Billy Bush is scheduled to be back on NBC’s “Today” show on Monday despite a chorus of calls for disciplinary action.
If there are no last-minute changes and he does appear on the show, Bush will reiterate his apology for a vulgar conversation that was caught on tape and revealed last Friday. The 2005 conversation between Bush and Donald Trump has rocked the presidential race, caused some Republican leaders to retract their endorsements of Trump, and raised questions about his fitness for office.
It has also raised questions about the future of Bush, who is a cousin of both former President George W. Bush and 2016 Trump opponent Jeb Bush. At the time the video was captured, he was a co-host of NBC’s entertainment show “Access Hollywood.” Now he is a key player on the “Today” show, the profit engine of NBC News. Some observers believe he is being groomed to take over for Matt Lauer someday.
No one quite knows what’s going to happen with Bush now. Publicly, NBC News is not saying anything. Privately, sources at the network say he has not been reprimanded.
“He’s very well aware how bad this is,” said a person who has been speaking with him.
Monday’s broadcast will be a barometer of sorts.
Bush issued a forthright apology statement on Friday, but it did not quiet the calls for action by NBC. There is an online petition circulating, and there are hundreds of outraged comments on the “Today” show’s social media pages.
On top of that, as Anthony Quintano — who formerly ran the “Today” show’s social media efforts — pointed out on Friday, “a majority of the ‘Today’ show production staff is female.” It “won’t go over well internally to keep Billy Bush around,” Quintano said in a tweet.
But the “Today” show has made a multi-million-dollar bet on Bush, recently relocating him from Los Angeles to New York and making him a co-host of the 9 a.m. hour of “Today.”
The 9 a.m. hour is heavy with lifestyle fare, with less political news than the earlier hours. Still, it is a product of NBC News, so the news division has ethical considerations to make about Bush’s role in the tape — and in ongoing coverage of the election.
Decisions about releasing the “Access Hollywood” tape reached to the highest level of NBCUniversal, to the office of CEO Steve Burke, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday.
An NBC source confirmed Burke’s involvement and reiterated that the network was preparing to broadcast a report about the tape when it was leaked to the Washington Post on Friday.
Adding a slightly bizarre element to the story, the New York Times reported Sunday that the outgoing voicemail message on Bush’s extension at NBC says, “You’ve reached Billy Bush’s office, he’s busy making America great again, please leave a message.” The voice is apparently not his.