*NBC’s “Today” show has moved to temporarily distance itself from Billy Bush for his part in the 2005 “Access Hollywood” video that surfaced Friday showing GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump boasting about his sexual harassment of women.
Bush has been suspended from his gig on “Today’s” third hour pending a review, according to Variety, potentially derailing the network’s ongoing effort to make that hour more competitive.
“Let me be clear — there is simply no excuse for Billy’s language and behavior on that tape,” said Noah Oppenheim, the NBC News senior vice president who oversees “Today,” in a memo to staffers.
“NBC has decided to suspend Billy, pending further review of this matter,” Oppenheim added.
According to Variety, NBC News spent the entire weekend trying to figure out what to do with Bush, who last made headlines in August when he baffled co-anchor Al Roker with his defense of Ryan Lochte after the Olympic swimmer admitted lying about being robbed at gunpoint.
Via Variety’s Brian Steinberg:
Indeed, there is speculation within NBC News that the anchor will not return to the program. One person familiar with the situation suggested NBC News was in the process of determining whether it might end Bush’s contract.
NBC News wrangled with what to do about Bush all weekend. In the wake of Friday’s disclosure of the tape, the anchor issued a statement, saying he was “embarrassed and ashamed.” As of Friday night, NBC had hoped his offer of contrition would be enough. All weekend, however, as news outlets played the tape multiple times, Bush’s comments could be heard. In the outtake, he eggs Trump on as the real-estate tycoon talks about harassing and assaulting women with unwanted sexual attention. Perhaps the network hoped audiences would place blame squarely on the Republican candidate for President. Bush, however, sounded like a willing accomplice.
Even “Saturday Night Live,” an NBC program that has shied away from controversy involving NBC News figures in the past, took a shot. In the show’s opening sketch this past weekend. Alec Baldwin played Donald Trump being interviewed on CNN about his conversation with Bush, saying “I mean what normal, red-blooded American doesn’t want to impress Billy Bush?”
“I know we’ve all been deeply troubled by the revelations of the past 48 hours.,” said Oppenheim in the statement. NBC News offered no information about how long the review might last or what the scope of the network’s investigation might be.
Should Bush leave, NBC could pursue other options. Willie Geist and Natalie Morales, who had helped host the third hour of “Today” for several years, moved on to new roles within NBC News after it became known that a deal had been secured to bring Bush to the program. Would either of them return? Morales moved to Los Angeles to take up Bush’s former “Access Hollywood” job. Geist continues to contribute to “Morning Joe” and has taken the reins of a Sunday broadcast of “Today” designed just for him. NBC News and Geist had been engaged in discussions to renew his contract, which is slated to lapse at the end of this year. If the two sides have come to terms, they have yet to announce it. Jenna Bush has recently been in consideration for a new role and weekend “Today” meteorologist Dylan Dreyer continues to get more airtime on the program.