UPDATED with NBC confirming suspension: NBC has suspended Bill Bush pending further review, after WaPo published audio/video tape the Today show host in a lewd, sexually predatory conversation with now GOP candidate Donald Trump back in 2005 when Bush was host of Access Hollywood. The news was announced to the show’s staff this evening in a memo from SVP Noah Oppenheim, a copy of which was obtained by Deadline:
Dear TODAY Family —
I know we’ve all been deeply troubled by the revelations of the past 48 hours.
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.
If any of you have any questions or concerns please reach out to me directly, anytime day or night.
Previous, 3:20 PM: Billy Bush will be off the air Monday, an NBC News rep confirms. Today show’s 9 AM host will be MIA on Monday, three days after the Washington Post released audio tape of Bush in a lewd, predatory conversation he had with now GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump in 2005 about women, including Bush’s then Access Hollywood co-host Nancy O’Dell. Bush’s absence from the morning program illustrates the awkwardness of NBC News’ situation as it deals with the embarrassment of getting scooped on a huge political story regarding a tape it had in its own vaults, and the behavior of its Today heir.
One industry source reports Today host-in-chief Matt Lauer had lobbyied to banish Bush from his 7-9AM turf in the wake of the tape cataclysm.
Bush hosts the 9 AM hour of Today, and is perceived to be the person the news division is grooming to succeed Lauer at some point. Sources had been spreading word Bush would apologize for a second time, on Monday’s show, for his remarks in a 2005 conversation caught on audio/video tape by Access Hollywood as the two men were working on a segment about a Trump soap opera cameo. Though the tape made by Access Hollywood, that show being part of of the NBCU family, the Washington Post broke the story, revealing the tape contents on Friday.
Washington Post subsequently reported NBC News was aware of the audio and video footage, but held back on reporting it “until lawyers finished reviewing the material.”
For four days.
And, who knows how much longer it would have been – maybe after tonight’s debate – had not the tape been leaked to WaPo, which was able to publish its report within hours of getting it. After which, Access Hollywood and NBC News published their reports posthaste.
The general news industry consensus is that the explanation of NBC’s delay does not pass the smell test.
Either way, it only compounds the awkwardness of NBC’s situation in the final month of the election cycle.
Lauer got widely panned for the job he did moderating that Commander in Chief forum in early September. He grilled Hillary Clinton on her emails for so long he had to then instruct her to cut short her answer on a national security question posed by a member of the military in the audience. Lauer also got dinged when he declined to challenge Trump when the candidate repeated some inaccurate assertions.
Meanwhile, NBC’s late-night star Jimmy Fallon was criticized, unfairly some of his late-night competitors say, for declining to ask Trump tough questions during a recent Tonight show guest gig, instead mussing the candidates’ hair for the sake of creating a viral late-night moment.
“That’s quite a trifecta,” remarked one industry exec, echoing the sentiments of others. In fairness, NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt got high marks for his moderation of the first presidential debate between Trump and Clinton.
If Bush eventually gets to apologize a second time, and Today, he would be following in the footsteps of Trump, who also issued an initial statement when the tape broke in WaPo on Friday, and followed with a televised one late that night.
In his first whack at a mea culpa, Bush said Friday in a statement, “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.”
Jeb Bush’s cousin was 34 at the time of the recording. Donald Trump was 59.
“I’m very sorry,” Bush added.
Bush is expected to survive the ordeal, but, like Lauer in the wake of Ann Curry’s Today show exit, likely never recover with women viewers – a big problem for a program that targets them.