Define 'interesting.'
January 6, 2016 12:31 PM   Subscribe

When an NBC producer fell for celebrated surgeon Paolo Macchiarini while filming a Dateline documentary special about him, she thought her biggest problem was a breach of journalistic ethics. Then things got really interesting.
posted by zarq (131 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm reading this entire article in Keith-Morrison-voice...
posted by Ian A.T. at 12:36 PM on January 6, 2016 [15 favorites]


Thank you for posting this. It reminds me of An Education, another true story of a very respectable woman (or girl, in that case) being led almost all the way to the altar before the wife and kids turn up.

I'll never understand what leads people to weave such elaborate, bejewelled webs of lies, especially when there is a set point in time at which it all has to fall apart. It has to be a pathology. I feel guilty about allowing an implication by omission that I was not in fact the person who ate all the leftover pizza.
posted by Countess Elena at 12:48 PM on January 6, 2016 [14 favorites]


Do popes even marry couples?
posted by Countess Elena at 12:49 PM on January 6, 2016 [5 favorites]


Wow.

It's like the pathological liar guy from SNL... "And we're going to be married by the Pope, in the Pope's personal chapel. Vladimir Putin will be my Best Man, yeah. And Bill Clinton is gonna be a Groomsmaa.. er Usher."
posted by notyou at 12:51 PM on January 6, 2016 [24 favorites]


It's just one of those rules you have to live by. If you've never been to his house, the dude has a wife.
posted by xingcat at 12:58 PM on January 6, 2016 [107 favorites]


Holy cow, that is some grade A bullshitting. How he kept it all straight in his head, and how he got away with all the lies for so long, is dumbfounding.
posted by marienbad at 12:59 PM on January 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


I found the focus of this article somewhat odd -- I mean, it's obviously an upsetting thing for Alexander but she was a journalist and an adult and this is not the end of the world for her. But what about all those patients who died after the supposed miracle procedures, performed by a doctor who faked a lot of his CV? Or the woman lying in a hospital for a thousand days? I'd be interested in reading more about the medical aspect of this fraud as opposed to the lambskin invitations/custom gowns/implausible wedding guests angle.

This seems like Vanity Fair's interest in the ephemera of the extremely wealthy taken to an almost parodic degree.
posted by The Giant Rat of Sumatra at 1:00 PM on January 6, 2016 [134 favorites]


Soooo, why is he not in jail? Seems like he ought to be in jail, or at least ruined.
posted by aramaic at 1:04 PM on January 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


Do popes even marry couples?

Sounds like a job for Magic+
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:08 PM on January 6, 2016 [49 favorites]


I also enjoyed the article but found the focus odd, though in a different way: clearly Alexander was their source, so it was always going to be about her, but it seemed like the author did the bare minimum of covering her ethics violations and conflict of interest. Whereas to me, that was another facet of the story that could have been covered in more detail.
posted by Ian A.T. at 1:14 PM on January 6, 2016 [16 favorites]


Between this guy and Ben Carson, how do you ensure that your 'brilliant' surgeon isn't a scammer and/or serial fabulist?
posted by grounded at 1:17 PM on January 6, 2016 [13 favorites]


Also, this bit about the Harvard psychology professor cracked me up:
Though he will not diagnose from a distance, Schouten, who is one of the nation’s foremost authorities on psychopathy, observed, “Macchiarini is the extreme form of a con man. [...] There’s a void in his personality that he seems to want to fill by conning more and more people.”
Imagine what he'd say if he was willing to diagnose from a distance!
posted by Ian A.T. at 1:17 PM on January 6, 2016 [65 favorites]


Her NYT wedding write-up was also pretty unusual.
Not to take away from her professional achievements, but her Emmys are shared with all of the NBC news teams. VF doesn't actually spell that out.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:23 PM on January 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


Her NYT wedding write-up was also pretty unusual.

How so?
posted by stagewhisper at 1:30 PM on January 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


I belong to a highly-classified group of nappers from around the world who may be called away at any time for secret naps that must be taken immediately.
posted by poffin boffin at 1:33 PM on January 6, 2016 [84 favorites]


Not to take away from her professional achievements, but her Emmys are shared with all of the NBC news teams. VF doesn't actually spell that out.

There seems to a tacit understanding in the kind of circles covered by Vanity Fair that you don't look to closely at anyone's credentials or ask too many questions if that person is A) gorgeous; B) wealthy; C) powerful and able to provide you with access of some kind; or D) some combination of these things. They're glamorous, so people - including the media used to burnish these credentials - willingly swallow the bullshit in hope of digesting some of that glamour themselves. It's not surprising that so many beautiful people end up getting conned by hustlers and con men like Macchiarini who know how to work the system.
posted by ryanshepard at 1:36 PM on January 6, 2016 [5 favorites]


I also thought that the focus on the paraphernalia of the wedding was weird. Instead of focusing on possible professional fraud, which NBC should perhaps have caught in its program and didn't because of this fraud on the producer, the article focuses on the personal fraud of the married guy pretending he's single. But then it doesn't even focus on that, and how awful it is that the relationship was based on a lie - instead, there's an oddly detailed focus on the wedding that never happened (the dress(es), the invitations, the very-fancy guest list and invitations). All the stuff about "the Pope! The Obamas! The wedding would have been so amazing that she had two dresses designed!" seems relevant to proving that the guy is a fantasist but I don't get why it needs so much emphasis. It's just peculiar that the possibility of medical fraud or bias in the NBC program is raised but then kept in the background and never resolved, while the piece goes into detail on how the wedding was planned and which of her friends were involved.
posted by Aravis76 at 1:41 PM on January 6, 2016 [5 favorites]


This confirms my worst fears about journalists and rich people - which is that they are so awestruck that they're basically unwilling to question even the most blatant falsehoods.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:43 PM on January 6, 2016 [26 favorites]


Do popes even marry couples?

idk, but "I talked the Pope into marrying us" should be a HUGE RED FLAG regardless.
posted by Panjandrum at 1:44 PM on January 6, 2016 [36 favorites]


"i talked the pope into giving communion to your gay married friends who aren't even catholic" is pretty much like "the wedding cake will be provided by a herd of magical unicorns who will shit out delicious treats that will also gift our guests with eternal life"
posted by poffin boffin at 1:46 PM on January 6, 2016 [77 favorites]


DOCTOR: Let's get Pope-married by the Pope in his Pope-castle. Also, the President will be there.

JOURNALIST: Sounds legit
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:51 PM on January 6, 2016 [129 favorites]




I remember when this guy was doing the surgery in Peoria, the child's transplant, that was what the NBC special covered. He seemed like a rock star, all the surgeons saying such glowing things about him.

We talked about it here, I was excited.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:52 PM on January 6, 2016 [4 favorites]


Pope, I married them.
posted by maxsparber at 1:53 PM on January 6, 2016 [11 favorites]


By the time the Pope rocked up in this story, I would have thought that a professional journalist would have drawn the obvious conclusion and yet...
posted by panboi at 1:55 PM on January 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


It appears the pope does marry folks, but in batches and on an invitational basis.

It's also pretty rare. Pope Francis did it in 2014, but the previous Pope to do it was Pope John Paul II, who married eight couples in 2000.
posted by Jahaza at 1:56 PM on January 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


> This confirms my worst fears about journalists and rich people - which is that they are so awestruck that they're basically unwilling to question even the most blatant falsehoods.

