The Journalist Who Fell For the Pharma Bro Is Publishing a Memoir

Every time someone learns I’m the editor behind ELLE‘s 2020 viral feature, “The Journalist and the Pharma Bro”written by Stephanie Clifford, the same questions follow: What happened between Martin Shkreli and Christie Smythe, the journalist who fell in love with the notorious pharmaceutical executive and left her husband and her job at Bloomberg News behind, after those first dizzying 24 hours? Are they still in touch? Are they back together? So when I had the opportunity to talk to Smythe directly for the first time as she prepared to publish the first chapter of her memoir Smirk: How I Fell In Love With the Most Hated Man in America on SubstackI started there.

Smythe couldn’t be sure if she would hear from Shkreli after the article published. Maybe getting dumped by him via his lawyer in a national magazine really was the end of it. But three days later, her phone from Ella rang. “I guess it took that long for Martin to grasp what dents I had made in the internet,” Smythe tells me. She was in the middle of work, so she didn’t answer, but Shkreli kept calling. On his third attempt at it, she picked up. “Is this Christie Smythe…the celebrity?” I have deadpanned.

“He was giggling—it was like he was just tickled,” Smythe remembers. “Once I realized that I had made this big mess he was, like, proud of me. It was very strange. He hated the idea of ​​going public, and then when it was finally out and it was this big mess, he enjoyed the mess. Is that a healthy dynamic? Probably not, but that’s just the way it is.” After the call, Smythe let Shkreli’s lawyer know they’d been in touch, and he summed it up as: “You out Martin’d Martin,” referring to the online sensation she’d turned herself into overnight (albeit in a much different fashion than her known web troll and alleged harasser ex-boyfriend). Smythe says she thought to herself, Okay, I’ll take that.


Not everyone was as pleased with the attention, though, namely Smythe’s boss at the journalism startup where she was working at the time. He knew about her relationship with Shkreli, but he was uncomfortable with the level of attention the story had received. “When the Twitter explosion happened, he was like, ‘I don’t know what to do about this,’ and I said, ‘You know what? It’s fine, I’ll just go. I don’t want to cause you stress. I’ll figure something out.’”

Smythe “just kind of hung out” for a while. After all, what does one do after they’ve blown up their life in a very public fashion? She thought about starting a Substack called “Hollywoof” devoted to celebrity pets. “It was going to be written in the style of a Hollywood gossip magazine, but with real reporting, and focused on Internet-famous and other celebrity animals,” she says. She also laid the groundwork for a nonprofit to provide low-interest financing, grants, and business counseling to help former inmates get small businesses off the ground. She got 501(c)(3) approval and started a bank account and a website, but that’s about it so far. (The two former inmates currently featured on the website are friends Martin made in prison.)

She thought about starting a Substack called “Hollywoof” devoted to celebrity pets.

But a few months later, she came across a listing for a job at a digital startup publication called The Business of Business. “It was a very well-written ad and I was like, you know what, let me just tell them the truth,” Smythe says. She wrote a cover letter explaining who she was and what exactly she had done and, within five days, she was hired as a senior writer. “The ad was asking applicants to have a sort of unique perspective on business. The publication prides itself on participating in the story, so long as we make that clear. We don’t have this distant objectivity. We like to have a voice. So I was like, ‘If that’s what you want, I can give you lots of that,’” Smythe says. “Let me tell you about myself and what unique perspective I bring to this situation. And they loved it.”

Christie Smythe will begin publishing installations of her memoir this week.

Stephen Yang / Courtesy of the subject

By the end of 2021, Smythe was promoted to be the publication’s editor-in-chief. “There were many, many doomsayers who were proclaiming the end of my journalism career, but they were wrong,” she says. “This is a small world where people get a sense like, ‘Oh she she’s good and she knows what she’s doing.’ Sometimes that outweighs ‘Oh, her ex-boyfriend of hers is a famous white collar criminal.’”

