There is a growing sense of outrage at NBC's Today show - especially among the show's many female staffers - about comments Billy Bush made on a hot mic with Donald Trump during a taping for a 2005 Access Hollywood segment. And many of them are wondering what management is going to do about it.
"It's disgusting," said one female staffer. "He was already unpopular," said another, noting that Bush and his 9 a.m. co-anchor, Tamron Hall, have an icy relationship. Bush also has clashed on air with Al Roker over Bush's handling of an interview with Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte during which Bush failed to challenge Lochte's account of being held up at gunpoint in Rio.
NBC delayed releasing the tapes for nearly four days, according to the Washington Post, out of fear of a Trump lawsuit. A source confirms to THR that Access Hollywood and the news division held the audio until lawyer approval, standard for sensitive stories.
Trump and Bush were recorded using extremely vulgar and predatory language in a conversation about Nancy O'Dell, who was Bush's Access Hollywood co-host at the time. While Trump's comments are far worse, Bush very clearly eggs him on. Trump issued a video apology late Friday, after facing a rash of criticism. The Republican nominee for president was on Access Hollywood to promote a cameo appearance on the soap opera Days of Our Lives. The conversation was recorded on an Access Hollywood bus that was taking Trump, Bush and a camera crew to the Days set. Actress Arianne Zucker was waiting to escort Trump and when Bush spots her from inside the bus, he can be heard saying: "Sheesh, your girl's hot as shit, in the purple. Yes, the Donald has scored!" When they emerge from the bus, Bush encourages Zucker to hug Trump, and also asks for a hug himself.
Multiple sources at NBC News say there is growing concern that the scandal, if not handled quickly, could taint the entire Today show brand - one that counts women as its core viewer constituency. The incident comes at a time when the flagship 7-9 a.m. broadcast, co-hosted by Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie, has in the past year inched past rival Good Morning America in the critical 25-54 demographic. "How are any of the women [at Today] going to be expected to work with him?" asked a source close to the show.
So far, NBC News chairman Andy Lack and Noah Oppenheim, senior vp in charge of Today, have said nothing official to show personnel about how they will handle the situation. But observers note that they will have to address it before Monday, when Bush is scheduled to anchor alongside Hall.
On Friday night, an NBC source said there had been no discussions about disciplinary action or change of role or schedule for Bush. Bush issued an apology on Friday evening, saying: "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."
But the apology has so far not quieted a chorus of critical comments on Bush's Facebook page, many of them from women.
"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," wrote Facebook user Elissa Pearlman Taub. "I have already switched to Good Morning America and won't be back."
Facebook user Mike Collinson added: "Hey Billy! You behaved just as badly as Trump. You should be ashamed. You also owe that soap star an apology. Oh and also, every female in your life. You would be lucky to keep your job. You were on the job for god sake! Unbelievable."
Reps for Today declined to comment for this story.