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Billy Bush and NBC are negotiating his exit from NBC News, sources tell The Hollywood Reporter.
His impending exit — which could come this week — will cap a whirlwind few days that began last Friday, when the Washington Post released video of a lewd and misogynistic 2005 conversation between Bush, then the co-host of NBC’s Access Hollywood, and GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.
The tape has imperiled Trump’s candidacy less than a month before the election and upended Bush’s short tenure at the Today show; he joined the program full-time in September. Since the tape was revealed, NBC’s social media platforms have been deluged with negative comments, while Hollywood publicists also have promised to keep their clients away from Today if Bush remains.
Marcel Pariseau, a partner at True Public Relations, who has a number of high-profile female clients, including Scarlett Johansson, wrote on Facebook: “He was rude and lewd to a few female clients of mine. Boycotting the 9 a.m. hour of the Today show.”
When the tape leaked, one celebrity publicist told THR, “People who were already booked on the Today show were saying, ‘Maybe we should look at GMA or make sure it’s not him doing the interview.’ There are people who wouldn’t talk to him before the news. At Access, he was always ‘that guy.’ There were people who were anxious about him before he started [on Today].”
Hive Collective co-founder Bumble Ward, whose clients include Sofia Coppola and Mira Nair, wrote on her Facebook page: “At last year’s Oscars he was the only interviewer who was downright dismissive of my asking him, very politely, and before the rush of celebrities hit him, whether he’d like to speak to my (nominated) director client. He actually turned away with a roll of the eyes.”
Bush boasted about his lewd conversation with Trump as far back as last summer, THR has confirmed. Page Six reported Monday night that Bush talked up the Trump tape when he was in Rio for NBC’s coverage of the Summer Olympics. But NBC News sources have stressed that news management did not learn about the existence of the tape until early last week, on Monday night or Tuesday morning. And they immediately began vetting it with in-house legal counsel to clear it for release. NBC News declined comment.
Bush was recruited to join the 9 a.m. iteration of Today amid faltering ratings for the third hour of NBC’s morning news franchise. He supplanted Willie Geist, who now hosts the Sunday edition of Today and also continues to appear on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. Sources at NBC News tell THR that even before the release of the tape, Bush had alienated many staffers at Today, including his co-host Tamron Hall. And the tape only hardened many of his colleagues against him.
He issued an apology on Friday, the day the tape became public. “Obviously I’m embarrassed and ashamed. It’s no excuse, but this happened 11 years ago — I was younger, less mature and acted foolishly in playing along. I’m very sorry,” Bush said in a statement.
But an initial plan to let him apologize again on the Today show this week was scuttled after the show’s predominantly female staff expressed outrage that he would not suffer any consequences. And by Sunday evening, less than two hours before the second presidential debate began, Today senior vp Noah Oppenheim sent an email to staffers informing them that Bush was suspended indefinitely.
“Let me be clear — there is simply no excuse for Billy’s language and behavior on that tape,” Oppenheim wrote. “NBC has decided to suspend Billy, pending further review of this matter.”
On the tape, Bush is heard engaging in a lewd conversation with Trump about Nancy O’Dell, who was then Bush’s Access Hollywood co-host, as well as Days of Our Lives actress Arianna Zucker. He also very clearly encourages Zucker to hug Trump and also asks Zucker for a “hug for the Bushy.”
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