Like Jim Nantz, "journalist." Wouldn't want to rock the boat and lose your honorary membership in that club!
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:57 PM on January 6, 2016 [4 favorites]


So, she was married, had a kid, got divorced, and then married the ballroom dance instructor. (Is this that TV trope where they run away with the yoga instructor?) Married in 2012 to the ballroom dance instructor and in 2013 was falling in love with the European thoracic surgeon who takes her on vacations to Greece, Italy, the Bahamas... promises to her that she'll get married at the Pope's summer villa with him as the officiant?!? While her first husband and father of her child was suffering with brain cancer?

The grass is always greener, or something? It sounds like she just didn't WANT to take a critical eye at anything.

I feel sorry for her young daughter. I mean, your dad has brain cancer, dad #2 is quickly ditched for big liar dad #3 (who has a family in Rome and another family in Barcelona...)... And your mom was chasing some kind of Cinderella dream.

That surgeon really sounds like his ego didn't match his reality. The comment about how he wasn't a son of a son makes me think he's making these big lies to cover that all up.

But those poor patients that put their lives in his hands!
posted by jillithd at 1:57 PM on January 6, 2016 [26 favorites]


My friend, The Pope, emailed me a link to this story. It was fascinating!
posted by newfers at 1:59 PM on January 6, 2016 [18 favorites]


There's a shitstorm of sad, terrible details about this story - including VF concentrating on wedding dress details instead of the scientific fraud involving life and death - but one of the saddest is wondering what this doctor who is obviously smart and creative could have contributed medically, or be doing, if he wasn't using all that intellectual energy to tell these enormous lies. Maybe even some of what he lied about.
posted by barchan at 2:04 PM on January 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


Stories like these make me glad I lack ambition.
posted by kevinbelt at 2:12 PM on January 6, 2016 [24 favorites]


Let me see if I have this right -- Alexander was married when she met Dr LiarLiar PantsOnFire. Did I miss the detail about when she got divorced from Husband #2 or when Husband #1 succumbed to brain cancer? These seem like important plot points -- and when the Lifetime Movie gets made, and Charisma Carpenter is preparing for the role, she is going to want to know these things!

Also -- if it had not been for the Pope's Latin trip being reported in the media -- how far do you think this would have gone? Just how close to the wedding date do you think they would have had to reach before the good Doctor sabotaged it all himself?
posted by pjsky at 2:14 PM on January 6, 2016 [18 favorites]


The real story here is that a con man who lacked his claimed credentials has been operating on real, live, desperate people who are dying. And gee, everyone should have been on notice because the procedure itself should have rung alarm bells. From the first link: Macchiarini described the magical sounding process like this . . . The secondary real story is that NBC failed to do basic due diligence on an investigative story (for example asking, does the subject have the medical credentials he claims?) which turns out to be about a con man, and their finished product is up for an Emmy.

Very uninteresting is that the con man also scammed the journalist, who was already compromised by her breach of basic journalistic ethics.
posted by bearwife at 2:14 PM on January 6, 2016 [33 favorites]


Saying the Pope would marry them was clearly a step too far. He should have just gone with Space Hitler.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:15 PM on January 6, 2016 [11 favorites]


Did I miss the detail about when she got divorced from Husband #2 or when Husband #1 succumbed to brain cancer?

This is a very, very minor detail. But the fact that her name in her marriage announcement to Husband #2 lists her names as Benita Alexander-Noel, coupled with the fact that Husband #1's name is simply given in the VF article as Noel, makes me want very much to believe that her first husband's name was Noel Noel.
posted by penduluum at 2:17 PM on January 6, 2016 [10 favorites]


This kind of story always interests me, and terrifies me, makes me worry about getting seriously involved with some guy. I'm not worried about being told that the Pope is marrying us, but there seem to be a lot of even average guys who have secret families and cheat on them with the other woman not knowing.

This reminds me of that guy who pretended to be a Rockefeller. I don't blame this woman. She fell in love. She's not stupid. A lot of very smart women fail to realize their boyfriends and husbands have been leading double lives. And I don't doubt they do it in service of their ego, which is stuck in perpetual adolescence so they go around trying on new lives without concern about the ones they're using or any shame about their lack of integrity.

If she'd snooped more she'd have been accused of not trusting him aNd trying to sabotage the relationship and not having enough of her own life to let him do his job.

I know people think the woman in love angle is stupid, or maybe the extravagance means she deserved what she got, but stuff like this happens so often. The "lol what a dummy she should have known because I would have known" is ridiculous.
posted by discopolo at 2:19 PM on January 6, 2016 [9 favorites]


Vanity Fair's threshold of credulity is only slightly higher than Ms. Alexander's.
posted by me3dia at 2:20 PM on January 6, 2016 [4 favorites]


Also -- if it had not been for the Pope's Latin trip being reported in the media -- how far do you think this would have gone? Just how close to the wedding date do you think they would have had to reach before the good Doctor sabotaged it all himself?

I'm imagining his friend Archie from down the pub showing up with a Burger King crown and a sash that says POPE
posted by shakespeherian at 2:21 PM on January 6, 2016 [22 favorites]


If she'd snooped more she'd have been accused of not trusting him

Well, actually her job at the outset was to snoop, in the sense of checking up on whether he was what he claimed and whether this procedure was for real. And the people entitled to trust her (whom she betrayed) were her network, her producers and her ultimate viewers.

Also, I think you will find that the folks who lie and cheat are prone to making claims that are just too much. When your spidey sense says -- wow, how can this be? -- it usually can't. This particular victim, for example, was repeating his outlandish claims to her friends with just that sense of astonishment. It is like The Gift of Fear -- if you are afraid, pay attention. If it seems too good to be true, listen to your instincts then too.
posted by bearwife at 2:24 PM on January 6, 2016 [11 favorites]


Brian Williams would have obviously stepped in to officiate.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 2:24 PM on January 6, 2016 [11 favorites]


I made fun of my friend who is a fan of Gossip Girl because I thought the plot was just too ridiculous.
I... may need to revise my views.
posted by Wretch729 at 2:25 PM on January 6, 2016


... makes me want very much to believe that her first husband's name was Noel Noel.

"Noel (glub) see (blub) all... I (glub) new..."
posted by The Bellman at 2:25 PM on January 6, 2016 [9 favorites]


She's an experienced journalist, but somehow didn't really do any actually investigation about this guy? Makes me wonder what's going at NBC News--this is years after the exploding car at Dateline.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:26 PM on January 6, 2016 [5 favorites]


This tops when I went to a wedding that cost somewhere north of $100000 that turned out to be fake (groom never signed the certificate because he was angry his bride wouldn't get rid of her cats).
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:28 PM on January 6, 2016 [15 favorites]


Of course, you're right, bearwife.

My assumption is that she had a fact checker on her team (they usually do) who verified his qualifications and other things. Lots of his colleagues corroborated his story and never questioned him.

She shouldn't have gotten involved with him, of course, anyway.

At least the hospitals should have verified his qualifications. Did I miss that part in the story?
posted by discopolo at 2:28 PM on January 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


One of my favorite parts in this article is that, even while they’re stroking this woman’s ego by showing all the pretty pictures of her Miss Havisham wedding accoutrements (except in a world where Miss Havisham is twice-divorced) is that they keep pointing out how often she herself lied.

