Faced with a room full of journalists angry their editor had humiliated the New York Times with a horrible puff piece on Elizabeth Holmes, business editor Ellen Pollock stood by their shoddy work, even swearing and bringing her dead mother into the conversation. Pollock threw compliments around, but the details shared in this Vanity Fair piece don't describe a successful meeting calming journalists' concerns.
At the all-hands meeting Tuesday, attended by some 80 people, Pollock was asked how the story came about and what she thought of the backlash. Pollock defended the Holmes profile, and said she didn't "give a fuck" about the criticism, according to two sources familiar with the meeting. ("My mother, may she rest in peace, would be appalled to hear that I cursed in public," Pollock told me in an email.)
Pollock told staffers there was nothing atypical about how the story had come about—Chozick, a former Times reporter who has for the past several years been a writer-at-large for the paper, was offered the profile by a contact, and the Times saw it as a newsworthy story, given Holmes had not given an interview since 2016. One person in the meeting pointed out that the Times had recently hired John Carreyrou, the Pulitzer-winning investigative reporter whose articles led to Holmes's downfall, exposing her and the fraudulent practices of Theranos. Pollock noted that Carreyrou—as well as Erin Griffith, a business reporter who covered Holmes's trial for the Times—read Chozick's piece before it was published. Neither liked the story, Pollock said. ("John Carreyrou and Erin Griffith are wonderful!" Pollock told me. "Amy Chozick too!") Executive editor Joe Kahn, however, did like the piece, complimenting it in a morning meeting following publication, according to a Times reporter.
Pollack claims that nothing out of the usual went on here. At the same time, it seems the paper delayed announcing a hire that might have scared Holmes off and moved forward with publishing the love letter to Holmes even as she was quoted telling the reporter, Amy Chozick, that she'd been rolled. Perhaps glorious PR pieces for convicted felons are business as usual? Do they all get lovely family portraits on the beach?
Part of the conceit of Chozick's story was being swept up by this version of Holmes, just as Theranos board members and investors had been by another persona. But multiple Times journalists I spoke to felt that such asides and caveats were not enough to salvage the article or justify its framing. As one put it: "Why tell readers that a New York Times editor thought a reporter was too credulous, and then use the story to prove it?" Or as another put it: "You have to ask, on our side, what the hell happened here?"
Chozick recently spoke about the piece on the Longform podcast. She dismissed rumors that the story had been planted by PR—"why would the PR firm call the journalist who hasn't had a byline in three years"—and said that the story came initially to her through "a mutual friend/acquaintance, who had heard that [Holmes] was gonna be wanting to talk" and "was looking for a journalist." The person, Chozick said on the podcast, "was like, 'Do you know anyone who'd be good? I know you're busy, do you know anyone who would want to do this?' And I'm like, 'I'm not too busy for this one'…. It wasn't, like, pitched to me to do it; it was like I saw a good story, and I grabbed it."
It sounds more like the upset journalists were told tough shit.