Network Sought To Shield Billy Bush From Scrutiny, Will Not Reprimand Him
Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ
NBC News’ actions surrounding a recently-released tape of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and current Today show host Billy Bush discussing Trump’s predilection for sexual assault raise questions about the degree to which the network sought to protect their current and former employees from public scrutiny.
On October 7, The Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold published 2005 audio and video in which Trump was captured on a hot microphone having a conversation with Bush, then host of Access Hollywood, as they arrived on the set of Days of Our Lives to produce a segment about Trump’s cameo on the soap opera. In the video, Trump discusses how he can sexually assault women and get away with it because he’s a “star.”
Shortly after the Post published the story, MSNBC began reporting on the video. But, as many commentators have noticed, NBC News was somehow scooped on a story that was based on video that had resided in its own archives for 11 years.
The tape was first unearthed by the Access Hollywood staff on Monday, but, according to an NBC executive who provided “the network’s account” to the Post, publication was delayed because the story “first had to undergo a review by the company’s lawyers.” This story does not appear to hold up -- NBC delayed for several days even though they were “unaware of any specific legal issue raised by airing an 11-year-old recording of a presidential candidate who was apparently aware at the time that he was being recorded by a TV program.” Meanwhile, the Post was able to turn around the story within hours after receiving the tape, and MSNBC began reporting on it minutes after the Post story went live, suggesting that any legal concerns were overblown.
There are of course other possible factors that could have delayed NBC’s publication of the tape. “Complicating matters was the presence in the tape of Billy Bush, one of NBC’s most important on-air personalities,” as The New York Times reported.
Much of the media conversation regarding the tape has rightfully been centered on the conduct of the GOP presidential nominee. But Bush’s role has also sparked outrage. In the tape, as the Times put it, Bush “can be heard ogling a woman’s legs and laughing along with Mr. Trump as he jokes about kissing women, and grabbing their genitalia, without their consent.” At the tape’s conclusion, having emerged from the privacy of their tour bus, he asks actress Arianne Zucker to give hugs to both Trump and himself and asks her what she would do “if she had to choose” between the two of them for a date.
Following the release of the tape, Bush, who was at least 33 years old at the time of the events depicted in the video, released a statement in which he said: “Obviously I’m embarrassed and ashamed. It’s no excuse, but this happened eleven years ago—I was younger, less mature, and acted foolishly in playing along. I’m very sorry.” NBC is reportedly planning to leave it there, with no plans to reprimand Bush in any way.
In fact, NBC has sought to shield Bush from scrutiny. The Access Hollywood segment released after the Post beat NBC to their own story excises Bush saying of Zucker, "Your girl's hot as shit in the purple” and "The Donald has scored. Woah, my man,” as well as their subsequent interactions with her.
Bush will reportedly address the tape on the Monday edition of the Today show. NBC News has a responsibility to explain what happened as well.
UPDATE: CNN's Brian Stelter is reporting that Bush will not appear on Monday's edition of Today.
Stelter later reported that Bush has been suspended from Today pending further review.
BREAKING: BILLY BUSH SUSPENDED FROM THE TODAY SHOW. "Pending further review."
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) October 9, 2016