Alexander: I told my superiors at NBC that I was involved with him during production.
NBC people: She told us that she did not become involved with him until after production ended.

VF doesn’t go all the way and call her a liar, but it’s an interesting parallel— she, too, gives in to the temptation to massage the details to make herself sound better, to make herself more sympathetic (how could you do this to my DAUGHTER), to tailor the narrative to her own desires. It’s like a meta-narrative response to the question of how he could behave this way: we all behave this way, on a micro level. He just went whole hog and took it super-ultra—Pope-is-my-bff-macro.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 2:28 PM on January 6, 2016 [29 favorites]


All the stuff about "the Pope! The Obamas! The wedding would have been so amazing that she had two dresses designed!" seems relevant to proving that the guy is a fantasist but I don't get why it needs so much emphasis.

I thought it was in there to make me feel smart and superior.
posted by ODiV at 2:34 PM on January 6, 2016 [6 favorites]


The Giant Rat of Sumatra: But what about all those patients who died after the supposed miracle procedures, performed by a doctor who faked a lot of his CV?

Charm apparently will get you pretty far in that line of work... "Wanna know something? I'm a bad doctor." (Kids in the Hall sketch, which is where my mind went.)
posted by filthy light thief at 2:34 PM on January 6, 2016 [6 favorites]


This tops when I went to a wedding that cost somewhere north of $100000 that turned out to be fake (groom never signed the certificate because he was angry his bride wouldn't get rid of her cats).

BrotherCaine, you don't get off that easy. Tell the whole story .
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 2:35 PM on January 6, 2016 [17 favorites]


(that blue dress tho)
posted by jillithd at 2:37 PM on January 6, 2016 [9 favorites]


Journalist! BWHAhahaaa! Worked with NBC's top talent Matt Lauer and Ann Curry! Aaaiighhahahaha *hurp*BLARGH*!* oh jesus, sorry. /wipe Ehh. Hee hee! Oh man, my schaden is so freudeing right now.

Pope! snkkk! Journalism is so awesome. Guys we should totes do that.
posted by petebest at 2:38 PM on January 6, 2016 [5 favorites]


MetaFilter: I thought it was in there to make me feel smart and superior.
posted by mazola at 2:42 PM on January 6, 2016 [3 favorites]


Married by the pope? Bullshit. If you agree to marry me, babe, we will be married by Jesuc Christ himself!
posted by Termite at 2:44 PM on January 6, 2016


This whole article basically says to me "Our attorneys have informed us that including the phrase 'you can't cheat an honest man' may make us liable for defamation—not just from the two main subjects of the article, but also from various universities around the world, Comcast/NBC/Universal, and oh hell why not the Pope too."
posted by infinitewindow at 2:45 PM on January 6, 2016 [4 favorites]


What really gave this guy the believability factor was his medical credentials and money. If this was some schmuck with the gift of gab and no money in his pocket, he would have been found out a lot sooner. The fact that he could spring for designer gowns, lavish trips, and the like make it plausible that he would know powerful people and occupy prestigious positions.

You can't fake being a well-known surgeon and having a lot of money for too long.
posted by dr_dank at 2:50 PM on January 6, 2016 [10 favorites]


For me I think the best part about this is how openly irritated the Vatican appears to be about the whole situation. I mean, one can aspire to great heights of vexation but who amongst us can truly say "I personally pissed off the pope" these days? It's like, Martin Luther, Henry VIII, this dude.
posted by poffin boffin at 3:01 PM on January 6, 2016 [76 favorites]


> I'm reading this entire article in Keith-Morrison-voice...

It works great on this line: "'She cooked homemade gnocchi,' Alexander recalled."
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:13 PM on January 6, 2016 [7 favorites]


Wait a second. This is exactly the kind of stories Dateline reports. This is meta-Dateline.
posted by kevinbelt at 3:22 PM on January 6, 2016 [17 favorites]


Hold up. Where did Macchiarini get all of his money?

Sure, surgeons are among the highest-paid medical sub-specialty and he's a famous surgeon, and he has an academic post at Karolinska,. But while that would make him certainly quite wealthy, the spending described in this article is a whole several levels of rich higher than that.
posted by desuetude at 3:23 PM on January 6, 2016 [17 favorites]


Maybe the Pope lent it to him.
posted by mazola at 3:25 PM on January 6, 2016 [4 favorites]


Or his wife did.
posted by notyou at 3:27 PM on January 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm actually sitting across from the guy who helped replaced Pope's John Paul hip right now so this is a werid coincidence
posted by The Whelk at 3:42 PM on January 6, 2016 [11 favorites]


(I asked him what a celebrity surgeon would make, he said easily a few million a year )
posted by The Whelk at 3:44 PM on January 6, 2016 [11 favorites]


This whole thing reminds me a lot of Jon Hamm's character on 30 Rock. (The joke there, slowly developed over multiple episodes, is that Jon Hamm plays this fantastically successful doctor. Successful not because he's good anything, because he's actually terrible at everything including being a doctor, but because he's just so handsome that everyone gives him a pass.)
posted by tobascodagama at 3:45 PM on January 6, 2016 [24 favorites]


I suppose that if I were an ambitious but not particularly talented surgeon with no morals, cutting edge/high-risk procedures would be a good way to get a lot of positive attention while still failing the majority of the time. Every success is a miracle and every time I killed someone, well, it was pretty much inevitable given their condition, and what could anyone expect? Move around enough that you don't have an enormous stack of dead bodies tied directly to you and no one really has a chance to dig into your practice (plus be charismatic enough to convince people to give you the benefit of the doubt if they do start asking tough questions), and there you have it.
posted by Copronymus at 3:48 PM on January 6, 2016 [12 favorites]


Come on, they were obviously supposed to be married by Big Pope, not Pope Prime.
posted by chavenet at 4:05 PM on January 6, 2016 [5 favorites]


"wondering what this doctor who is obviously smart and creative could have contributed medically, or be doing, if he wasn't using all that intellectual energy to tell these enormous lies"

Somewhere along the line, I suspect he found that lying big allowed him to get away with things that, ironically, made him a famous success.

If he hadn't lied to such a degree, he probably wouldn't have been able to get away with his surgical techniques, which now sound like something kludged together without adequate research to protect his patients... basically, it sounds like he's experimenting on live, human guinea pigs, who are desperate enough to have a "Leap of Faith"... an appropriately-named television show, under the circumstances.
posted by markkraft at 4:27 PM on January 6, 2016


I just kept thinking "the role of the Pope will be played by Frank Abagnale Jr."
posted by beelzbubba at 4:31 PM on January 6, 2016 [8 favorites]


This seems like Vanity Fair's interest in the ephemera of the extremely wealthy taken to an almost parodic degree.

They are owned by the same parent company as Reddit ....
posted by tilde at 4:57 PM on January 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


Just a brief note for people who are wondering if he faked all of his medical and scientific credentials: no, not really. (By contrast, here's a search for Ben Carson in the same database.) Even given the likelihood that some of these are papers that someone else did the heavy lifting on (likely, given the number of co-authors on some of them), he's still got some academic cred. The question is, how much is legit, which VF doesn't seem all that much interested in.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:53 PM on January 6, 2016 [3 favorites]


Yeah, the real story is "internationally-famous surgeon lied about his credentials and harmed patient after patient."

