“I know we've all been deeply troubled by the revelations of the past 48 hours,” said “Today” executive producer Noah Oppenheim in a memo to staffers. “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.”
NBC News executives initially said Saturday that there are no plans to suspend or fire Bush over the leaked conversation that took place before he and Trump taped a 2005 segment for “Access Hollywood.”
But the situation now appears to be fluid. One person associated with the program who is not authorized to comment publicly said it’s possible that NBC News lawyers are working on an exit agreement for Bush, who recently signed a new deal to make him a part of the “Today” family.
The exchange, in which Trump profanely boasts about his ability to grope women with impunity because he is a celebrity, has led many Republican politicians to withdraw their support of him as the party’s presidential standard-bearer. Many called for him to step down. Trump issued a videotaped apology late Friday night for the remarks and has said he has no plans to drop out of the race. He meets Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in their second debate on Sunday night.
In the leaked video Bush is heard laughing and egging Trump on, even as the mogul revealed his attempt to seduce Bush’s “Access Hollywood” co-host Nancy O’Dell. He delivered his own apology Friday.
"Obviously I'm embarrassed and ashamed,” Bush, 44, said in a statement issued by NBC News. “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.”
But as the story continues to the engulf the campaign, Bush is now indelibly attached to it. On ABC’s “This Week,” Republican Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania referred to the tape as “the Billy Bush video.”
Bush’s involvement has turned into a major problem as morning-show audiences are not always forgiving. Harsh comments from “Today” fans appeared on the program’s Facebook page, many calling for his firing.
“They will no longer receive my ratings or buying power when they have this guy as a host,” wrote Elizabeth Fahy of Cranford, N.J. “He is disgracing the women and daughters he wants to watch him. Count me out for now, ‘Today,’ until Billy Bush is gone as a host.”
After 12 years as co-host of “Access,” Bush moved his family from Los Angeles to New York City to join “Today” in August.
Bush’s arrival led to speculation that he is being groomed to eventually succeed long-time “Today” stalwart Matt Lauer, who has been in the 7 to 9 a.m. co-anchor chair since 1997.
Bush’s misogynistic repartee with Trump will likely put that job out of his reach.
NBC News uses the third hour of “Today” to develop talent that can eventually take over the earlier hours when more viewers are watching.
NBC News executives were not overly concerned about Bush’s presence on the tape with Trump when it was first reported by the Washington Post on Friday. But the story escalated Saturday, sending “Today” staffers looking for answers on Bush’s status and how the controversy will be addressed on the program.
Reaction to Bush’s vulgar comments cannot be taken lightly as “Today” has had issues with female viewers in the past.
After Ann Curry tearfully left the show after 13 months as co-anchor, many press accounts portrayed Lauer as being behind her ouster. The narrative led many viewers to tune out, ending “Today’s” 16-year reign as the most watched morning program.