HBO's Elizabeth Holmes Film Rekindles Debate on Her Voice

Literally: People want to know if she faked the baritone
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 19, 2019 2:48 PM CDT

(Newser) – The stunning rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes and her now-defunct company, Theranos, gets a thorough rehashing in an HBO documentary that debuted Monday night. Alex Gibney's The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley is winning praise for its look at how Holmes' claim of inventing a simple blood-testing technique turned out to be all hype and no science. Here's a sampling of reaction:

  • The voice: Holmes has a famously baritone voice. Hear it in this 2015 interview. But many people are apparently hearing it for the first time in the documentary, renewing a debate: Did she fake the voice, too? A post at Town & Country notes that several people have come forward to assert that she did fake it, and a roundup of tweets at W magazine finds plenty who would agree. Here is the take of Katie McDonough at Jezebel: "Holmes’s chosen fake voice, meant to project gravitas and business acumen, is the same voice that I (and maybe you) put on when making fun of very stupid men."
  • The voice, II: This quote, in an ABC podcast about Holmes, is now in wide circulation. It's from Stanford prof Dr. Phyllis Gardner, who knew Holmes as a freshman. “When she came to me she didn’t have a low voice," says Gardner. "When I next saw her again was at the Harvard Medical School board meeting where she was being introduced. She says with this low voice and I’m like, 'Oh my god.' It was quite off."

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  • Guide to the guides: If you're compelled to know more about Holmes, start with this New York Times guide. It points to early magazine articles (in which Holmes' lack of precision in describing her company's work now stands out), books (especially Bad Blood by Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou), the above-mentioned podcast, the documentary, and the coming movie with Jennifer Lawrence.
  • No blinking: Rolling Stone has a list of "weird" details in the documentary, including the fact that Holmes never seemed to blink when talking to people. The film also explores her ability to "cast a spell" on powerful older men. (Looking at you, Henry Kissinger.) The Cut, meanwhile, writes of a "truly unforgettable" scene that involves Holmes dancing to MC Hammer at a celebratory company meeting.
  • No interview: The film has no interview with Holmes herself, but Gibney tells Business Insider he exchanged multiple emails with her, unsuccessfully trying to get her to change her mind. The closest they came was when she had a five-hour dinner with one of the producers. "It was clear that Elizabeth saw herself very much as the victim," Gibney says. "That she was being scapegoated because she was a woman. That if this happened to a man nobody would have cared. I think that's bull----, but anyway, that was her point of view."
  • The obsession: At Vanity Fair, K. Austin Collins ponders why people can't seem to get enough of the Holmes story. Don't expect this documentary to end the obsession, however. "In the end, Holmes remains the complex, magnetic, repulsive, odd, completely watchable star of a thriller that’s ongoing. And the rest of us remain her captive audience."
  • The red line: Gibney tells CNET that if Holmes merely squandered investors' money, this wouldn't matter so much. But the Theranos deal to sell bogus tests to Walgreens would have jeopardized the lives of sick people. "It was when she put people at risk, that was the problem."
(Just before Theranos went under, Holmes thought a dog might help save the day.)

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