But I also find interesting that the VF piece just kind of hand-waves Alexander's own sketchy actions, including cheating on her husband, running around the globe while her daughter's father was dying of brain cancer, and lying to her bosses, not to mention supposedly being taken in by the most preposterous lies, like that he was supposedly operating on all these famous people.

Ok, there are fact-checkers who worked for the show and she could have relied on them to tell her he was legit - as a doctor. Did they fact-check any of the far-fetched stuff he was telling her in their romantic life? Of course not. She kept that secret from the fact-checkers.

And she just believed Macchiarini when he told her he had operated on all these famous people because, what, it's credible that both of the Clintons, President Obama, Emperor Akihito, and the Pope all secretly had synthetic organ transplants?!? It would be hard enough to believe if he specialized in a procedure that is fairly common but where maybe he'd be the go-to doctor for famous people, like if he was a cardiologist, maybe? But the guy's a "famous transplant surgeon." There is seriously zero chance that all those famous people all needed organ transplants. And when he told her he had operated on all these people, did she not become super curious like a normal person (let alone a journalist) and ask the obvious question: What organs did the Bill and Hillary, President Obama, et al. have transplanted??

Then the fact that her first husband (John Noel) was dying of brain cancer and that she was still apparently married to her second husband (Edson Jeune). The VF article says nowhere that Alexander and Jeune ever divorced. Are they still married to this day? Did she tell the good Dr. that she was married when they started having their fling? Was she separated from Jeune, or was she cheating on him? Because if she was cheating on Jeune, that would go a long way toward explaining why she was willing to let Macchierini's dishonesty slide in the meantime, as well as why she kept the whole thing secret from people who could have helped her steer away from it.

She married Edson Jeune in late October 2012. She met Dr. Macchierini in February 2013 and began "sharing details . . . about her dissatisfaction with her second marriage." I mean, at least she disclosed that she was married, but four months into the marriage and she's cheating on him. Sheesh.
posted by The World Famous at 6:38 PM on January 6, 2016 [27 favorites]


But the fact that her name in her marriage announcement to Husband #2 lists her names as Benita Alexander-Noel, coupled with the fact that Husband #1's name is simply given in the VF article as Noel, makes me want very much to believe that her first husband's name was Noel Noel

So, he was the First Noel?
posted by angiep at 6:53 PM on January 6, 2016 [13 favorites]


Love makes you stoooooopid.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:11 PM on January 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


Stories like these make me glad I lack ambition.

Stories like this make me think I need to up my game. Any con artists want to fake seduce me with trips to Venice and Santorini and New York I promise to play along. I'll stay naive as long as they're paying!

But as others have said, weird article. I can't even tell what the producer is thinking or feeling. Having the article close with her in a wig spying on him in Barcelona makes it all seem like just another silly game that rich people played.
posted by kanewai at 7:13 PM on January 6, 2016 [7 favorites]


Having the article close with her in a wig spying on him in Barcelona makes it all seem like just another silly game that rich people played.

You guys, let's get drunk and go over to his house!!
posted by The World Famous at 7:42 PM on January 6, 2016 [15 favorites]


Yeah, the real story is "internationally-famous surgeon lied about his credentials and harmed patient after patient."

That would be an uphill battle. The CV has lies. But he's a real doctor and real surgeon, for one thing. And even if it were theoretically possible to somehow determine that his credential inflation was causally connected to his mortality rate it's a story that would be tough to document. How do you get other doctors going on record saying they operated with an incompetent but didn't notice? A lot of "opinions differ" journalism at best.

Whereas what they have seems pretty cut and dry and (hopefully) is enough to keep him from medical employment in the future.

IMHO it's also just a good story on its own--maybe not the most important story you could tell about him but I read it and puzzled over whether I could imagine getting fooled in such a way, and whether I thought NBC spokespeople or Alexander where more likely to be coloring the truth in their conflicting statements, and all the other bizarre stuff that makes a story like this compelling.
posted by mark k at 8:12 PM on January 6, 2016 [5 favorites]


When it's time for the pope to officiate the wedding and he's really 12,000 miles away, this is when I bust out with Bill Murray and Michael Caine, who have agreed to carry out one international caper to get me out of this. The pope's back is to the audience most of the time anyway. It's going to be a movie of the week. You ever thought about being in the movies? You really should.
posted by bigbigdog at 8:59 PM on January 6, 2016 [4 favorites]


Macchierini is a horrible man. Alexander is a horrible woman. Shame they couldn't make it work - seems like they deserved each other.
posted by Awful Peice of Crap at 9:02 PM on January 6, 2016 [4 favorites]


So she's a world class journalist who finds out that the President of the United States has secretly had a trachea transplant, but that doesn't strike her as maybe a huge, shocking story and maybe the biggest scoop of the decade? Come on. I mean come. On.
posted by The World Famous at 9:34 PM on January 6, 2016 [17 favorites]


There's a sick but very visceral thrill in getting someone to believe your line of crap. I once convinced a friend that I knew Mick Jagger, and I remember how elated I was that I got her to fall for it. I kept it going for as long as I could, but after about three minutes of her saying, "Really? Really? What is he like? How often did you see him?" I relented and told her the truth.

I was fifteen then, and yet it still bothers me today that I tricked my friend, who trusted me. But it still lingers in my mind the admiration she had for me when she believed that I was the kind of kid who hung out with Mick Jagger (who lived on the other side of the globe, by the way; it's not like I grew up in Chelsea). I would have added in some other members of the Stones as my childhood chums, but in the heat of the moment I couldn't remember their names. So I think that I have some understanding of the double-thrill that a part-time con man like Macchierini can get by spinning along Alexander; he gets the excitement from being the kind of guy who ostensibly rubs elbows with Putins and Popes, and he gets an even bigger rise from being able to continually run a line on an ostensibly smart and perceptive journalist.

And that's the other fascinating part of the story for me. Alexander is a journalist and of course should have known better. What's that old line: if your mother tells you she loves you, get a source. But it's the smart people (not the honest people, because we're all dishonest), the smart ones who are the easiest and most delightful to fool. Somehow, they fall into believing their own internal story about their talent and intelligence and so they believe that nobody could possibly be clever enough to fool them, which just makes it all the easier for a half-hearted con man like Macchierini to spin his lies for as long as he did.

Seriously. Putin AND the Obamas? At your wedding? Macchierini must have just loved it, trying to pile yet more crap on top of crap and watching Alexander swallow it all. I have to say that I might have done the same, but like I said earlier, (1) I was fifteen, and (2) in the heat of the moment, the only rock star I could think of was Mick Jagger.

And I'm no sociopath and I don't think Macchierini is, either. It's just a guy running the lines to impress the gal; the banality of ego.
posted by math at 9:57 PM on January 6, 2016 [7 favorites]


She needs to be a better fb stalker. Wtf.
posted by sio42 at 10:16 PM on January 6, 2016 [4 favorites]


This whole story stinks.
posted by chaz at 10:27 PM on January 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


Why do I get the feeling that the erstwhile bride to be has some major skeletons in her closet?

