The media has taken down another upstanding citizen.
Martin Shkreli, unfairly slandered as “the most hated man in America,” is on a sort of redemption tour leading up to his forthcoming trial for federal securities fraud charges. Shkreli, to refresh your outrage, is the former CEO of drug firm Turing Pharmaceuticals, which earlier this year tried to help some cancer and HIV patients by raising the price of a drug they might need by 5,000%. Critics howled, but Shkreli straightened them out by explaining that the move was “altruistic.”
Shkreli, also granted the honorary title of 'Pharma Bro', was further persecuted when federal prosecutors charged him in December with misappropriating funds from another company he ran, Retrophin, to pay off investors in two failed hedge funds he started. Shkreli insisted the charges, while unrelated to Turing, were a punishment for the company’s price hike and for his habit of “teasing people over the Internet.”
And today, when Shkreli appeared at a Congressional hearing on the drug-price hike and silently smirked while pleading the Fifth, his lawyer Ben Brafman explained that his client was just nervous. Shkreli will be a “hero,” Brafman insisted, once the silly felony charges are cleared up.
Shkreli himself later clarified that he was, in fact, feeling contemptuous of Congress. “Hard to accept that these imbeciles represent the people in our government,” he tweeted about half an hour after leaving the hearing. Within an hour, that remark earned nearly 400 likes.
When speaking for himself, instead of battling crass media characterizations, Shkreli is an endearing chap. He earned legions of new fans this week after chatting with the hosts of a New York City hip-hop radio station about music, entitlement, and his impoverished upbringing. One fan spoke for many when he tweeted, “The interview of Martin Shkreli showed me he actually ISN’T a douche.” Shkreli cataloged all the pro-Shkreli tweets on his own Twitter feed, which has nearly 50,000 followers—even more proof that he’s cooler than the feds.
There’s even a “Free Martin!” movement, fueled by a sympathetic Vice article and interview, in which Shkreli claims none of his investors ever lost money, so there can’t really be any crime. “Thought you were an ass until I watched the Vice special,” another fan tweeted. “Turns out your [sic] a modern day Robin Hood!”
All Shkreli has to do now is convince the feds of that. The indictment could land him in jail for 20 years if he’s found guilty. And the Congressional inquiry into the drug-price hikes probably isn’t over. The committee holding the hearing subpoenaed internal Turing documents showing Shkreli boasting of the profits likely to start rolling in and devising a strategy to silence critics of the price hikes in the HIV community. But don’t worry, that’s just a misunderstanding. He’s really a peach of a guy. If he doesn’t say so himself.
Rick Newman’s latest book is Liberty for All: A Manifesto for Reclaiming Financial and Political Freedom. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.