Critic's Notebook: A Chastened Billy Bush Strikes Back at Trump on 'Colbert'

In his first talk-show appearance since the release of the 'Access Hollywood' tape, the former NBC personality expressed contrition for his complicity.

It's come to this. Billy Bush is now a more credible figure than the president of the United States.

Of course, that's not exactly an achievement. Nearly everyone on the planet is more credible than Donald Trump, who lies even when he doesn't have to, like a muscle that he has to constantly use to keep in shape. 

Recently, Trump has taken to lying about the infamous 2005 Access Hollywood tape in which he boasted about, well, you know. He reportedly told a senator and others that it's not really his voice on the tape, that it was doctored. The remarkable thing about this particular lie is that Trump long ago admitted that it was him speaking. He even apologized for it, describing his offensive language as mere "locker room talk." You can understand his confusion. He lies so much that he can't even keep track of what he's lied about. On the other hand, he might be telling the truth. Perhaps the voice on the tape is that of "John Miller," the Trump publicist who used to call reporters to deliver scoops about his client and who was, of course, Trump himself. 

When the tape leaked out one month prior to the presidential election, everyone assumed Trump's candidacy was toast. But he went on to be elected president. Meanwhile, Bush, whose crime was giggling at Trump's vicious boasts of sexual harassment and assault like they were both still in middle school, was unceremoniously canned by NBC. You have to hand it to Trump. It's not easy to make Billy Bush appear sympathetic.

Trump's recent denials have prompted Bush to come out of Witness Protection. He penned an op-ed for The New York Times in which he wrote that Trump was "indulging in revisionist history." "Of course he said it," Bush commented about Trump's disgusting remarks. He also described Trump as a "bloviator," which must have really stung because that's the New York Post's favorite word for Trump's bete noire, Alec Baldwin.

On Monday night, Bush appeared on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert to once again refute Trump's refutal. He did so with a disarming display of ironic humor and what seemed like genuine remorse. "I would also like to say that's not me on the tape," he joked.

Colbert made the point that it was Trump's recent comments, plus the current charged atmosphere in which sexual harassers and assaulters are finally being called to account, that put the Access Hollywood tape back in the spotlight. He also played an excerpt from the tape, much to Bush's obvious discomfort.

Explaining that he played along with what he considered to be a "crass stand-up act" by Trump, Bush seemed contrite. "I feel like I sacrificed a little bit of who I am," he told Colbert. Colbert asked him if he could decipher the specific meaning of one of Trump's remarks. This led to one of the stranger moments in late-night talk show history, with the two men dissecting the phrase "I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn't get there," like rabbis poring over a quote from the Talmud.

Bush kept invoking the word "irony," making it sound like a mantra he had memorized. It certainly applied to his description of entering a spiritual retreat on the exact day that Trump was sworn in as president. Bush also expressed rage, saying of Trump, "Enough's enough! Stop playing around with people's lives!"

It's been said that the movement against sexual misconduct is the result of Trump getting elected. Bush embraced the idea, saying, "The bus ride was the tip of the iceberg." If that's truly the case, it's at least one good thing for which we can give Donald Trump the credit.