It really feels like Vanity Fair is trying not to step on some very powerful toes. She's a chronic liar but they treat her with kid gloves.
posted by Yowser at 10:47 PM on January 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


Oh, how interesting. I completely agree -- the story wasn't fundamentally about him but about her. And in that, I liked how the story walked the tightrope. This isn't your typical "poor sap got scammed" formula piece. She's too unsympathetic and unreliable for that. Yet with the talk of love and the adolescent antics at the end, you still kind of feel for her and her extravagant public embarrassment.

Rather than more investigation into his medical history, I'd love to have seen this character portrayal go deeper. Getting swept up in a love like this says a lot about her and the life she dreams of having. Why was she so susceptible to his line of BS; what aspirations did it tap into? (E.g., did it continue a trajectory begun in her first divorce? Did his grandiose lies attract her because of her own desire to be famous and admired?)

And I'd like to know more about how this love caused her to abandon her old life and even her old self. First ethically, and then literally, she abandons her role as an empowered investigative journalist to follow this mirage. Was it slow or instantaneous? And what now -- does she want to come back, or is she adrift in fantasy dreamland forever? In what ways did she participate in unraveling his lies, or did she cling to the fairytale to the end? She is still sitting for photo shoots in a beautiful ball gown after all.

The ending is interesting. First, she hired a PI; was she reclaiming power by doing so, or was it an admission that she herself was powerless to muster the necessary critical scrutiny? How did she respond to the revelations that emerged? VF does the fact checking that her team could have done; then, you have her friends door-knocking while she watches from the car. Was she watching passively, crying powerlessly in the backseat, still unwilling to admit what the evidence showed? Or by marshalling all these others to investigate him while she directed and watched, was she regaining her power as an investigatory producer and doing what she wished she had done in the first place?
posted by salvia at 11:42 PM on January 6, 2016 [19 favorites]


I'm actually sitting across from the guy who helped replaced Pope's John Paul hip right now so this is a weird coincidence--The Whelk

Don't accept his marriage proposal until you've had a chance to verify his story.
posted by eye of newt at 12:16 AM on January 7, 2016 [26 favorites]


"a shitstorm of sad…" sums it up nicely.
Her second marriage is a mistake, her first husband is sick with brain cancer, she meets a kind of real life Dr. Drew Baird("…he's a doctor who doesn't know the heimlich maneuver!") and lets herself believe he can make it all better.
He, a bit of an ass (it would seem safe to say), sees a beautiful woman in a vulnerable spot and thinks to himself, "Yeah, this is a great idea!" (like when he's given the motorcycle and breaks both his hands. On 30 Rock, I mean. The Jon Hamm character.) And lies himself into a deeper and deeper hole. And she doesn't look into any of it - the Pope is going to officiate our wedding! - because it would be just another log of misery on the bonfire that is her life...

Then VF writes an article about the whole thing and I - idiot and the end of a chain of idiots - read it because I like a story about a con man but this guy… this guy is not really even a con man, he's kind of just a dick and she fucks up and gets involved with him and then gets her friend to write a story about him to save her skin (which I admire on her part, frankly, because at least she's looking out for herself again).

Vanity Fair. As ever, when you hear a story, pay attention to who is telling it to you, in this case a magazine called vanity fair.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:50 AM on January 7, 2016 [5 favorites]


I'll never understand what leads people to weave such elaborate, bejewelled webs of lies, especially when there is a set point in time at which it all has to fall apart. It has to be a pathology.

The pathological liars I've known seemed to actually benefit from ramping up the unsustainability of their stories. You think "this seems implausible..." but then reassure yourself that they wouldn't lie about something where they know the truth will get revealed, because who'd do that? And yet.

I think they care about the present moment only. Can they get you to believe them about this thing, can they get what they want out of the lie, right here and now? If you're planning for the future, then it makes no sense to put a date on the wedding because then you'll obviously be rumbled. If you're only planning for the moment, though, putting a date on the wedding makes it more likely you'll be believed (admired, adored, whatever) right then and there - and that's all that matters. Maybe people like this man think they're so clever they'll find a way of getting out of it once again when the wedding inevitably doesn't happen. But I think most of the time, with the liars I knew, the future just... wasn't relevant.

Likewise, the stories get more and more elaborate because the past - as in, whatever they've claimed previously - isn't relevant either. "[Important person] will come to our wedding!" worked for Macchiarini the first time he did it, so he did it again and again: the Obamas and the Clintons and Putin and Nicolas Sarkozy! "The Pope will be involved in our wedding" worked, so he did it again and again: he'll marry us and he'll let us use his carriage and he wants you, married gay couple, to take communion and we'll be married at his summer residence! If you're looking at the bigger picture, it's a needlessly elaborate story that can be so obviously picked apart, but if you're thinking of it in terms of "all that matters is the present moment" again and again, it makes its own bizarre kind of sense.

Somewhat tangential, but: I saw a true crime show a few years ago where a man imprisoned for the murder of his partner was being interviewed (by a reporter, not the police). He denied the murder and claimed he'd helped her change her identity and run away. The conversation went something like this:

"If you'd done that, then you'd have evidence of it to prove she's still alive, wouldn't you?"
"Oh I do, I do! But it's all online, and we aren't allowed access to computers in here so I can't show you."
"I have a laptop right here, you can borrow that."
"Ah, no, you see, it would have to be my computer, it's all secure on there."
"But if you have proof on your computer that she's still alive, why wouldn't your lawyers use it when defending you? That's ridiculous, surely?"
"I know! It's stupid, isn't it? They should have done! I'm glad you agree with me."

It gave me chills beyond even the true-crime here's-a-real-live-monster! chills*. It was just so obvious what he was doing: focusing only on "what is the most believable answer I can give right now?", not thinking about the future (and what questions he might be asked in the next thirty seconds), not thinking about the past (and whether or not he was contradicting what he'd said thirty seconds before), just totally focused on finding the 'best' lie for the specific question he'd been asked in that one moment. And he'd murdered somebody! And yet, it didn't feel like murderer behaviour - it felt like "hey, my old flatmate used to do that!" behaviour. And my ex-boyfriend, and that friend I had at school, and that man from such-and-such a few years ago.

To be fair, the liars I've known had a somewhat broader definition of 'this moment' than the murderer - they could usually stay consistent within a whole short conversation, although it could directly contradict something they'd said days or weeks before, and be proven wrong by easily-foreseeable events in the next days or weeks - but at its heart, it was the same thing. "I don't care about tomorrow, I don't care about the past, I don't care about any repercussions this might have in days to come, not for me and certainly not for you - all I care about is whether I can get you to believe me now. And again. And again. And again."

Macchiarini isn't a murderer, obviously. But I think the mindset that had him lying about the famous restaurant who'd cater at his wedding. is the same mindset that led him to put patients in needless danger. If the only time that matters is now, and the only person that matters is you, why care what physical or emotional devastation you're unleashing on people's lives? You've got what you want, after all.

* not judging! I love true crime, for the same reason I read articles like this.
posted by Catseye at 2:30 AM on January 7, 2016 [21 favorites]


newfers: "My friend, The Pope, emailed me a link to this story. It was fascinating!"