Smythe says everything she went through with Shkreli has given her a leg up in her reporting, which often centers on white collar crime and scandals. “I feel I have this ability to see into peoples’ minds—it’s almost like this amazing 3D vision that I didn’t have before. I get this sense of, ‘Oh I can see what this is like from your perspective,’” she says. “I can get interviews that I might not have been able to get before, because people can see that I understand.” Maybe they can tell she’s an empathetic ear, or maybe they just feel like the woman who fell in love with Martin Shkreli couldn’t possibly be judging them.

(Though, just yesterday, the Daily Beast reported that employees at The Business of Business have stopped receiving paychecks, and the site’s future is in doubt. “I’m really sad about this sudden turn of events because I’m super proud of what we were building at The Business of Business,” Smythe emailed me after the news broke. “I’m hopeful there might be some way to continue the site, although I’m not sure yet about that path forward.”)

After that first post-breakup prison phone call, Smythe and Shkreli worked their way back to being friends. They still haven’t seen each other in person since February 2020, in part because of pandemic protocols at the prison. (He invited her to visit at one point, but then COVID spiked again.) “It’s impossible to hold together a relationship with someone under these circumstances,” Smythe says. But they email “on and off in spurts.” On April 25, Smythe eyeballed her inbox for me and counted roughly 30 emails between her and Shkreli since the beginning of the month. “He is doing his thing and I’m doing my thing, and we’re still friends,” Smythe says. “He likes to go over his business ideas with me and I like to give feedback. So that’s kind of where it is. We’re just friends.” Among the post-prison ventures he’s told her about: a podcast, a Substack, a dating app (!), and, of course, he’s also “very interested in crypto.”

christie smythe martin shkreli email elon musk twitter

A recent email exchange between Smythe and Shkreli.

Courtesy of Christie Smythe

The day I interviewed Smythe, she and Shkreli had been emailing earlier in the day about Elon Musk buying Twitter. “He’s very excited,” Smythe says, adding that Shkreli feels like now he may be allowed back on Twitter (he was permanently suspended in 2017 for “target harassment” of a female journalist). “I think he would have to be on his best behavior if he were let back on Twitter,” Smythe says. “I don’t know what the precedent would be.”

While his Twitter fate hangs in the balance, in life, Shkreli will be a free man again soon. His release date posted on the Bureau of Prisons website is November 7, 2022, but Smythe says he will be released even sooner into home confinement “for a period of months,” as nonviolent offenders often are. Smythe would not go into specifics about exactly when he will get out, but he said it “coming up pretty soon” and that Shkreli has lined up a place in the New York area. “I mean, he’s not living with me—that’s not happening,” Smythe adds. She does hope to visit him, though.

In the meantime, she’ll continue to write her book. She’s written the first few chapters so far, but she has planned about 15, which will each be divided into three or four parts. Before she fell in love with Shkreli, Smythe planned to write a book about his rise and fall. Now that she’s part of the story, she realized it had to be a memoir. “I have to tell it from my perspective of how I came to be involved with Martin and what I learned,” she says. “It’s what I’ve been living and it just needs to get out. I was telling Martin I want to move on to other books, other topics, but I need this one done first.”

Thetitle, smirk, refers not just to her ex’s signature snively look, but to the smirk that’s been on her own face ever since she out Martin’d Martin. “I’m a much kinder and gentler troll than Martin, and certainly less offensive, but I do have that desire to sort of needle people and stick myself in inconvenient places. We have that in common, and he kind of helped bring that out in me,” Smythe says. “So the smirk is me—the little troll that I have blossomed into.”

The last bit of news I’ll leave you with is that Smythe has been dating someone new for the past seven or eight months. His name is Humberto and he’s a horror filmmaker, who lives in New Jersey. (“It’s almost like we’re long distance because I live in Harlem,” Smythe says.) They met on Hinge, and after a couple drinks on their first date de ella, Smythe told him he should probably just Google her. “So he did,” she says, “but he was just like, ‘Well, everyone has a story…’”

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