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Lisa Bloom speaking to the media Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

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Why Did Lisa Bloom Do It?

The sexual harassment lawyer has represented accusers of Donald Trump, Bill O’Reilly, and Bill Cosby. Then she worked—briefly—with Harvey Weinstein. Can the prominent women’s rights advocate overcome her association with the disgraced Hollywood producer? She says yes.

A trembling woman clutched a microphone in a cavernous Hilton Midtown hotel ballroom. It was the middle of the day at the NameSummit, a conference about digital marketing held in early August. The mood had been buoyant, with domain-name entrepreneurs snacking on catered salads and chatting enthusiastically about SEO. But the woman holding the microphone looked devastated and unconcerned about audience metrics. She had come to meet one person, the lawyer Lisa Bloom, who had just finished a presentation about personal branding. After Bloom opened up the floor to questions the woman thanked Bloom for representing mistreated women, and recounted her own experience of workplace sexual harassment and her struggle to be believed about an abusive, rotten boss. The woman asked for help, apologized for the spontaneous disclosure, and wept, still holding the microphone as her plea dissolved into sobs. The conference attendees glanced around in a delicate silence; it was clear that nobody knew how to react as this Q&A transformed into a confessional. But Bloom knew what to do. She hurried off the stage to envelop the woman in a reassuring hug, announced that they’d talk after the conference, and introduced the next speaker.

Aside from her mother, the trailblazing lawyer Gloria Allred, Bloom is the most well-known women’s rights attorney in the United States, with a reputation for lawyering in the public interest by representing individuals against powerful entities and an affinity for appearing on cable news. After graduating from Yale Law School in 1986 and starting her career in New York, Bloom began working alongside her mother in 1991 at Allred, Maroko & Goldberg — a firm that is known for its work on women’s advocacy. When mother and daughter appear side-by-side, their likeness is striking, two petite women with intense, dark eyes, passing resemblances to Marisa Tomei, and enviably highlighted hair. Bloom stayed at her mother’s firm for a decade, until she decided to shift full time into television punditry in 2001, becoming a cable news mainstay. In 2010, she created the Bloom Firm and started practicing law again; Allred was publicly supportive, and Bloom told me that they remain close. “Sometimes I’ll be thinking about a problem and I’ll think, ‘Well, what would she do?’” Bloom told me about Allred.

Bloom runs a small business, with fewer than a dozen lawyers, but her firm has so many requests for representation that it cannot agree to the majority of them. At the NameSummit, for which Bloom’s domain-name-investor husband, Braden Pollock, had served as a moderator, most attendees seemed stoked for lengthy discussions over the relative merits of .biz versus .net. But the woman who begged her for guidance was not the first to seek Bloom’s help in an unexpected setting. Strangers approach Bloom with tales of woe, she said, “all the time.” A black mascara streak darkened the shoulder of her white leather jacket as she tightened it around her after the conference, but Bloom gave the smudge no notice. “There’s a lot of people who have very sad stories, and who cannot get justice,” she said in the hotel’s café after her presentation.

In addition to speaking at the conference, Bloom had come to New York in August to hold a press conference for a client who had accused R&B singer Usher of giving her herpes. (Usher has denied the claim; the suit is ongoing.) She often bounces between coasts as she represents clients like Mischa Barton and Blac Chyna in revenge porn cases. “My adult life is basically back and forth [between] California and New York,” she said.

Lisa Bloom and Blac Chyna
Lisa Bloom and Blac Chyna
Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

This month, Bloom once again traveled to New York as a high-profile advocate at the center of a celebrity scandal. On Thursday, The New York Times published a story about the producer Harvey Weinstein’s long history of reportedly paying off women who had accused him of sexual harassment. It featured a number of on-the-record claims of sexual harassment from multiple women, including the actress Ashley Judd, who alleged that Weinstein had asked whether he could give her a massage or she would watch him shower during what she had thought would be a business meeting years ago. (This week, The New Yorker followed up with a powerful story of its own, which included three allegations of rape against Weinstein, while the Times published a second report in which the actresses Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie, among others, accused Weinstein of harassment.) Weinstein, who denied a number of the claims against him, assembled a group of lawyers including Charles Harder, who is perhaps best known for leading the Peter Thiel–financed team that successfully sued Gawker Media (my former employer) on behalf of Hulk Hogan. Harder has also represented Melania Trump against the Daily Mail and has established himself as sought-after counsel for celebrities pursuing defamation lawsuits against media companies.