He's not your friend any more. He just chatted with me on Telegram. As a favor to me, he's going to marry my friends, who are a gay Satanist triad, then we're going out for beers.
posted by Samizdata at 3:06 AM on January 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


Also, the things we will do for love...

or a reasonable facsimile thereof...
posted by Samizdata at 3:13 AM on January 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


Macchiarini isn't a murderer, obviously

Gross medical negligence by a fantasist is pretty close though.
posted by asok at 5:23 AM on January 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


Doctors are never murderers! They just sometimes prioritize appearing on TV over your child's continued existence.
posted by benzenedream at 5:52 AM on January 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


Come on, they were obviously supposed to be married by Big Pope, not Pope Prime.
Pop(e)timus Prime.
posted by blueberry at 7:13 AM on January 7, 2016


Its interesting to read about this couple in light of the fabulists currently running for President. I wonder to what extent Dr. Carson's medical notoriety is similar to this guy's. I have no doubt of the extent to which Trump's business notoriety is.
posted by The World Famous at 9:37 AM on January 7, 2016


still unwilling to admit what the evidence showed

One of my coworkers was married for several years to a gorgeous woman who, according to his friends, was a serial cheater. He simply refused to believe it until someone showed him a video of her in flagrante delicto . I know this because he told me about how freaked out he was that he'd been able to completely ignore the whole thing for a year or more. Or, as Harry Nilsson put it in the movie The Point, "the thing is... you see what you want to see and you hear what you want to hear."
posted by sneebler at 9:40 AM on January 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


I bet Alexander was in on it the whole time, if only implicitly, and that the jig was up not because she found out that Dr. Macchiarini was lying, but because her friend found out that both of them were lying and Alexander saw a very small opening where she could throw Macchiarini under the bus and save herself.

Look at her personal back story: "Friends say she bears the scars of a turbulent childhood in Huntington Woods, Michigan." Oh, what are the details of this turbulent suburban childhood? Were you expecting something really awful? "In her own telling," here's the "turbulent childhood": Her parents divorced when she was 16, her dad married the neighbor, and then her dad asked her to move out of the house when she turned 18 and went to college, like a normal suburban college student, and then she "overcame" these astonishing setbacks by graduating mcl from Wayne State, a 2nd tier state school 10 miles from home. What??
posted by The World Famous at 9:53 AM on January 7, 2016 [14 favorites]


The secondary real story is that NBC failed to do basic due diligence on an investigative story (for example asking, does the subject have the medical credentials he claims?) which turns out to be about a con man, and their finished product is up for an Emmy.

I'm curious about this from a journalistic perspective. What ends up getting fact checked, or should end up getting fact checked? In other words, is the assumption that everything needs to be verified, or are some things taken as read at some point? If you've been performing these surgeries and other surgeons are going around saying you're good at what you do, is it expected that in a story that is not seeking to challenge that that one would verify the Fellowships etc that the surgeon did?
posted by OmieWise at 10:03 AM on January 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


way late but can't resist this:
And I'm no sociopath and I don't think Macchierini is, either. It's just a guy running the lines to impress the gal; the banality of ego.
He commits medical/professional fraud, killing a couple people in the process apparently, has two families and is starting a third and he's not a sociopath? Whyuutttt....I'd say he's a textbook sociopath.

Also, he wasn't just 'impressing his gal'. I think he was courting her to get good press because he had credibility issues in his profession that he created by lying about his having been a tenured professor. He lied about that on a CV to get a job, not 'to his gal'. I think as long as he got a glowing interview on national TV, he didn't give a shit if the wedding would ultimately be blown out of the water. Conning has short-term goals, usually. You get your results, then you move on to your next target when your cover's blown.

As was said above, he knew how to play the press game because Beautiful People just don't get scrutinized properly.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 10:17 AM on January 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


On where he got all his money - if you read enough true crime and personal accounts of Married To A Psychopath, they're astonishingly good at spending money. Not necessarily at earning it, or even having it at all.

I read one book where this woman married a nondescript wimpy nebbish shortly after he got fired from their mutual workplace for never doing any work. They moved to his family home in Europe, where they visited his parents and were greeted by a mob of angry villagers going "Grrr!" and "We hate you!", and his parents said that no they would not give him the 100K to buy a new house in the area. His wife was like "Gosh, I am appalled at how unfriendly these people are being to him for literally NO REASON at all."

He proceeded to "support" them through his series of "businesses", including a poetry website that was supposed to make their fortune. By then, they had gone through several houses and kitchen remodellings and they owed 100K here, 200K there; all from someone who had no visible means of support at any point. The wife had no income because she was busy having babies all through this. There was no money for food, but she was in her comfort zone as long as there was enough money for wine, which she seems to have chugged more or less continuously from the moment she met him.

Compared to that guy, this guy positively reeked with credibility. He had at least some of the qualifications required to do his job, and he actually did hold surgical posts at a number of places, whatever the inconsistencies in his story might have been. Furthermore, he had social proof from a number of colleagues, even if it turned out those colleagues had simply been taking him at his word.

And hey - he was on Dateline!!! Of course he was a rockstar, it said so on TV. How could she see through such a perfect disguise?
posted by tel3path at 10:29 AM on January 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


including a poetry website that was supposed to make their fortune.

Hee
posted by prize bull octorok at 10:45 AM on January 7, 2016 [10 favorites]


Also, I know this Vanity Fair. I KNOW I KNOW and this is not the most egregiously superficial thing in the article, but it set off my peevish alarms right away because there is just so much sexism wrapped up in it:

With blue eyes and raven hair, Alexander seems younger than her 49 years.

I hate how this is a routine way used to describe women -- it's not enough that a woman's attractiveness needs to be described right of the bat, it also needs to be quantified by metrics which are both defensive and competitive.

This is what 49 looks like because she's 49. 49 can also look quite a bit older depending on your genetics, life experiences, health, etc., but Ms. Alexander is a perfectly acceptable example of what some women look like at that age (and not a totally odd outlier, I mean, she doesn't look 16.)

They can just write that she is 49 and an attractive woman. These things are not mutually exclusive.
posted by desuetude at 10:49 AM on January 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


I think it's code for "Alexander seems more naive/immature than would be expected from someone of her age and experience".
posted by tel3path at 10:52 AM on January 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


And I'm not commenting on whether or not she is naive or immature, I just think that's the article damning with faint praise.
posted by tel3path at 10:53 AM on January 7, 2016


First, she hired a PI; was she reclaiming power by doing so, or was it an admission that she herself was powerless to muster the necessary critical scrutiny?

I'd say the first step in reclaiming your power, in a situation like that, might be admitting your powers of critical scrutiny had failed you and you needed to outsource that function in order to get a reality check.
posted by tel3path at 11:00 AM on January 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


BrotherCaine, you don't get off that easy. Tell the whole story .

Please do not try to dig up the identities of the involved.

