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Chapter 13, Part 3: All the Problematic Men

Chapter 13, Part 3: All the Problematic Men

By virtue of timing, Martin Shkreli got lumped into #MeToo. But did he deserve to be?

Troll that Martin Shkreli was, he didn’t always mind negative press. The downsides to being portrayed as an arch supervillain were minimal, in his mind. The people he alienated, who took his monstrous public image at face value, tended to be mindlessly tribal or had little to look forward to in their own lives and just wanted to have someone to hate. He relished offending those types of people or picking apart their logical fallacies.

Meanwhile, being the “most hated man in America” actually served to attract people he did like. Contrarians like himself could easily separate Martin the person from Martin the media character. Like him, they tended to view his infamy with a sense of ironic detachment — as though he were a “heel” in professional wrestling. Journalists and the public calling him “hated” wasn’t a cue for these types of people to join in the hate. Instead, those descriptions simply made them curious.

Clockwise from top left: Charlie Rose, Harvey Weinstein, Martin Shkreli, and Matt Lauer.
Clockwise from top left: Charlie Rose, Harvey Weinstein, Martin Shkreli, and Matt Lauer.

Curiosity was good for Martin. It drove people to his live streams, his Discord channel, and his social media followings. They were especially drawn to his Twitter, at least before he was kicked off the platform in early 2017 for harassing a feminist writer. Once exposed to his personality, they often found him surprisingly intelligent, open-minded (although he identified as a conservative his social values were fairly liberal), and entertaining…and many became his loyal fans. 

But there were some variations of media attention that infuriated him. When coverage was condescending rather than merely insulting, it chafed him more. For example, despite many far nastier things being published about him at the time, he stewed for days in 2016 over a New York Post reporter describing the dress shoes he wore to court as “scuffed.” The shoes were most certainly not scuffed, he insisted to me, and regardless, he said, that detail served no purpose except to belittle him.

He also got particularly irritated when the press lumped him into societal contexts that he didn’t think he belonged in. A prime example, of course, was #MeToo. The issue was partly timing. It just so happened that while Martin was plotting to jack up the price of Daraprim as CEO of Turing in 2015 and the Feds were preparing a securities fraud indictment against him, outrage against rich, mostly white men for abuses, particularly sexual misconduct, was building toward an explosion. But some of his own actions played a role.

The #MeToo sexual assault survivor’s movement, which took off in 2017 in wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, became a moment of reckoning for dozens of prominent men in media, entertainment, and Corporate America who had gotten away for too long with groping interns, sexually harassing subordinates and generally acting like frat boys. Being “outed” as a bad man was a ticket to being definitively “canceled,” dramatically shifting the balance of power. 

Already widely considered a “poster boy for greed” because of hiking the price of Daraprim, Martin Shkreli also got the “bad man” treatment in the media. The label was an awkward fit — Martin didn’t rape or sexually assault anyone or wield professional influence in exchange for sexual favors. 

But in hindsight, I can’t completely fault journalists for doing it. It was just too easy to jump to the right (or rather, wrong) conclusions. He was a brash, young, smug, wealthy (at one time worth as much as $200 million, but now much less), eccentric, heterosexual white man with a wildly messy romantic history. Past girlfriends and poorly-conceived email and text conversations were all fair game to enterprising reporters looking for dirt. 

On top of that, he made matters worse for himself by…

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SMIRK (audio version)
My experiences uncovering the story of, and falling in love with, Martin Shkreli.
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Christie Smythe