First it was Ryan Lochte lying about being robbed in Rio, and now it’s Donald Trump’s startlingly lewd videotaped comments. For the second time in less than two months, TV personality Billy Bush is part of a major news story — but this time, he’s coming under fire.
Although Bush was working for entertainment news show “Access Hollywood” when he and Trump exchanged crass, caught-on-video remarks about women in 2005, he’s now a co-host of NBC News’ “Today” and, observers say, may have violated standards of journalism as well as civility.
At a minimum, the network should bar Bush from covering Trump and the presidential race, said Mark Feldstein, a former broadcast journalist and now a professor at the University of Maryland. If Bush failed to disclose the Trump exchange to his NBC News bosses, then more is demanded, he said.
“If he actively covered up information that he knew would embarrass a presidential candidate,” that is a “firing offense” for a journalist whose job is to inform the public, Feldstein said.
Even as a host on “Access Hollywood,” Bush should have known better, said Jonathan Handel, an entertainment industry lawyer and teacher at the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law.
“Someone in even a faux-journalist position has a lot of power to influence attitudes and behavior,” Handel said. “This isn’t so much about journalist ethics as it is the line between respectful behavior and vulgar behavior.”
Bush should recuse himself from election coverage because it would be inappropriate to have him report on “a campaign where his attitude toward women and the candidate (Trump) is compromised,” he said.
NBC did not respond Friday when asked whether the incident would affect Bush’s role on “Today,” which he’s had since August. He is co-host of the morning show’s third hour, which tends to focus on lighter stories. Bush’s interview with Lochte at Brazil’s Summer Olympics, in which the swimmer first claimed he was a crime victim, was an atypical news story for Bush.
The Trump video, which immediately swamped media headlines and drew rare apologies from Trump, stemmed from a visit that he and Bush paid to a soap opera set a decade ago.
In the video, which was first published by The Washington Post, Trump brags to Bush about kissing, groping and trying to have sex with women who were not his wife. Trump was apparently unaware that a live microphone caught the exchange.
In a statement released by NBC News, Bush apologized Friday for his part in the encounter.
“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 said.
Bush, 44, has his own political connection: His father, Jonathan Bush, is the brother of former President George H.W. Bush. According to Billy Bush’s NBC News biography posted online, he earned a bachelor’s degree in international studies and government from Colby College in Maine.
He and Trump spoke as the future Republican presidential candidate prepared to tape a cameo on the daytime soap “Days of Our Lives.” As they arrived at the studio, Bush spotted an actress, Arianne Zucker, who was to accompany them onto the set.
“Sheesh, your girl’s hot as (expletive). In the purple,” Bush said, referring to the color of Zucker’s dress. “Whoa, the Donald is good! Whoa, my man!”
“I’ve gotta use some Tic Tacs, just in case I start kissing her,” Trump said. “You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful ... I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”
“Grab them by the p----. You can do anything,” Trump added.
The two men then greet Zucker, and Bush plays matchmaker.
“How about a little hug for the Donald?” he says to the actress, adding, “How about a little hug for the Bushy?”
“Access Hollywood” said Friday its producers examined the show’s hundreds of Trump interviews following an Associated Press story earlier this week in which former cast and crew members of “The Apprentice” recounted lewd and sexist comments made by Trump.
There were seven other people on the bus with Trump and Bush at the time, including “Access Hollywood” staffers, members of Trump’s staff and a bus driver. The crew left the bus to film Trump and Bush exiting it, but their microphones were left on recording their conversation.