After two weeks of working abroad together, any group of co-workers would slowly start to despise each other. There's no telling what happened with NBC's "Today" team, but the morning show is coming home from the Rio Olympics after a now-viral heated exchange between Billy Bush and Al Roker — as well as tabloid rumors of behind-the-scenes drama.
Bush and Roker's Friday spat (about how much Ryan Lochte lied about the now-debunked robbery) drew so much attention over the weekend that they felt the need to explain it on Monday morning's show.
"People don't know that … we're friends. We've known each other a long time," Roker said during the 9 a.m. hour. "And that this is what we do on this show."
Okay then! The "Today" show has long been plagued by whispers of anchor infighting, but at the root of this recent debacle is Lochte, the swimmer who caused an international incident when he lied about being robbed at gunpoint with his teammates. Last week, Bush scored the first interview with Lochte after he happened to bump into him when initial robbery reports were making the rounds.
During the interview, filmed on the beach on another reporter's iPhone, Lochte told an elaborate tale of the swimmers getting pulled over in a taxi by robbers posing as Brazilian cops. Bush's exclusive fueled international coverage of the story — "Today" even devoted a segment to how he landed the scoop. But soon, people (and police) started poking holes in Lochte's version of events.
Then, on Wednesday, "Today" anchor Matt Lauer landed a follow-up phone interview with Lochte, in which the swimmer walked back some of the details, though mostly stuck to his original claims. While the New York Times criticized NBC for not vetting Lochte's claims in the first place, Page Six lasered in on the workplace politics angle: "Matt Lauer swooped in on Billy Bush's Ryan Lochte scoop," the tabloid trumpeted, quoting a source saying that "NBC snubbed Billy and let Matt do it. Billy got burned."
And of course, Lauer got the biggest story of all Saturday night when he got a sit-down with Lochte after his tale completely unraveled; the interview continued on "Today" Monday morning.
In addition, before the Lauer interviews, Page Six had already published an item about how Bush — the former "Access Hollywood" anchor who just joined "Today" this summer — was getting iced out, "Mean Girls"-style, by his new "Today" colleagues.
However, the crowning moment of "Today" tension came Friday morning when Bush sat with weatherman Roker and correspondent Natalie Morales to discuss Lochte again. Bush started on the defensive.
"We were just having a little debate here. I was playing devil's advocate," Bush informed viewers of the trio's off-camera discussion. "You guys both seem to be very hopped up that Lochte has done the ultimate, the worst thing: That 'ugly American that travels abroad.'"
Roker admitted that they got "a little worked up" talking about it, as Bush said Lochte didn't "quite lie" about the robber details.
"He lied about some details — " Bush started.
"No! No, Billy, not some details," Roker shot back as Morales tried to jump in. "There was no robbery. There was no pullover. There was nothing! Nobody cocked a gun to his head. He lied!"
"Okay, calm down, listen," Bush said, visibly frustrated, as the three debated over the details once more. Soon, footage of Roker silently fuming while stirring his drink became a meme:
On Monday's show, anchor Tamron Hall mentioned the Roker meme. Roker explained that he and Bush had gotten into an argument Friday (before stopping himself and changing the description to "heated discussion") and clarified they're all pals. He theorized that the scene went viral because the Lochte controversy "was such a big deal."
Bush also defended himself for semi-sticking up for Lochte — which the Internet had pounced on when viewers became Team Roker. "I spoke with our boss ahead of time," Bush said. "My goal is to play a little devil's advocate here, just so we don't have three opinions the same."