T, the New York Times’s style magazine, said the sweetest things about Elizabeth Holmes, the techie chief executive of blood-testing company Theranos. The publication placed the 31-year-old Holmes on a list of five great “Transformers,” and described this crowd, in part, as follows: “Today’s young, socially motivated entrepreneurs question why we even have sectoral boundaries that need to be crossed. They don’t respect the walls between business, government and nonprofits,” wrote the author of the piece, Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen.
As for Holmes in particular, Arrillaga-Andreessen gushed this way in the first sentence: “It’s hard to overestimate the potential benefit of what Elizabeth Holmes has developed with her tech company Theranos.” Theranos employees would have had trouble generating a more effusive press release. “Theranos has developed a finger-stick test that rapidly detects the presence of the Ebola virus as close to the actual time of infection as clinically possible. Because the test can be performed in the most basic of settings, it can serve the people most in need, who are often the last to benefit from new technologies. ‘I believe that you can build a business that does well by doing good,’ ” Arrillaga-Andreessen quoted Holmes as saying.
An investigation by the Wall Street Journal embarrassed the T piece. Published Oct. 16 under the byline of John Carreyrou, it cited four former employees to assert that Theranos’s ingenious lab instrument “handled just a small fraction of the tests then sold to consumers.” The piece documented a number of other serious issues with the company’s performance. Theranos announced that it would temporarily scale back its finger-prick approach to collecting blood samples.
T was forced to account for the discrepancy between what Arrillaga-Andreessen wrote and what a major newspaper investigation found. So it placed some italicized text at the foot of the profile: “Update: After this profile was published online, there were new developments involving Theranos.” That disclosure was among the steps highlighted in a column by New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan, who also whacked T and Arrillaga-Andreessen for a conflict of interest. (The Erik Wemple Blog has since highlighted further conflicts).
In her letter to readers for this issue of T, Editor Deborah Needleman included extensive reference to Holmes’s work:
Indeed, the heroes of this issue of T — whom we have grouped together under the moniker “The Greats,” and had emblazoned on six different magazine covers — are all rather famous for what they do: Jonathan Franzen, Karl Lagerfeld, Steve McQueen, Rihanna, Quentin Tarantino and even Elizabeth Holmes, the brilliant tech entrepreneur who, if not yet a household name, has already had an enormous impact. As the C.E.O. of Theranos, Holmes has made blood tests, often prohibitively expensive for many people, affordable and easy to do anywhere.
Here’s how that looks in print:
And here’s how it now looks online:
The new text: “Indeed, the heroes of this issue of T — whom we have grouped together under the moniker ‘The Greats,’ and had emblazoned on different magazine covers — are all rather famous for what they do: Jonathan Franzen, Karl Lagerfeld, Steve McQueen, Rihanna andQuentin Tarantino.” (Bolding added to highlight an apparently shoddy job of excising Elizabeth Holmes from a laudatory letter to readers.)
There’s no tagline informing readers that Holmes has gone poof. We’ve asked the New York Times how the move jibes with its internal guidelines.