Weinstein’s other legal ace in the hole — at least initially — was Lisa Bloom. The anti-sexual-harassment advocate positioned herself as an “adviser” to Weinstein, and appeared on Good Morning America that Friday to discuss her role. It was a perplexing choice: Bloom, like her mother, had built her reputation on protecting the victims of powerful perpetrators, and here she was defending the alleged predator du jour on national television. A little more than 24 hours later, Bloom resigned from the position.

“Women are sexually harassed, and they just remain silent because they’re so scared,” Bloom said when we first met at her Woodland Hills, California, office in July. The firm is housed in a drab gray stucco building, but Bloom has created a welcoming space in her office. I grasped an oversize coffee mug and settled onto her couch to talk. She leaned over in her chair for emphasis as she spoke about representing women who had been mistreated by Bill O’Reilly at Fox News. The network’s pugilistic star was the subject of a New York Times exposé in April, revealing that he had kept his job for years while he and Fox had paid out millions in settlements to women who’d accused him of sexual harassment. Eighteen days later, the damning report finally tipped the scale of public opinion, and O’Reilly’s career at Fox News ended. Bloom was the attorney for three of O’Reilly’s accusers — clerical temp Perquita Burgess and Fox News guests Caroline Heldman and Wendy Walsh (none of whom received settlements) — and she had also called for a New York State Division of Human Rights investigation into the company.

“He had to pay out $9 million to Andrea Mackris, who had tapes of him calling her while he was masturbating, and I have to say that, because if you just say ‘sexual harassment’ people don’t know what you’re talking about. Maybe it’s an off-color joke. No, in his case, it was very serious,” Bloom said in July. Mackris, a former Fox News producer, had accused O’Reilly of sexual harassment in 2004. The suit was settled out of court. “They kept him after that, which is astonishing.”

Bloom celebrated O’Reilly’s comeuppance with righteous glee. “When women speak our truth the old order shatters,” she tweeted, linking to a news story about O’Reilly leaving Fox. “We slayed the dragon. Never forget this is what we’re capable of.”

This summer, Bloom was still livid about how Fox News had cosseted its aggressive, abusive male figureheads while driving women who spoke up against them into the margins. “That is just unacceptable that all of these women are driven out and all of the men get to keep their jobs, or if they leave they get these huge payouts,” she said. (O’Reilly’s severance was a reported $25 million.)

Bloom said she was so furious about Fox News’ predator-harboring that she flew to London in her personal time to voluntarily testify against its parent company, 21st Century Fox. “I didn’t get paid for that — it didn’t have anything to do with any of my cases — but I just felt strongly that this company was such a toxic environment for women, and some activists in the U.K. asked me to come out and speak about it,” she said.

Lisa Bloom and Kathy Griffin
Bloom and Kathy Griffin
Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Like Allred, Bloom is practiced at handling celebrity cases. She made several headline-grabbing moves last summer, including a press conference with her client Kathy Griffin, who came under scrutiny for posing in a photograph with a model of President Trump’s head, styled cartoonishly to appear severed and dripping in blood. Bloom has adopted her mother’s penchant for flamboyant press conferences as an opinion-swaying tactic. In Griffin’s case, for example, Bloom argued that the first family — who had repeatedly tweeted about the incident, with Trump calling the photograph “sick” and Donald Trump Jr. calling for her dismissal from CNN — had been bullying the comedian.

“I typically represent the underdog against a very powerful entity or individual,” she told me. “So I have to be more creative. I can’t just think of the law and the courtroom; I have to think bigger. We use the media, for example, to publicly shame people. That really tends to level the playing field.”

