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Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes Punches Back Against The Wall Street Journal

Elizabeth Holmes defends Theranos against a scathing Wall Street Journal exposé–while speaking at a WSJ event.

Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes Punches Back Against The Wall Street Journal

Update 10/22/2015 2:45 p.m. ET: Theranos has published a lengthy blog post refuting the claims in the Wall Street Journal articles.

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When Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes agreed to be interviewed at the Wall Street Journal’s WSJ.D Live conference here in Laguna Beach, California, she didn’t know that the event would end up taking place a week after the Journal published an in-depth exposé charging that the company’s blood-testing system had serious problems and that it was actually using commercially available devices for much of its work.

Rather than bail on her appearance, Holmes showed up. And the entirety of her interview with WSJ tech editor Jonathan Krim was devoted to the charges and her response.

The crux of her response related to Theranos’s decision to submit its finger-stick blood-test process—which uses a tiny finger prick rather than the more intimidating technique of drawing blood from an arm vein—to the FDA for approval. This move, she said, explained why the company wasn’t currently using its own system for more comprehensive tests. “If you have cars driving on the road,” she said by way of comparison, “and you say I’m going to take every one from moving on the right-hand side of the road to the left-hand side, the only way to do that is pause and cut over.”

In response to a second WSJ article about Theranos making changes to its website to downplay the use of its own system, Holmes said that the company frequently made such changes, and had made these ones to reflect the fact that it was broadening the scope of its work in an attempt to help bring down the often pricey cost of blood tests. “As we’ve expanded our menu,” she explained, “by definition the percentage of people who get finger-stick go down.“

The Journal’s article referenced Dr. Ian Gibbons, a British biochemist who collaborated with Theranos. Before committing suicide in 2013, the story stated, Gibbons told his wife that “nothing was working” with the company’s system. “I’ve never known the Wall Street Journal as a tabloid magazine,” said Holmes. “To quote a widow is really going into an inappropriate area.” She questioned the widow’s statement, saying that she had refused to make it under oath in a patent lawsuit that Theranos had pursued against another company.

Krim also brought up comments about Theranos in the wake of the Journal’s article by former Apple engineering head Jean-Louis Gassée and Google Ventures chief Bill Maris. Gassée, who questioned the accuracy of tests he had performed, said that Holmes hadn’t responded to a letter he sent her. “I wish he’d called our call center,” she said. “We absolutely are going to follow up with him. We’ve done over 3.5 million tests. To take five of them out of context is just misleading.”

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Meanwhile, Holmes said that Google Ventures, which Maris claimed had decided not to invest in Theranos because it was skeptical about its technology, had never even contacted the startup at all.

Holmes’s conversation with Krim was polite, but it was also intense. She said that her father, a San Francisco Chronicle reporter, had always told her that “the job of a reporter is to tell truth to the readers.”

“We’ve seen two articles that were false,” she added. “And immediately everyone reprints it as if it were true.”

Holmes repeatedly said that Theranos is working on an in-depth response to the WSJ’s accusations—which is good, because an onstage interview at a tech conference, as compelling as this one was, could never resolve the highly technical questions that the WSJ raised. But she also said the articles would not change anything about Theranos’s overarching plans: “We’re the exact same company we were last Wednesday, before these two articles were published.”

Update 10/21/2015 5:28 p.m. ET: The Journal has responded to Holmes’ reaction to its articles with a statement:

We’d like to thank Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes for agreeing to an interview today at our WSJDLive 2015 conference, and for the opportunity she gave all of our readers and viewers to hear from her. We always seek full input from the subjects of stories, as we did repeatedly throughout our reporting on Theranos.

Nothing said at the conference by Ms. Holmes refutes the accuracy of the reporting done by John Carreyrou or of the articles, which were subject to the Journal’s rigorous and careful editing process. Contrary to Ms. Holmes’s claims, the Journal shared all facts and anecdotes published in the articles with Theranos before publication, in accordance with our longstanding editorial practice and principles. The company was given plenty of opportunity to respond. Ms. Holmes declined interview requests from the Journal for more than five months, but the general counsel and outside counsel of Theranos provided significant input, which was fairly reflected in the articles.

We note that Ms. Holmes sought to challenge the reliability of our sources, but it remains the fact that she doesn’t know from whom the information for our articles was gathered. We assure her and our readers that our sources were well positioned to know the information they provided about Theranos, and they were vetted before publication.

The Journal reiterates that our articles about Theranos were thoroughly reported, fair and wholly accurate.

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About the author

Harry McCracken is the technology editor for Fast Company, based in San Francisco. In past lives, he was editor at large for Time magazine, founder and editor of Technologizer, and editor of PC World.

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