UPDATE (October 18, 2016): Billy Bush is leaving the Today show, effective immediately. A statement from Today senior VP Noah Oppenheim called Bush “a valued colleague and longtime member of the broader NBC family. We wish him success as he goes forward.” Bush, too, released a statement, saying, “I am deeply grateful for the conversations I’ve had with my daughters, and for all of the support from family, friends and colleagues. I look forward to what lies ahead.”
Billy Bush, the kind of bro who will be totally cool with it when someone else makes a “joke” about sexually assaulting women, has an uncle and a cousin who served as President of the United States. Billy Bush, too, had his moment in a seat of unimaginable power: He was, for a glittering five-month stretch, host of the third hour of the Today show.
But no more: In the wake of the pussy-grabbing tape heard ‘round the world, Bush was suspended by NBC. Multiple sources have told CNN Money that his removal is likely to be permanent.
And yet — plot twists abound — apparently NBC was not so hot on the idea of dethroning the recently-promoted Bush. He ascended to Today from Access Hollywood, where he had served as a perfectly bland, celebrity-sycophant of a co-anchor since 2004, only months ago. This, perhaps, accounts for the delay in the tape’s release: NBC claims the network was working on a broadcast report about the tape on Friday, just as the tape was leaked to the Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold, who published it first.
Why the hold-up? According to People magazine, NBC planned to edit Bush out of the Trump tapes (emphasis added):
“They could have released the tape and edited him out,” the source says of the individual that leaked the footage. “That was the plan — they were trying to approve it and then someone leaked it. That’s what Access Hollywood eventually did and they played it … but it was already out,” the source says and adds, “If they wanted to protect him, they could have edited it out which they did on the final Access piece that aired on Friday, but they left it in when it was leaked.”
The timing of the leak would suggest that whoever at NBC — assuming the leak came from inside the house, so to speak — believed that NBC would decline to release the tape, or the tape in its entirety. Otherwise, why send it Fahrenthold’s way? (An NBC spokesperson told People “There absolutely was never a consideration by NBC News to edit the tape.”)
It’s worth noting that Bush was not suspended until Sunday, two full days after the video’s release. Two full days. Even though the video reveals Bush egged Trump on in degrading and objectifying his then-co-anchor, Nancy O’Dell. And Page Six reported that Bush, while covering the Rio Olympics this summer, bragged to NBC colleagues at a party that he had a “tape of Trump being a real dog,” and this taunt is what prompted Access Hollywood staffers to dig the tape out of the archives.
On Friday, Page Six reported that Bush, while “horribly embarrassed,” need not fear for his professional future.
An NBC insider said: “It happened 11 years ago … Billy was in a different place. He was a lot younger and more immature. He’s definitely embarrassed by this, but his job at ‘Today’ is safe.”
By Sunday, an internal memo from Noah Oppenheim, the NBC executive who oversees Today, was floating around online: “Let me be clear — there is simply no excuse for Billy’s language and behavior on that tape. NBC has decided to suspend Billy, pending further review of this matter.”
Bush, lest we forget, made headlines this summer for his atrocious non-coverage of the Ryan Lochte armed-robbery-that-wasn’t. Lochte spun his original story to Bush, who was the first to land an interview with Lochte after the Olympian’s mother told USA Today that her son, along with his teammates, had been held up late one night in Rio. Bush did not interfere as Lochte shared his wholly-invented version of events, even as a few choice details — that the thieves took Lochte’s wallet but not his phone or credentials, for instance — screamed out for a follow-up question or two.
As the truth of the story emerged, Bush was taken to task on the air by Al Roker on Today: “He lied. He lied to you, he lied to Matt Lauer, he lied to his mom… There was no robbery, there was no pull over. He lied.” Bush’s attempts at defending Lochte (and, by extension, himself) were unsuccessful. “He certainly lied about some details,” Bush said, but Roker cut him off: “No.”
Then again, maybe Lochte thought NBC was a safe place to peddle wildly fabricated stories that “over-exaggerate,” to use his term, one’s heroism and bravery. Brian Williams, who “misremembered” the fact that he was never actually in a helicopter that got shot out of the sky, was suspended for six months without pay. He returned last September to the demotion desk — down to MSNBC from NBC’s Nightly News — and, this fall, is anchoring The 11th Hour with Brian Williams from MSNBC Election Headquarters.
Maybe Bush thought NBC was a safe place to go along with Trump’s gropey-rapey sense of humor. After all, last November, Trump hosted Saturday Night Live. For context, that was five months after Trump said Mexicans coming to America are “bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists”; four months after he dismissed John McCain as “not a war hero… I like people who weren’t captured”; three months after railing that Fox’s Megyn Kelly was tough on him during a debate because she had “blood coming out of her wherever”; etc., etc., etc. And don’t forget that “Commander-in-Chief” forum, where Matt Lauer failed to call out Trump’s false claim that he oppose the Iraq War from the get-go, and also just failed more generally to ask any questions of substance. (Even the top brass at NBC conceded Lauer’s performance was a “disaster.”)
So while it’s heartening to see NBC take Bush’s participation in the tape seriously — something it seems Trump is unable to do, even when asked, point-blank, by Anderson Cooper, “You bragged that you have sexually assaulted women. Do you understand that?” — it’s all a little late, considering the network’s complicity in Trump’s rise to stardom.