Bloom has also represented the model Janice Dickinson, who accused former comedian Bill Cosby of sexual assault, and several women who accused President Donald Trump of sexual harassment and assault. Jill Harth, a New York–based makeup artist who had filed a complaint against Trump in the 1990s, remembers Bloom’s assistance with affection.

“With Lisa’s help, I was able to defend myself against the ultimate bully and liar, Donald Trump,” Harth wrote to me in an email in October. “Lisa’s experience, immense smarts, and articulate voice made me feel safe when I was very angered, upset, and vulnerable. I felt extremely supported with her by my side. I was very fortunate to have her as my attorney.”

Bloom explained her legal project as an attempt to demand accountability for people whose positions of wealth, power, and popularity have insulated them from answering for bad behavior. She is representing an unnamed pair of young people who allege that NBA star Draymond Green physically assaulted them. “Are these guys just gods who can do whatever they want, or do the rules apply to them? And that’s kind of the underlying question in a lot of my cases,” she said. “I think that we have this strange worship of celebrities in our culture, like they’re royalty.”

Bloom prides herself on her ability to obtain settlements for women who have been sexually harassed but do not want to engage in public battles. “Just this year alone I think we’ve obtained over $12 million in settlements for victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault in confidential settlements,” she said in July. “[In] each of those cases, a woman comes to me, she’s absolutely terrified, she’s never been in the legal system before, she’s been victimized by somebody powerful. And we take her through the system, and we empower her, and that’s something I’m very proud of.”

Bloom has a unique understanding of how the law and power intersect. Since the lurid carnival of press attention on the O.J. Simpson murder trial in the mid-1990s, the appetite for true crime has created an opening for telegenic lawyers who can translate legalese for the average TV viewer. Bloom’s career ascent coincided with the rise of legal punditry, and she made frequent appearances on CNN, MSNBC, and other news networks, analyzing celebrities’ legal travails and high-profile crime cases. She eventually anchored her own program, Lisa Bloom: Open Court, on TruTV. (The show ended in 2009.)

Last year, she decided to move away from her television career to focus on her work as an attorney. “I’m doing less television now, because after the election of Trump, I felt that I really need to be able to use my voice boldly and without concern about whether a television network isn’t going to like it,” she said, noting that she had declined to renew a contract with Today. Jeffrey Toobin, a staff writer for The New Yorker, has traveled in the same television legal pundit circles as Bloom since the late ’90s. “Lisa is the real deal,” Toobin said earlier this month. “She’s both a real lawyer and a real journalist.”

Bloom wrote several books as she practiced law, including Suspicion Nation: The Inside Story of the Trayvon Martin Injustice and Why We Continue to Repeat It, a critical examination of how Florida prosecutors handled the murder case against George Zimmerman. The book is a compelling, brisk read. “It was really a passion project,” Bloom said in August. “Then, I don’t know, six or nine months ago, Harvey Weinstein of the Weinstein Company told me he’d read it, and he really loved the book.”

This spring, the Weinstein Company bought the rights to Suspicion Nation, and producer Harvey Weinstein was planning to team up with Jay-Z on a documentary miniseries about Martin’s killing. “I’m going to be on a couple of the episodes, and I’m very excited,” Bloom said over the summer. “I’d like to raise awareness about racial bias in the justice system.”

When we spoke in August, Bloom noted excitedly that Weinstein had told her that he loved the book. She did not mention that she had been tutoring Weinstein on how to stop his long-standing pattern of aggression and bad behavior.

On Thursday, while Harder announced plans to sue The New York Times, Bloom released a statement about Weinstein, emphasizing that her client had acknowledged his mistakes, that she told him he needed to “evolve to a higher standard,” and that he has decided to go to therapy. She characterized the famously pugilistic Weinstein as “chagrined.” She cited her history as an advocate for women’s rights as proof that she was not letting him off easy. “He is an old dinosaur learning new ways,” Bloom said in the statement.

