Elizabeth Holmes, Jordan Belfort, Adam Neumann and, most recently, Sam Bankman-Fried. Chances are, you recognize at least one of these names. Assuming that is the case, it is likely that you recognize the names of their companies as well. From the larger-than-life claims of Holmes’s company Theranos to the shady insider dealings of Neumann’s WeWork, these fraudulent companies all held one thing in common: They were operated under the supervision of self-absorbed CEOs who would stop at nothing to achieve their vision, even if it entailed using the interests of customers and employees as collateral.
And indeed, as reckless visionaries, these figures have all been equipped with an unmatched ability to charm, manipulate and persuade people. Their business empires, built upon fragile webs of lies, have often gone on to accumulate billions of dollars in wealth before their eventual collapse.
The most recent of these scandals, involving the cryptocurrency exchange known as FTX, was pioneered by young entrepreneur Bankman-Fried back in 2018. The exchange recently experienced a crash after accusations surfaced surrounding FTX’s use of billions of dollars worth of customer assets to leverage the high-risk trading endeavors of its sister firm, Alameda Research, back in November. The company quickly spiraled from its peak valuation of $32 billion to the brink of bankruptcy in a matter of weeks. In its highly publicized fall from grace, FTX is now facing multiple fraud allegations in what is being described as the “fastest big corporate failure in American history.”
Despite all of this chaos, Bankman-Fried can’t seem to keep quiet. Not only was he invited to be a keynote speaker at The New York Times’s DealBook Summit last November, but plans for a book and a documentary about the CEO have already been announced as well. Taking to Twitter to announce these events, many users were left baffled by Bankman-Fried’s increased access to public platforms and exposure despite his despicable actions.
The case of Bankman-Fried’s increased notoriety and fame as a result of his deplorable actions is no coincidence. Similar to the aforementioned CEOs, these individuals hold yet another thing in common — they have each been catapulted to fame at the hands of the media.
After her multimillion-dollar company Theranos was exposed as fraudulent, Holmes has gone on to become the subject of multiple podcasts, documentaries, books and even a recent Hulu series starring Amanda Seyfriend. Merchandise including mugs, T-shirts and lab coats litter the internet despite Holmes’s culpability in jeopardizing the health of millions. In another instance, despite cheating small business owners and everyday people out of approximately $200 million, Belfort was glorified as an impulsive business tycoon and unapologetic playboy in the blockbuster film “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Belfort has gone on to write two bestselling memoirs and now enjoys success as a motivational speaker.
The ethical ramifications of these situations are appalling. Rather than being cast out of society, these individuals are continually being immortalized by it — a reality that serves to continually undermine and disregard the true victims in these situations. In an article published by The Atlantic back in 2013, multiple individuals who were personally victimized by Belfort were questioned on their opinions regarding the release of “The Wolf of Wall Street.” In this article, small business owners and individuals, such as Steve Orton and Ken Minor, describe the film’s release as sickening, lamenting over the toll that Belfort took on their financial situation, which they are still struggling to recover from.
In another article published as an open letter to the L.A. Weekly, the daughter of one of Belfort’s co-conspirators, Christina McDowell, shames the film industry’s repeated glorification of figures like Belfort. In reference to the victims, McDowell writes: “They’re left destitute, having lost their life savings at the age of 80. They can’t pay their medical bills or help send their children off to college because of characters like the ones glorified in Terry Winters’ screenplay.”
In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Belfort himself addressed this disparity between the film’s portrayal of his life and his internal struggles, stating, “I was at the lowest point of my life. I’m not trying to minimize it; it was awful what I did. But it was under the (influence) of massive quantities of drugs.” And indeed, continually placed at the center of all of this public attention, these individuals are, often inadvertently, enshrined by the media and celebrated in a warped admiration. It is due time that the Hollywood machine, which continues to exploit these situations as a means of profit, is held accountable. As plans continue to unfold for the publication of books and documentaries surrounding the FTX scandal, it is imperative that the circumstances of the victims are taken into account. The FTX catastrophe has left behind an estimated $8 billion and counting in liabilities to nearly one million creditors that it cannot pay out. These are real lives and real people that have been impacted by this situation, and it is time that the media treats them as such.
Tate Moyer is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at email@example.com.