So a quite lovely woman I'll refer to as the bride seems to get a frisson from dating bad men was dating this guy whom we'll call the groom for I think about a year when he proposes to her. Right away the groom's Mom takes over the wedding prep for her little prince. They plan this huge wedding/reception in one of the backyards of the two houses they have in Marin county. The house with the department store sized Christmas decorations all throughout (don't ask) & a room full of convenience store fridges stocked with hundreds of kinds of niche sodas. They rebuild the backyard with a stage & dance floor. They rent and/or buy tables and redo the landscaping. They hire caterers, a coach or two with horses to take people the block and a half from where they parked to the house, and a great jazz band, Lavay Smith and the Red Hot Skillet Lickers who played as well as when they did the San Jose Jazz Festival. Then they issue invites, fancy dress, as in costumes; the samurai family in kimonos won as far as I'm concerned. The bride thinks everything is legit at this point, and they've just had an argument about her cats but that it'll be resolved with some kind of compromise before they move in together. Meanwhile the groom has decided that he can't sign the marriage certificate until she agrees to get rid of her cats. Yeah, he goes through the whole wedding without telling her it isn't legit until the next morning. Also complicit is the officiant who knew beforehand. So she breaks it off and has to return all the gifts with shame-ridden notes of apology for this fraud she in no way perpetrated. It's been over a decade at this point I think, and I still want to punch him in the face. My wife pegged him as a creep right away, and I've got to give her props for it.

Later I heard they spent a quarter million, but I have trouble comprehending it. They tried to get the bride's family to pay half. If they had I think it'd have redefined the phrase "shotgun wedding".
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:07 AM on January 7, 2016 [13 favorites]


Alexander saw a very small opening where she could throw Macchiarini under the bus and save herself.

I don't know if Alexander was in on it the whole time, but this is an excellent point. She does seem pretty skeevy, cheating on her husband of four months, and I'm sure it was fun spending Macchiarini's money. And now that her credibility as a journalist is tanked, she's got to make money somehow.

And I too thought her whole "sad childhood overcome" bit was pretty stupid. They made it like she had polio or something. She's definitely cashing in here as she ruined her career (oh wait, it's TV. I forgot. She'll find work, I'm sure).

(psychopaths are) astonishingly good at spending money. Not necessarily at earning it, or even having it at all.
True that. Having one in the family, I can attest to that. They find a way; that's why they're such good liars even when their lies seem preposterous. They know how to work people.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 11:21 AM on January 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


The real question is whether this guy is also making a fortune selling daddy's dope.
posted by jetsetsc at 11:59 AM on January 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Her NYT wedding write-up was also pretty unusual.

>How so?


"The groom’s mother buses tables at the Long Wharf location of Legal Sea Foods, the restaurant chain, in Boston."
posted by helpthebear at 12:48 PM on January 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


That's right next to Totally Above-Board Hamburger Place and across the street from Legitimately A Deli, if my memory serves
posted by prize bull octorok at 12:55 PM on January 7, 2016 [14 favorites]


It does kind of suggest a first attempt at escapist fantasy that didn't work out. Nothing more Cinderella-y than ballroom dancing.
posted by tel3path at 1:17 PM on January 7, 2016


Nothing, that is, except being fitted for multiple dresses to your wedding officiated by the Pope in his Popetent and attended by heads of state from all the major world powers with a bestselling opera star doing the music and catering by the architects of the gingerbread house from Hansel and Gretel.

Not to mention the bride's ballroom skills must have been kickass.
posted by tel3path at 1:22 PM on January 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


And don't forget riding in the Pope's carriage drawn by unicorns that shit rainbow cupcakes!
posted by tel3path at 1:23 PM on January 7, 2016


Meanwhile the groom has decided that he can't sign the marriage certificate until she agrees to get rid of her cats. Yeah, he goes through the whole wedding without telling her it isn't legit until the next morning.

Yikes! In my church volunteer role, I'm frequently involved as a master of ceremonies (but not officiant) at weddings. We don't let the people involved (in NY that's couple, witnesses and officiant) leave for the recessional until they sign the paperwork!
posted by Jahaza at 2:02 PM on January 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


Jahaza, that's why having a church, or justice-of-the-peace, or county clerk wedding is better than a friend of the groom officiating in a backyard.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:15 PM on January 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'd be interested in reading more about the medical aspect of this fraud

Yeah I was curious too, but from googling around a bit it seems there is no such fraud to speak of, so far. He’s always been cleared of all allegations so far.

He was cleared of misconduct charges in Sweden, in a decision that reversed the previous conclusions by an independent investigator - who was not pleased and is reported as saying … the process was flawed, in that it allowed Macchiarini to pull “aces from his sleeve” after the external investigation was complete. That seriously undermined the impartiality of the investigation, he says. “It’s a meaningless process” to commission an independent external reviewer if the final decision is based on documents available only to Karolinska officials, he says.

He’s also been cleared of charges of fraud and attempted extortion in Italy, although recent reports on that (in Italian only) mention the prosecutor’s intention to bring the case to a higher court - he speaks of serious flaws in the judge’s decision, like witnesses and information being ignored, and a bias against the reliability of accusers and in favour of Macchiarini due to his international renown.

Macchiarini himself posted a response on Retraction Watch which had been following in detail all reports of charges against him. There are also interesting comments below the posts there, some defending his work, others making new and worse allegations.

An there’s an editorial in The Lancet commenting on the final result of the investigation in Sweden, and defending his work (as published in The Lancet):
Dragging the professional reputation of a scientist through the gutter of bad publicity before a final outcome of any investigation had been reached was indefensible. [...] The allegations made against Paolo Macchiarini were not only harmful to one individual. They also raised questions about the quality of research into regenerative medicine itself. Rebuilding confidence in the field of tissue engineering may take some time to achieve.
In response to the Vanity Fair article, his colleagues from Children’s Hospital of Illinois also defend his work and say his "personal life had no bearing on the quality of care [the patient] received".

Did he fool everyone in his professional life too, and no one has been able to prove it? Wouldn’t that require a lot more effort to pull off than getting clearly deranged and delusional people to buy the story of a wedding officiated by the Pope, with a special invite for gay couples, and Putin, and the Obamas?

Sure, it is hard to imagine that someone with such a "creative" level of dishonesty would keep it strictly confined to his personal life. And the fact there were several allegations in different countries, it does make you wonder.

But, the law is the law... until proven guilty, there is no medical fraud (and no patients killed by malpractice).
posted by bitteschoen at 5:58 PM on January 7, 2016 [6 favorites]


"That's right next to Totally Above-Board Hamburger Place and across the street from Legitimately A Deli, if my memory serves"

I'm glad I'm not the only one who reacted similarly upon hearing the name "Legal Sea Foods." Like, do we really need to be worried about the illegal sea food of Boston? Should I be scared if I eat elsewhere?
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:22 PM on January 7, 2016


What is a vanity fair? What is legal seafood?
posted by bendy at 7:51 PM on January 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Did he fool everyone in his professional life too, and no one has been able to prove it? Wouldn’t that require a lot more effort to pull off than getting clearly deranged and delusional people to buy the story of a wedding officiated by the Pope, with a special invite for gay couples, and Putin, and the Obamas?

I don't know, but I know it's possible. The more specialized your work, the easier it is to fool colleagues who have no way of knowing if everything you say is bullshit or not if you're the world's only expert on a thing.

I know someone who knows someone (and the story checks out via external sources) who posed as a doctor of nuclear physics for some years, all without even completing their high school education or knowing diddly squat about nuclear physics. The speciality he claimed to have was opaque to his coworkers, also nuclear physicists, so who were they to say he made it all up? In the end, they were able to fire him, but under much more favourable conditions than you might think because somehow, he hadn't technically done anything illegal or wrong???? wtf.

