Last week I attended a Q & A with prominent legal analysts Lisa Bloom and Jeffrey Toobin. Bloom was on hand to discuss her new book THINK: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed Down World. She discussed how to empower women and how we can reclaim our smarts in a celebrity-obsessed world.
“But how did we get here? How did we get to the point where women know more Kardashian sisters than wars we are in?” Bloom asked. The main culprit? The media, and its love affair with all things celebrity. “No matter what you start out as, a medical reporter, a legal reporter, we’re all entertainment reporters,” she told the audience. “But the networks tell me that’s what people want.”
Bloom is the daughter of famed attorney Gloria Allred. Allred has represented clients against Tiger Woods, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rob Lowe. She is so synonymous with high-profile cases that Toobin described her as a “celebrity-oriented attorney.” Which begs the question: isn’t Allred herself contributing to the media’s celebrity obsession? Bloom countered, “that’s just what the media picks up. She’ll hold a press conference on a lawsuit she takes up on behalf of migrant workers and no one shows up!”
Bloom herself worked as a Court TV anchor for eight years, during a time when she says real news still mattered. “Court TV was a great part of my life because we covered substantive issues,” Bloom said. “It was a very rewarding experience. Yes, we covered celebrity cases, but there was a balance.”
Of her time at Court TV and working with other networks, Bloom writes in her book:
“Early on, my networks assigned me election fraud cases, civil rights trials, Supreme Court rulings, violent crimes, and sure, for a little zazz, the occasional celebrity story. That worked for me. Focus on what matters, and throw in a little color now and then. Sure. Fine.”
But then, as Bloom describes, there was a shift in what the networks wanted her to cover. A shift in where their priorities laid. A shift in what made the headlines. She writes in her book:
“I noticed that my networks asked me to talk more and more about legal stories that really were inconsequential to the rest of us: Paris Hilton’s drug bust, Tiger Wood’s divorce, or Lindsay Lohan’s revolving-door jail terms.”
She turned down a ninth year at Court TV because she said the network was “changing significantly.” Soon after, Court TV folded into a show called In Session on HLN.
However, she remains a legal analyst for major networks including CBS, CNN and HLN. Still, Bloom says she’s frustrated by the types of stories the networks choose to cover. She told the audience that one network allowed her to pitch three legal stories to discuss. “I pitched the Khmer Rouge war crimes tribunal as my third story and the network turned it down,” Bloom said. “All three stories were celebrity stories. I couldn’t even talk about the Khmer Rouge tribunal as a third story.”
In her book, she writes:
“By 2011 I estimate that around 95 percent of the television appearances I’m asked to do involve reality stars, sex tapes, celebrity drug busts, or famous rich people’s divorces.”
She contrasts coverage now with only a few years ago, where she was able to spend hours a day discussing Saddam Hussein’s trial on Court TV, an experience she described as “very rewarding.”
“There isn’t a network in America that would devote months of airtime to Saddam Hussein’s trial now – or weeks, or days…or even hours.”
And the media’s obsession with gossip-related stories doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Jeffrey Toobin, CNN’s Senior Legal Analyst, corrected Bloom when she introduced him, saying, “My actual title is Senior Anthony Weiner’s penis analyst.”