CNN’s Brian Stelter is reporting Billy Bush may never return to Today. Is the new co-anchor of the 9:00 hour simply disposable? Irredeemable? Is he not worthy of a second chance like Brian Williams whose narcissistic on-air fantasies destroyed his news credibility or CNN’s Richard Quest who was once arrested after hours in Central Park with meth in his pocket and a rope around his genitals.
Billy Bush offered a Friday night 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.” He was set to apologize on air Monday morning but instead got an indefinite suspension and the cancellation of his surprise welcoming party.
If we’re going to be architects of gender equality and respect in the workplace, we have to find a new way. The old way hasn’t been working very well.
EXACTLY WHAT DID BILLY DO WRONG?
We’ve all seen the tape: a joyful road trip with Trump the Vulgarian and Billy the Wingman that somehow became Pussygate 2016.
Yes, Donald Trump is the one on the bus now running for President of the United States and held to the highest standard. And he’s the one boasting that he can sexually assault women with impunity. As anchor of Access Hollywood, Bush just had to pal around rich and famous people and interview them. But today he’s an anchor in a network news division and is held to a new standard, although palling around with the rich and famous is still part of the job description.
The first sin was from Corporate who allowed the boys-on-the-bus road trip in the first place that was really a three-way shill for NBC…the Access Hollywood anchor busing the Apprentice host to the set of an NBC soap opera for a cameo with an actress named Arianna Zucker. It’s a common place back-hander that once would qualify as a front page for the NYT business section.
Back to the tape. Billy is just as crass as he lets Trump demeans his former co-anchor, Nancy O’Dell, because she wouldn’t sleep with him although he went after her like a “bitch” (presumably in heat.)
O’Dell addressed the tape scandal Monday night on Entertainment Tonight, which she now anchors and admonished viewers not to objectify women. I wish she would have translated what “went after her like a bitch” means to reveal what Trump did to her. But I guess we’ll have to wait for that.
Back on the bus, when they spot the actress, Bush blurts out, ” “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.
When the two frat boys get off they bus, Zucker greets Trump with a handshake.
“How about a little hug for The Donald? He just got off the bus,” Bush pimps for Trump who gives her a quick hug and acknowledges, “This is okay with Melania.
“I just got off the bus,” Bush says, and leans in for his own hug from Zucker. “There we go!” he says when the actress complies.
As an author of a book on of political sex scandals in America going back to 1700s, Fall from Grace: the History of Sex, Scandal and Corruption in American Politics (Ballantine) I have researched them all and I can’t recall a single recorded scandal that involved boasting of sexual assault.
History shows plenty of leaders who loved and lusted after women with whom they didn’t belong. Their own words show conscience, a longing for romance, an elevation of sex and romance mixed in with their moral stumbling.
Friday night, Jeb Bush tweeted that no apology would be enough to forgive Donald Trump for his boasting that he can grab a woman’s pussy at will because he’s a star. I tweeted him back to ask if he felt the same about his cousin, Billy, who is seen on the tape egging him on, then pimping him off to a soap opera star for a post-Tic Tac hug. (Jeb Bush didn’t respond.)
SO WHAT DO WE DO ABOUT BILLY?
As a veteran network news executive who’s reported extensively on sexual harassment and has personally managed this dirty secret of the workplace as both an executive and a target (see Daily Beast “Roger Ailes Harassed Me, I Thought I Was the First and the Last), I called for a Truth and Reconciliation tribunal inspired by the work of Nelson Mandela. I share some counterintuitive thoughts on Bush. (The voters get to decide the fate of Trump.)
First, during his suspension, I’d send Billy Bush off to Texas to apologize to the family elders and have his ears boxed by his aunt, Barbara Bush. That would be enough to satisfy me, personally, but there’s more to do.
I would like to have heard Billy’s on-air apology. Perhaps he should be given the chance to deliver it in front of Nancy O’Dell, Arianna Zucker and his wife if she chooses to participate. You might add in the others on the bus — especially whoever he called “Honey.”
At best, and even by 2005 standards, Billy Bush created a hostile work environment for those who undoubtedly had to “go along to get along.” At worse, he, a 32-year-old a married father of three, was pimping for a 59-year-old predator and inappropriately hustling body contact with an actress for Trump and himself. With lecherous intent, this was not a just a friendly greeting. He used the presence of television camera as part of the coercion as in “Oh, this is what we do when we show up.” Then, like an idiotic teenager, he asks Zucker which one she prefers. I think I saw an eye roll in her thought bubble.
But does this make Billy Bush irredeemable? After all, he laughed along with Trump as he boasted about committing sex crimes. Should NBC just cut him loose before his predominantly female audience can rebel? What about trying something more meaningful for Bush, for the rest of the country. Why not assign Bush continuing Today Show series on sexual harassment, rape on campus, gender equality in Hollywood. Team him up with Jenna Bush for some, although why should she touch this hot mess. Let him help use this as a teachable moment for himself, first, then guide America to a better dialogue between men and women. This round, why not really groom and grow the anchor of the future, have him spend a ground-breaking year on becoming a better man through reporting on these important topics.
Billy Bush isn’t anymore disposable than Ann Curry. And certainly his sins as caught on tape are not worse than Brian Williams’ or Richard Quest. In the case of Quest, at least, he has turned his life around and is a truly valuable member of the CNN reporting staff. William’s has a lot more to overcome.
Most of us deserve a second chance. If we don’t believe people can change, there is little hope for a better tomorrow.