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A solemn Billy Bush talks to Stephen Colbert about Trump, Lauer and that infamous tape

A solemn Billy Bush talks to Stephen Colbert about Trump, Lauer and that infamous tape
Billy Bush returns on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert." (Scott Kowalchyk/CBS)

Billy Bush expressed shame, repentance and a little bit of outrage Monday on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” where the fallen “Today” show host sat for his first interview since Donald Trump became president.

Bush lost his job on the NBC morning show in October of last year when a leaked tape from 2005 caught him giggling on a tour bus as Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women. Bush was hosting “Access Hollywood” at the time, and Trump was the star of “The Apprentice.”

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“One of you lost your job. And one of you became president. Do you remember which one [you are]?” asked Colbert.

“Am I the president?” answered Bush, joking momentarily during an interview that was otherwise remorseful and chastened. And it came on the heels of another “Today” show host’s dismissal, morning show king Matt Lauer, this time over sexual misconduct allegations.

Bush’s return after more than a year in hiding equaled high ratings for Colbert — 3.6 million viewers, according to Nielsen research — but more than that, it signaled how low the bar has dropped for celebrities in terms of what is and isn’t considered an unforgivable act.

The alleged actions of Lauer, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Roy Moore and dozens more powerbrokers — whether fallen celebrities or politicians who are failing upward — render Bush’s behavior more like a childish learning moment in comparison.

Colbert spoke with his visibly nervous guest about why Bush, a cousin of former President George W. Bush, had finally decided to step back into the spotlight.

Bush’s said he was spurred by the president’s recent claim that the voice on the “Access Hollywood” video was not his own, even though Trump apologized last year for those taped boasts about forcibly grabbing women’s genitals after the recording leaked a month before the election.

“You don’t get to say that because I was there, and the last 14 months of my life I’ve been dealing with it and you dealt with it for 14 minutes and went on to be the president,” he said Monday, as if he were directly addressing the president.

“That is your voice. I was there. You were there. That is your voice on the tape,” said Bush.

Bush’s Colbert appearance followed a New York Times op-ed in which the former host reiterated that it was indeed Trump’s voice on that video, and that several more people had witnessed it.

No bombshell there. It was Bush’s return, and Colbert’s willingness to have him on the show, that was more of a surprise.

It was the latest evolutionary step in a national conversation/story/crisis about how America does or doesn’t value, defend and respect the rights of half its population: women and girls.

Welcoming Bush back into the fold signaled that network TV, at least, is willing to explore the gradations between stupid, abhorrent and criminal behavior toward women.

Accused serial offender Lauer was riding high, and Trump was accused by more than a dozen women of sexual misconduct, but Bush took the fall for giggling at his remarks. Perhaps it was time to hear what he had to say.

Billy Bush, left, interviewing Donald Trump in 2015.
Billy Bush, left, interviewing Donald Trump in 2015. (Rob Kim / Getty Images)

Colbert played the infamous tape as Bush winced, then asked his guest how he felt watching it today.

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“It’s a gut punch now,” said Bush, adding that at the time he didn’t believe Trump was being serious. “I equated it to some sort of crass stand-up act, like Andrew Dice Clay.” Bush said he felt he “sacrificed” who he was for the moment.

He had nothing of note to say about Lauer, even after Colbert pointed out that Lauer had a huge amount of power over who stayed and went on the “Today” show.

He did say, however, that an NBC exec later admitted they “moved on a little too quickly” when firing Bush, and he “would have liked a chance to address the audience.”

“I’m doing it now. Here we are,” he said.

Bush, whose demeanor was decidedly more solemn than his happy-go-lucky persona on the morning talk show circuit, said several times that he was propelled to come forward for all the women who were hurt by Trump’s claim that the “Access Hollywood” video was perhaps doctored. It’s “reopening wounds,” said Bush.

“Women must be believed. We have to find our way to have the dialogue. I’m worried the dialogue won’t come along,” he said.

He referred to his ill-fated conversation with Trump again, which had taken place on a tour bus on a lot where NBC was shooting. “The bus ride was the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

And so, too, was Bush’s first appearance after being one of the first casualties in the new war against sexism and sexual misconduct. Stay tuned for powerful men on all levels of the sexual misconduct spectrum to vie for a comeback, or prove why some are Teflon and others their fall guys.

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