Billy Bush was already a polarizing figure for NBC. The former “Access Hollywood” host had a rocky transition when he joined the “Today” show as a co-anchor this summer, thanks to a viral argument with weatherman Al Roker about whether embattled swimmer Ryan Lochte lied about his alleged robbery.
On Friday, Bush’s public image was damaged — perhaps beyond repair — after The Washington Post published audio of a 2005 conversation between Bush and Donald Trump, captured on a hot mic, in which the now-Republican presidential nominee used extremely vulgar terms to talk about groping women.
Trump was about to tape an “Access Hollywood” segment promoting his upcoming cameo on the soap opera, “Days of Our Lives.” For much of the conversation, the two men are aboard a bus branded “Access Hollywood,” and do not appear on camera. As Trump recounts his failed attempts to seduce a woman — often invoking crude language — the laughter of others can be heard in response. At times in the audio, it’s unclear if Bush or another man is talking.
When they notice actress Arianne Zucker waiting to escort them to set, Bush says, “Your girl’s hot as s—, in the purple.” Trump responds: “Whoa!” And off the bus, Bush says to Zucker, “How about a little hug for the Donald? He just got off the bus.”
A representative for Bush did not immediately return The Post’s inquiry. Neither did a rep for “Today” or one for “Access Hollywood.” NBC News, which oversees “Today,” declined to comment.
There hasn’t been talk internally at the network yet about disciplining Bush over the tape, according to people familiar with the discussion.
On Friday evening Bush issued an apology: “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.”
“Access Hollywood” addressed the story on its Friday show, with host Natalie Morales revealing that former co-host Nancy O’Dell was the woman that Trump was talking about when he said in the footage, “I did try and f— her. She was married.”
The show also aired video footage of Trump and Bush on the bus, where they were accompanied by seven other people, including the “Access” camera crew and Trump’s security and publicist. Trump tells Bush he didn’t really want to be on “Days of Our Lives,” but NBC wanted him to make the cameo.
Morales did not directly comment on Bush’s behavior or his status with the network.
Bush and Trump have appeared together on camera before. In 2004, the then-”Access Hollywood” accompanied Trump to the polls on Election Day.
Bush also hosted both the Miss Universe and Miss USA pageants between 2003 and 2005, and again in 2009. Trump purchased the Miss Universe organization in 1996.
Bush, 44, is the nephew of George H.W. Bush and cousin of George W. Bush. He got his start in radio before landing a job at the NBC affiliate in New York. He joined NBC’s syndicated entertainment program “Access Hollywood” as a correspondent in 2001 and has been a constant presence on NBC platforms ever since; he was eventually promoted to “Access Hollywood” co-anchor and frequently reported for the “Today” show, from award shows to Olympics coverage.
In May, NBC announced that Bush would join “Today” full-time as a co-anchor in the 9 a.m. hour, citing his “boundless energy, a great interviewing style and a deep knowledge of pop culture.” (Willie Geist, previously in that role, now hosts the Sunday edition of “Today” is a co-anchor on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” Natalie Morales, also a former “Today” co-anchor, replaced Bush at “Access Hollywood” in Los Angeles.)
Bush’s tenure on the “Today” show got off to a rough start in August while in Rio covering the summer Olympics. He was the first reporter to interview Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte after the swimmer claimed he was robbed at gunpoint. When details of Lochte’s story fell apart, “Today” host Matt Lauer then landed a follow-up interview, which Page Six reported was an intentional “snub” of Bush, and that Bush was already getting iced out by his “Today” show colleagues.
Rumors of internal drama heated up even more when Bush and weatherman Al Roker got into a heated discussion on air about how much Lochte stretched the truth. Bush played “devil’s advocate” as he argued that Lochte lied about “some” details.
“No! No, Billy, not ‘some’ details,” Roker shot back. “There was no robbery. There was no pullover. There was nothing! Nobody cocked a gun to his head. He lied!” Both anchors were visibly frustrated, and a meme of Roker, appearing silently furious as he stirred his drink, went viral — with lots of viewers taking Roker’s side.
Bush was presumably added to the “Today” show roster to improve ratings for the 9 a.m. hour. But on Friday, as the Trump video circulated the Internet, comments flooded in, many from women — the “Today” show’s target audience.
“Between your ineptitude on the Lochte story and this disgusting interaction with Trump, I hope the execs at NBC take a good, long look in the mirror to understand just how low their organization has stooped,” one wrote. “I have already switched to Good Morning America and won’t be back.”
Bush apparently deleted his Twitter account in the wake of the Lochte controversy. And as of 5 p.m. on Friday, his Facebook and Instagram account remained public.
His most recent Facebook post shows him holding a plate of bacon with a group of people.
“If you invite the viewers in and give them bacon they will watch you forever,” reads the photo’s caption. “That’s my strategy.”
Below, the negative comments piled up, attacking him for the 2005 conversation with Trump.
In a statement, Trump called the remarks “locker room banter, a private conversation that took place many years ago. Bill Clinton has said far worse to me on the golf course – not even close. I apologize if anyone was offended.”
[Paul Farhi contributed to this report.]