Billy Bush is speaking out to debunk any notion that the voice that accompanied his own on that infamous “Access Hollywood” tape might not belong to Donald Trump.
“You don't get to say that because I was there,” the former “Today” show co-host said in a direct address to the president on CBS's “Late Show” Monday night. Bush wrote the same thing in Monday's New York Times.
Kudos to Bush for providing a reality check, but let's keep a couple things in mind, as we listen.
The first is that the act of confronting Trump doubles as image rehab for Bush, whom NBC fired shortly after The Post published the tape in October 2016. Bush, 46, has not yet landed a comeback gig.
Page Six reported shortly after the election that Breitbart News was courting him to lead its entertainment coverage but that the position was not exactly what Bush had in mind. The tabloid quoted a “media insider,” who said, “Billy’s ego is big. He likes to be a TV star and would want to go to a rival like ABC or CBS.”
That hasn't happened. The Daily Mail reported in July that Bush would host a reboot of the “Top 30" news show on Fox, but representatives for the network and Bush quickly shot down the story. The hosting job went to Richard Bacon and Kristin Smith.
If Bush wants to return to big-time television, then calling out Trump's baseless conspiracy theory is one way to help the cause. Sitting through another airing of the tape with Stephen Colbert on Monday made Bush appear noble, in a way — like he was willing to put himself through additional public embarrassment in the name of truth.
That's not to say Bush's interest in setting the record straight is not genuine; it's to say that he might have more than one reason to talk.
The second thing to remember is that we simply don't know very much about the way Bush interacted with women during his time on “Today” and “Access Hollywood.” Yet one of the underlying assumptions of Bush's appearance on “The Late Show” was that he never actually engaged in the kind of behavior that he discussed with Trump on the tape.
Consider this exchange:
COLBERT: I would describe your behavior as, like, boorish and sort of callow or something like that, but you're not the person bragging about assault. You're not the person who is accused of assault.
COLBERT: One of you lost your job, and one of you became president of the United States.
BUSH: It's ironic.
The premise here is that Bush is not as bad as Trump but suffered a worse fate. Bush went on to say that a former boss at NBC later expressed some regret at having made the firing decision so quickly. Bush also talked about checking into some kind of “soul-searching retreat” on the day that Trump took office.
Bush seems to want to believe that a) he was unjustly penalized, in the first place, and b) has improved himself since. Both things could be true, but we are in a moment when men who once had better reputations than Bush — like, say, Bush's former “Today” co-star, Matt Lauer — are being accused of serial harassment.
It would be unfair to assume, based on a single conversation with Trump, that Bush mistreated women in real life. But Bush is asking us to assume the opposite — that he didn't mistreat women but merely failed to protest what he believed to be a “crass standup act” by Trump. Bush claimed to Colbert that his conscience circa 2005 was so strong that he would have called the FBI, had he believed Trump was serious about groping and kissing women without consent.
Maybe he would have, but Bush's current narrative demands an awful lot of faith.