As I mentioned above, at least this guy actually *is* a surgeon. And maybe he's been acting in cowboyish good faith according to his lights.

You can call it superficial, but the Vanity Fair article delineates a course of action that *was* straight up dishonest and fantastical in a way that's not open to interpretation like his professional issues are.
posted by tel3path at 2:09 AM on January 8, 2016


By "medical aspect" I meant that VF alleges he's inflated his medical credentials on his CV. Are the consequences of this purely social, something to boast about to people like the ones featured in the article, or has this affected his professional life in some way? In other academic contexts, this type of deception would be very serious indeed -- but in this case, would his surgical record outweigh any discrepancies related to his past career?

I personally would be very upset to read that my surgeon or someone who operated on a loved one had claimed to be a kind of expert that he apparently wasn't. We get the wedding dress designer's reaction here -- but not any of his patients'?

It was just kind of strange that Vanity Fair went to some lengths to poke holes in his credentials, hinted at medical controversies ("there had been warning signs..."), and mentioned patients with problems, but didn't clearly resolve this side of the story the way they did with the Pope stuff. I understand that it's much more complicated and fraught, but then why bring it up at all?
posted by The Giant Rat of Sumatra at 3:48 AM on January 8, 2016


Because the standards of proof and the levels of ambiguity are apparently higher in the matters of medical professionalism than they are in the realm of interpersonal con-artistry. They introduce doubts about the guy's fitness to practice medicine via a few statements of fact, then they describe a case of interpersonal deception that's easily verified and unambiguous. The latter appears to support the former without the burden of actually trying to prove it.

I mean, obviously what the article doesn't say is as important as what it does say. I assume that you have the questions you have because the article intentionally raised them in your mind.
posted by tel3path at 5:46 AM on January 8, 2016


Dragging the professional reputation of a scientist through the gutter of bad publicity before a final outcome of any investigation had been reached was indefensible.

That Lancet piece editorial is a little amazing, particularly that bit. You're not talking here about some schlub with admitting privileges in one hospital; this person is jetting all over the place doing things that take the lives of others into his hands. I'm sympathetic to the idea that an investigation needs to be cautious and thorough but this piece seems way more concerned about the reputation of one person and field of research than the people being put at risk if he's a con.
posted by phearlez at 9:29 AM on January 8, 2016


Did he fool everyone in his professional life too, and no one has been able to prove it?

The Chicago surgeon who wrote his letter of recommendation and agreed to do the ground-breaking surgery for him (with Macchiarini "at his side") did so based on a false story Macchiarini told him about being world-renowned and being the Pope's personal go-to surgeon. So yeah, I'd say he fooled everyone in his professional life, too.

If he has not been professionally disciplined or otherwise exposed as a having acted improperly in his medical practice, it may be in part because he doesn't practice in the United States, and was apparently only temporarily licensed in Illinois for six months in 2013, during which time it's not clear how many procedures he actually performed. Based on the descriptions of his "ground-breaking" innovations, it certainly reads to me like he is someone who, at the very least, has zero regard for standard of care.
posted by The World Famous at 9:32 AM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


> "That's right next to Totally Above-Board Hamburger Place and across the street from Legitimately A Deli, if my memory serves"

I'm glad I'm not the only one who reacted similarly upon hearing the name "Legal Sea Foods." Like, do we really need to be worried about the illegal sea food of Boston? Should I be scared if I eat elsewhere?


It's a well-regarded seafood restaurant chain based in Boston. Wikipedia for a quick overview.
posted by desuetude at 9:53 AM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


If he has not been professionally disciplined or otherwise exposed as a having acted improperly in his medical practice, it may be in part because he doesn't practice in the United States, and was apparently only temporarily licensed in Illinois for six months in 2013

But medical malpractice and fraud are crimes all over the world, not just in the United States!

He worked for several institutions, in different countries, with entire teams of colleagues, and ethical committees supervising, and he has been investigated already in two countries, and no allegation has been proven. So, for now, I think it’s really impossible for any of us readers to speculate and draw the conclusion that he must be a fraud as a doctor too.

And I say this with no other interest than defending the principle of "innocent until proven otherwise" when it comes to charges of having committed actual crimes - which would be very serious crimes in this case.
posted by bitteschoen at 10:34 AM on January 8, 2016


But medical malpractice and fraud are crimes all over the world, not just in the United States!

Deviating from the standard of care or displaying dishonesty in a way that so as to present a strong potential of danger to patients that falls below the medical standards of a given licensure board or hospital's standards is something that falls short of malpractice or fraud, but that nevertheless affect a physician's ability to practice in a given hospital or state. Moreover, the legal and professional standards for privileges, board certification, etc. on up through malpractice and fraud, differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

If Dr. Macchiarini is so good and if OSF Saint Francis Medical Center and Children's Hospital have confidence that he is a competent, safe doctor who is fit to practice at their hospital, why doesn't he have privileges there and why isn't he licensed to practice in their state? And why, when making a statement about this Vanity Fair article, did the Medical Center's spokesperson say only that his personal life had no bearing on the quality of care of the one patient he treated there, and nothing at all about whether the Medical Center considers Dr. Macchiarini to be the amazing doctor he claims to be, or whether, for example, he lied on his application to be granted privileges to practice there? I'd be interested to see if there's anything problematic about him in the NPDB.
posted by The World Famous at 10:48 AM on January 8, 2016


So, for now, I think it’s really impossible for any of us readers to speculate and draw the conclusion that he must be a fraud as a doctor too.

I would not presume to know. But I would not allow him to work on me or be comfortable with him being involved in the care of anyone I cared about.

And why, when making a statement about this Vanity Fair article, did the Medical Center's spokesperson say only that his personal life had no bearing on the quality of care of the one patient he treated there, and nothing at all about whether the Medical Center considers Dr. Macchiarini to be the amazing doctor he claims to be, or whether, for example, he lied on his application to be granted privileges to practice there?

I would always assume that an institution is covering its own ass, whether it needs to or not. When it comes to malpractice I would simply assume it needs to, as malpractice happens ten to twenty-five times for every once it's discovered and litigated.
posted by phearlez at 11:20 AM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


I would always assume that an institution is covering its own ass, whether it needs to or not.

Yes, I would agree with that.
posted by The World Famous at 11:22 AM on January 8, 2016


groom never signed the certificate because he was angry his bride wouldn't get rid of her cats

I wouldn't even date someone who wanted me to "get rid" of my cat, let alone fake-marry them.
posted by foobaz at 3:54 PM on January 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


What I find alarming is that we let a guy with dodgy credentials perform surgery on the president. Where's the secret service in all this?
posted by bigbigdog at 6:13 PM on January 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


I thought the entire article was a test piece for the objectionability of the usage of the term "oriental".
posted by Emor at 6:45 PM on January 8, 2016


bendy: "What is a vanity fair? What is legal seafood?"

I think they end that fair with a bonfire.
posted by Samizdata at 9:18 PM on January 8, 2016


"Love makes you stoooooopid."

So does money, power, greed, vanity, status seeking, lack of wisdom, a lack of ethics... and stupidity.

Nobody wants to be an investigative journalist anymore... that's a sucker's game.
posted by markkraft at 4:03 PM on January 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


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