Billy Bush’s rocky start on the Today show’s third hour has become a catastrophe, with the release Friday afternoon of a video in which the former Access Hollywood host can be heard bantering lewdly about women and women’s body parts with Donald Trump.
The 44-year-old Bush, who formally joined NBC News’s venerable morning-show franchise on Aug. 22, deleted his Twitter account weeks before The Washington Post was published a damning story about a sexist and obscene conversation in 2005, when Bush eagerly participated with the now-Republican presidential nominee aboard an Access Hollywood promotional bus. He stopped using the Twitter account in early August after an earlier controversy involving Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte.
On Friday night, Bush—who is married and has three daughters—released a statement of apology:
“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.”
On the video, Trump, then around 60 and just married to his third wife, former model Melania Knauss, and Bush, then 33, prepared to descend from the bus to meet soap opera actress Arianne Zucker for a segment on Bush’s celebrity-centric program.
Trump began gossiping about his foiled attempts to have sex with an unidentified woman, who first name was apparently Nancy.
“She used to be great. She’s still very beautiful,” Bush can be heard remarking.
“I did try and fuck her. She was married,” Trump says into a hot mic, as members of the television crew, apparently including Bush, can be heard laughing. “I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there. And she was married…Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything. She’s totally changed her look.”
Friday's edition of Access Hollywood identified Trump's target as former Access host Nancy O'Dell, now an anchor at Entertainment Tonight.
Apparently spotting Zucker, a star of Days of Our Lives, Bush exclaims: “Sheeesh, your girl’s hot as shit! In the purple.”
“Whoa! Whoa!” Trump exclaims.
“Yes! The Donald has scored!” Bush answers. With a raucous laugh, he adds: “Whoa, my man! You gotta look at her…Give her the thumbs-up. You gotta give the thumbs-up….Oh my God!”
Trump then remarks that he’s going to use some Tic-Tacs, “just in case I start kissing her,” he explains. “When you’re a star, they let you do it.”
“Whatever you want,” Bush agrees.
To general hilarity and laughter, Trump adds: “Grab ‘em by the pussy. You can do anything.”
“Yeah those legs. All I can see is the legs,” Bush chimes in.
“It looks good,” Trump agrees.
“Good legs,” Bush declares.
In due course the two men alight from the bus and Zucker greets Trump with a handshake.
“How about a little hug for The Donald? He just got off the bus,” Bush importunes the actress, who cooperates with a quick and awkward platonic hug for the reality show billionaire.
“I just got off the bus,” Bush says, and leans in for his own hug from Zucker. “There we go!” he says when she complies.
Before publishing his statement, Bush, who is a first cousin of former President George W. Bush, didn’t respond to a message from The Daily Beast seeking comment.
The reaction to Bush on social media was swift and brutal, especially among women, a demographic that is crucial to the third-hour Today show’s ratings.
“You should be ashamed!” one representative woman posted on Bush’s Facebook page.
Another opined: “Just saw the video with you and Donald Trump. You’re as scummy as he is. After everything the two of you said and then you ask the woman to hug Donald and then hug you. You are sickening! You’re just as big as a pig and scumbag as trump is.”
On Twitter, a third woman posted: “Grab them by the p—-y,” Trump says. “You can do anything.” And Billy Bush is like, OK! -This is rape culture. This is what we hear & live.”
Bush’s fate as a co-anchor of the Today show, a perch he shares with Al Roker and Tamron Hall, is unclear.
The New York Post’s ‘Page Six’ posted an item online suggesting that, for now anyway, his job is safe.
The Post, reporting that producers at Today and NBC News are “appalled,” quoted an “NBC insider” as saying: “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.”
(The nature of this ‘different place’ is a mystery. In 2005 Bush was seven years married to wife Sydney, and the couple had young children.)
Bush moved to New York from Los Angeles to take on the Today gig, which began less than auspiciously.
The week before he started co-hosting on Today, Bush conducted a credulous interview in Rio with U.S. Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte, and then engaged in an on-air argument with Roker, in which Bush seemed to defend Lochte’s account of being shaken down at gunpoint by Brazilian police officers, suggesting it was a harmless embellishment—even after Lochte’s story was shown to be a complete lie. Lochte was later suspended by the U.S. Olympic committee.