Weinstein, in his own statement to the Times, played up Bloom’s involvement in his supposed personal rehabilitation. “Over the last year I’ve asked Lisa Bloom to tutor me,” he wrote. “I so respect all women and regret what happened. I hope that my actions will speak louder than words and that one day we will all be able to earn their trust and sit down together with Lisa to learn more.”

On Good Morning America, Bloom claimed that she had asked Weinstein about rumors that were plaguing him when they talked about her book option deal, and that he had admitted he was “embarrassed” about them, and wanted her help. Bloom carefully avoided using the phrase “sexual harassment” to describe Weinstein’s conduct, even though she admitted it was “gross.”

Gloria Allred holds press Conference with alleged Harvey Weinstein victim
Gloria Allred
Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

Bloom’s mother also made a statement to the media. “Had I been asked by Mr. Weinstein to represent him, I would have declined, because I do not represent individuals accused of sex harassment,” Allred said in a statement on Thursday. “While I would not represent Mr. Weinstein, I would consider representing anyone who accused Mr. Weinstein of sexual harassment, even if it meant that my daughter was the opposing counsel.” (Allred did not respond to The Ringer’s request for comment.)

In response, Bloom told Variety that she and her mother had different law practices, with Bloom practicing a wider range of specialities than Allred’s harassment-plaintiff focus. It was a distinction she’d made to me before, although she’d only ever previously spoken glowingly of Allred. “I would never take a case where either my lawyer mother or my lawyer daughter is opposing counsel. That’s another area where we differ. I believe in family before business,” she told Variety.

Allred backpedaled slightly. “She’s a very good attorney, and I do not in any way criticize her decision to represent Mr. Weinstein,” she told Vanity Fair. On Tuesday, Allred held a press conference with Louisette Geiss, an actress and screenwriter who is accusing Weinstein of sexual harassment; Allred is representing Geiss.

Despite initially defending her decision, Bloom resigned from representing Weinstein on Saturday. Lanny Davis, another legal power player whom Weinstein had hired, also resigned. On Sunday, the Weinstein Company fired its cofounder, and The New York Times published a follow-up report that claimed Bloom had emailed the Weinstein Company board to let them know that “more and different reporting” about Weinstein was expected; she reportedly told them to expect “photos of several of the accusers in very friendly poses with Harvey after his alleged misconduct.” Bloom denied she had personally sent photos of accusers with Weinstein, and called the report “unbelievably false” on Twitter.

Bloom cited her long history of advocacy Monday night on Twitter and denied that she had maneuvered to undermine Weinstein’s accusers. “It’s cool if you think my trying something different to change the usual trajectory was wrongheaded. I’ve heard you. Still pondering it,” she wrote. “But I don’t think you’ll shake my core beliefs in owning up, apologies, and being respectful. And you don’t change minds by vicious hate.”

I spoke with Bloom by phone Tuesday, not long after The New Yorker and The New York Times published additional chronicles of Weinstein’s alleged abuse and harassment, and I asked for further clarification as to why she had decided to advise Weinstein. “I thought this was an opportunity to change the narrative,” she said. “I thought that this was an opportunity to work with somebody on the other side and try to get them to behave better. I don’t usually have opportunities like that, and I got tired of the old playbook. I thought that we would do something different, and it would be an improvement. But obviously it was not well received.” Late Tuesday, a source told Variety that Bloom was “totally lied to” about the extent of the accusations against Weinstein; when I spoke to her, Bloom said she could not comment on whether she would have represented Weinstein if she had known what she knows today at the time of agreeing to advise him. “We’re not ready to hear an apology. An apology rings hollow for us right now. And I understand that. But I’m going to continue to believe in apologies. An apology doesn’t negate everything that came before, but I think it has a valuable place, and where it’s appropriate, I think people should acknowledge their bad behavior and apologize,” she said. She sounded tired. “Nobody has suggested that it’s proper reparations. And nobody has suggested that that’s the only thing that’s going to happen here.”

