President Donald Trump and former Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes both lie but Trump is “off the scale,” says Alex Gibney, the director of a recent documentary on Holmes called “The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley.”
The Academy Award-winning director said Trump’s lies suggest a lack of concern for, or even knowledge of, the truth.
“It’s almost hard to call what he does ‘lies’ because he'll say whatever is beneficial to him at that moment,” Gibney says. “I don't think he really cares whether it's a lie or it's a truth.”
Trump has made over 10,000 false or misleading claims since he took office in January 2017, according to a tally released last month by the Washington Post. The number of false or misleading claims exceeded the total 828 days that Trump had served in office when the count was published.
Since last Friday, when Trump raised tariffs from 10% to 25% on $200 billion in Chinese goods, he has drawn scrutiny for repeatedly making a false assertion that China would pay the cost of the increased tariffs. In fact, U.S. companies and consumers will bear the costs.
Gibney made the remarks to Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer in a conversation that airs on Yahoo Finance on Thursday at 5 p.m. EST in an episode of “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.
In 2005, Gibney came to prominence with “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” an Oscar-nominated documentary on the fall of Enron. He won an Oscar a few years later, in 2008, for “Taxi to the Dark Side,” which examined the U.S. torture program during the Afghanistan war.
Recently, Gibney produced the Netflix documentary series “Dirty Money” and directed “The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley,” which was released by HBO in March.
‘If you believe you're lying for a good cause, you can do it very effectively.’
Unlike Trump, Elizabeth Holmes was likely aware of the lies she told about the effectiveness of a machine she claimed could conduct blood tests on a small amount of blood, Gibney said.
“Elizabeth Holmes, if you really confronted her and said, is this machine working—you know, if you got her someplace away, in a private place—she would probably say no, it's really not,” Gibney says.
“But in public, she would maintain it was,” he adds. “She'd probably concoct elaborate rationalizations in her mind about how it was working, even though she damn well knew it wasn't.”
Holmes, who founded Theranos at age 19, raised over $700 million in funding between 2013 and 2015, achieving a company valuation of $9 billion. However, in October 2015, the Wall Street Journal revealed that the blood test product manufactured by Theranos did not work nearly as well as the company had indicated.
Last June, Holmes was indicted on charges of defrauding investors. She pleaded not guilty, and awaits trial. A date has not been set.
Gibney said that Holmes suffered from “noble cause corruption,” a term that describes someone willing to take unethical actions in order to achieve a well-meaning goal.
“She had a mission and she thought it was a noble mission,” he says.
“But over time, the distance between the mission and reality grew and grew and grew until it was outright fraud,” he adds. “If you believe you're lying for a good cause, you can do it very effectively.”
Andy Serwer is editor-in-chief of Yahoo Finance.