Slimeball PR/legal ethics: The Lisa Bloom letter to Harvey Weinstein

Attorney Lisa Bloom, known for representing victims of sexual harassment, also proposed to work with Harvey Weinstein when the harassment accusations against him were just beginning. The new book She Said tells the inside story of what exactly went on during that time — and raises some challenging ethical questions.

For the purposes of this post, I want you to imagine that you are a PR person or lawyer and you’re in the position of representing the subject of allegations of serious misconduct.

Now read this letter, which Lisa Bloom sent to Harvey Weinstein. Yashar Ali got it from the She Said authors, New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, and published in full on Twitter. For context, Rose McGowan is the actress who accused Harvey Weinstein of rape and began the #MeToo movement, creating a serious threat to Harvey Weinstein’s reputation, ultimately leading to his arrest and the destruction of his company.

Harvey,

It was a treat to speak with you today, though yes, we’d all prefer better circumstances. I’ve spent the rest of the day reading Jack and Sara’s thorough reports about Rose, who truly comes across as a pathological liar, and also your former assistant…who seems to be less of a concern.

I also read through a lot of Rose’s Twitter feed, to get a sense of her, and watched her short film, Dawn. (I’m no film critic, but I found it dreadful, but telling as to who Rose is: boy meets girl. Girl trusts boy. Boy murders girl. All men suck. The end.)

I feel equipped to help you against the Roses of the world, because I have represented so many of them. They start out as impressive, bold women, but the more one presses for evidence, the weaknesses and lies are revealed. She doesn’t seem to have much going on these days except her rapidly escalating identity as a feminist warrior, which seems to be entirely based on her online rants.

For her to keep her “RoseArmy” following she must continue ramping up the outrageousness of her diatribes.

Clearly she must be stopped in her ridiculous, defamatory attacks on you. She is dangerous. You are right to be concerned.

Options after my initial read, which I can flesh out on our next call:

1. Initiating friendly contact with her through me or other good intermediary, and after establishing a relationship work out a “win-win.” Key question: what does she want? To direct, it appears?

2. Counterops online campaign to push back and call her out as a pathological liar. A few well placed articles now will go a long way if things blow up for us down the line. We can place an article re her becoming increasingly unglued, so that when someone Googles her this is what pops up and she is discredited. We have all the facts based on publicly available information. This can begin simultaneous with #1.

3. Cease and desist letter from me, warning her of the violation of agreement with you and putting her on notice of causes of action for CA claims of false light, invasion of privacy, defamation etc. Risk: she posts the letter online, generating heat and backlash. (Sara: I need to see the agreement, please.)

4. You and I come out publicly in a pre-emptive interview where you talk about evolving on women’s issues, prompted by the death of your mother, Trump pussy grab tape, and maybe nasty unfounded hurtful rumors about you. This will be headline grabbing if you express genuine contrition for anyone who hurt you, while emphasizing it was always adult consensual behavior. You thought that was enough at the time but now realize it’s more nuanced, that a power imbalance means something, etc. You reached out to me to help understand rapidly evolving social mores around sexual misconduct because you are a good and decent person (as evidenced by your life’s work making films on important social issues and extremely generous philanthropy). Examples: Charlie Sheen, as women were set to come out against him re HIV status, did a Today Show interview recently where he came out with it himself, receiving massive praise. I represented a few of the women and their stories were largely drowned out by his interview and the love he got for it. It is so key from a reputation management stand-point to be the first to tell the story. I strongly recommend this. If you agree, I’d like to come out and meet with you to go over the story in some detail, so this is done for maximum effectiveness. You should be the hero of your story, not the villain. This is very doable.

5. Start the Weinstein foundation, focusing on gender equality in film, etc. Or establish the Weinstein Standards, which seek to have one-third of films directed by women, or written by women, or passing the Bechdel test (two named female characters talk ago each other about something besides a man), whatever. Announce you will immediately raise the standards re gender parity in very specific ways on all films under your control. Announce partnership with Geena Davis’ group that works for gender equality in film, for example, by mandating that half of all extras in crowd scenes will be female. You get the idea. These details can be worked out, but the point is you decide to be a leader and raise the bar in a concrete, headline-grabbing way.

6. Positive reputation management. I Googled your name, and a few obnoxious articles pop up. I work with the leading reputation management company that can backlink to the positive articles to make a “firewall” which prevents negative pieces from ranking well on Google. Your first page of Google is key as 95% never go beyond the first Google page. Let’s improve this. Easy to do. This should happen simultaneously with the other option.

A reminder: will you please connect me with David Boies. so that I can get retained?

Also, given that your emails with the Clinton campaign were hacked recently, I recommend you set up a secure new email account for emails with this team. We shouldn’t be emailing on these sensitive matters to your company email as your IT people and others may have access.

Thanks and really honored to be brought into this team. Talk tomorrow

Lisa Bloom

What would you do?

I’ll enumerate the tactics described in this letter.

  1. Suck up to client and profess disdain for his accuser.
  2. Denigrate accuser’s talent privately to win client’s trust.
  3. Denigrate accuser’s veracity privately to win client’s trust.
  4. Negotiate with accuser.
  5. Place articles attacking accuser’s reputation and veracity.
  6. Cease and desist letter for violating confidentiality agreement.
  7. Orchestrate “confession” of accused client, admitting to poor attitude but not rape or other crimes.
  8. Create foundation to rehabilitate client’s reputation.
  9. Use reputation management to manipulate Google results, elevating positive articles and reducing visibility of negative press.

This a cold-blooded list and given that I am convinced that Weinstein is a serial harasser and rapist, makes me ill. It’s also shocking that Bloom would exploit her own reputation as a defender of harassed women to take on Weinstein as a client, which she has since said she regrets (of course).

But I asked you to imagine you were the lawyer or PR person for Weinstein or someone similar. Which tactics in this list would you say are ethical? Which would you do? Read the list and write down your opinion.

Since I’m asking you to do this, I should do the same. So here’s my opinion.

Ethical: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8.

Borderline: 5, 9.

Unethical: 7 (since it advises the client to lie)

Which would I do: 4, 6. (This is why I would never be able to get a job as a PR person or lawyer, I just couldn’t convince myself that it was ok to do most of this stuff).

I’m very curious about your opinion. Which do you think are unethical? If it was your job as a PR person or lawyer, which would you do?

4 responses to “Slimeball PR/legal ethics: The Lisa Bloom letter to Harvey Weinstein

  1. I wouldn’t take the job. Seriously. I was willing to walk away from a PR position for an organization where a top executive was caught with child pornography on his work computer. Remarkably, the top execs asked for a way to “manage the situation.” I was among those who threatened to leave if they didn’t come to their senses. Been there. Don’t do that.

    1. I applaud your stand, Joanne. I have been in that situation (not exactly the same, but being asked to work with an unethical client) and I declined to do it.

      However, it’s pretty clear that this is more than “taking the job.” It’s clear that Lisa Bloom was pitching her services pretty hard in this letter. She wasn’t put in an uncomfortable position, she thrust herself into that position.

      1. I know. And the fact that she would throw former clients under the bus the way she did makes her worse than Weinstein. If I were him, I don’t think I’d trust her.

        When I read #5, I began wondering if she was playing him. Imagine if he’d tried to announce “The Weinstein Standards” — that’s hilarious. And the concept of asking a predator to grant permission for equality is jaw-dropping.

        I was doing some PR work for a client once, when he told me he was being wrongfully maligned online. I tried #9. There was no way for me to find out the truth, and frankly, I didn’t really know if it would be effective. Even though he was pleased with my work, he stiffed me for $1K, so I guess I got my answer in the end.

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