It’s not unprecedented for a public interest attorney to occasionally deviate from their stated cause. Amal Clooney, an esteemed international human rights lawyer, has complicated her record by representing the occasional controversial figure, like former Libyan president Moammar Gadhafi’s intelligence chief Abdullah al Senussi, Bahrain’s dictatorial King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, and Julian Assange. But Bloom’s move was controversial because she voluntarily took a client whose alleged behavior is the exact type of misconduct she has spent years building a reputation of fighting, and because she took on Weinstein with the same gusto she has given to clients who have sought justice against harassment. Bloom’s work in representing women against Bill O’Reilly, Bill Cosby, and Donald Trump has helped start conversations about cultures of misogyny and sexual harassment, and possibly emboldened the women who spoke against Weinstein on the record to come forward.

Roy Price and Harvey Weinstein
Roy Price and Harvey Weinstein
Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Museum of the Moving Image

Although she is attempting to break off her association with Weinstein, he is not the only male Hollywood power player Bloom has taken on as a client. She has also represented Roy Price, the Amazon Studios executive who was accused of sexually harassing Isa Hackett, the daughter of Philip K. Dick. The accusation prompted an internal probe headed by a third-party investigator. The results have not yet been made public. As with Weinstein, Bloom has worked on Price’s legal team with Charles Harder. When I asked her about Price, Bloom said she had no comment. When I asked if she planned to represent other men accused of sexual harassment in the future, she said, “I don’t have any particular clients one way or another in the future. You know, men are not my enemy.”

Much of the media appraisal of Bloom’s actions has been scathing, highlighting the hypocritical optics of building a career on women’s advocacy only to rush to assist a powerful man notorious for his abhorrent treatment of women. At The Cut, Allie Jones proffered the following theory for Bloom’s involvement: “It’s complicated, surely, but it’s worth pointing out that he optioned her book about the Trayvon Martin case, Suspicion Nation, back in March.” The project’s status is unclear, but many other media analysts echoed Jones’s hypothesis, which has an appealing Occam’s razor cynicism. “I cannot imagine it coincidental that this spring he bought the rights to make her book about Trayvon Martin into a miniseries,” Rebecca Traister wrote, also for The Cut.

“I’ve certainly heard the tidal wave of criticism that’s come my way this week,” Bloom told me Tuesday. “I try to separate out the vicious hate from the actual legitimate criticism, and listen to the latter.”

Some of Bloom’s clients have rallied to her support. Wendy Walsh, whom Bloom represented against O’Reilly, told Business Insider that she believed Bloom is “still protecting women.” And Jill Harth remains fully supportive. “I am standing by Lisa. Her intentions were all good. After working with her and knowing her I fully believe that,” she wrote to me in an email this week. “The press is treating her unfairly now.” On Monday, Bloom announced a new client, singer and songwriter Just Brittany, who is pursuing a domestic violence case against her former partner.

Still, as someone working in a profession that relies on trust, media savvy, and a certain moral high ground, the future of her career and reputation is not at all clear. Regardless of Bloom’s future as a public interest crusader, this episode is undeniably ignominious and also a shame. There’s a reason Allred and Bloom cut such distinctive figures in the world of high-profile legal battles. It is not a world awash in unabashed advocates for women. The case of Harvey Weinstein underscores, once again, how pervasive sexual harassment and misconduct is in industries where the wealthy and untrammeled hold court. Liberal Hollywood’s studio lots are just as infested as Fox’s toxic corridors. “Many people have never had someone advocate for them before, and it feels really good to have somebody advocate for you,” Bloom said in July, speaking about a potential client who had been, in Bloom’s words, “made to perform sex acts” on “a very prominent guy.” “Taking somebody from victim to empowered is probably the best part about what I do,” Bloom said.

In an interview after the accusations surfaced, Weinstein told Page Six that he’d gone out with Bloom and his wife the night before the report was published, and that Bloom would remain close to the family. It was not Bloom’s first appearance in Page Six that week. Earlier, she had been pictured at Amber Rose’s SlutWalk event. Grinning, she wore a blue T-shirt with the words “Feminist AF” emblazoned across the front.

On Tuesday, I asked Bloom if she thought her association with Weinstein would negatively affect her ability to advocate for women in the future. “I don’t think so,” she said.

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