There is only one photo of the two together, taken at a visitation day inside the prison.  Smythe says over the course of his imprisonment, the two have shared letters, spoke on the phone and have exchanged emails and have even talked about having a life together once he is released from custody telling me, “We talked about me freezing my eggs and after he suggested that that could be a possibility, I said, OK, sure, I’ll go ahead and try, I’ll look into it and see about that and I did it and I’m really glad I did it. I mean, if things work out with Martin, great. If they don’t, I feel like I’ve preserved that option for myself.”   Smythe adding, that Shkreli also told her he wanted to have children with her too.

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I asked Smythe what she has to say to people who have told her she’s been brainwashed and that Shkreli is using and manipulating her.  She said she would tell them, “You don’t know what you’re talking about, you don’t know me and what an incredibly willful and independent person I have been since childhood. And you don’t know Martin. Martin is not a brilliant manipulator when you get to know him.” 

Smythe says she’s also had to confront criticism about how Shkreli treated other female journalists, even calling him out for some of the comments he made online and says she doesn’t support any form of harassment but says she believed Shkreli saw some of his comments as justified responses.

According to Smythe the relationship hit a snag after Covid hit, and the Elle article was published.  She says their relationship started to break down and the two stopped speaking.   As of this writing, Smythe says they are back on speaking terms and have been corresponding through emails and phone calls.

As for what’s next… She says they are figuring things out.

“I would love Martin to get out. I would love him to start working on something productive that helps the world. And I’d like to play some sort of role in helping him get there. That that’s my dream.”

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Just last week, a federal judge denied Shkreli’s second request for an early release, rejecting Shkreli’s claims  that the prisons lockdown due to Covid-19 has put a strain on his mental health. In the 12-page ruling, the judge said Shkreli didn’t make an extraordinary and compelling reason to modify his sentence. 

So for now, Smythe waits for Shkreli’s release.  I asked her if she felt like she “threw it all away” in the end as some of the post Elle Magazine headlines have suggested.  Smythe told me, “No, that was that was their interpretation. Obviously, they wanted to heighten the drama and the contrast of where my life was before and where it is now. So I understand those choices. But no, I didn’t I didn’t throw anything away. I chose a different path. And it wasn’t for Martin specifically. Martin definitely was a catalyst, but helped kind of propel me in that direction. But, you know, I chose freedom, essentially.”

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