After keeping a low profile since his career-sinking role as Donald Trump’s sophomoric sidekick in the Access Hollywood tape, former Today show host Bill Bush is primed for a comeback.
Over the weekend, the New York Times published an op-ed by Bush called “Yes, Donald Trump, You Said That,” in which he refutes Trump’s recent claims that someone else’s voice bragged about sexually assaulting women on a hot mic. On Monday, Bush made his first public appearance since 2016 as a guest on Late Night With Stephen Colbert.
That’s two major doses of Bush in the span of three days, and the first we’ve heard from him since he gave two interviews back in May: one to The Hollywood Reporter and the other to Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts.
At the time, Bush’s public contrition felt insufficient, the kind of vapid, mea culpa tour that disgraced celebrities subject themselves to because they’re tired of being unemployed and unemployable. But Bush’s attempt to recast himself as a more thoughtful version of the loud, obnoxious, preppy sycophant we loved to hate-watch didn’t quite take. So he retreated again, presumably to do more soul-searching and to wait for another opportunity to seek atonement.
Bush believes that opportunity is now, but this time he’s doubling down. Bush’s op-ed doubles down on how sorry he is to have “laughed along” as “America’s highest-rated bloviator” bragged about grabbing women by their genitals. He attributes it to a lack of “strength of character”; admonishing a man who was the network’s biggest star at the time was just too difficult. Bush was a company man and that company reportedly tripled his salary for the ease with which he handled celebrities like Trump.
But none of that information is new. Bush has already said that he has evolved his former frat-boy mentality. He’s a different man now. What makes his NYT op-ed stand out from Bush’s past repentance is the context in which it was written and published. America is in the midst of a public reckoning with both sexual harassment and with the man we elected to lead us. The #MeToo and anti-Trump movements are irrevocably linked and in his op-ed, Bush casts himself as a champion of both.
Make no mistake: Bush has every reason to resent Trump. He lost his job in the wake of the tape scandal and was forced to watch Trump rise to the presidency despite it. Even with allegations against him by nearly two dozen women, Trump’s comeuppance never came. Bush became a pariah. Now he wants us to know that he was opposed to Trump’s presidency even before the tape leaked. According to him, he knew Trump was a liar based on previous conversations and was repeatedly denied the opportunity to conduct a “serious interview” with the candidate. Because, as everyone knows, Billy Bush had a reputation for being a serious interviewer.
Bush has every reason to speak out against sexual harassment, as any person with a conscience should. He writes that he believes the women who have accused Trump of kissing and groping them against their will. He talks about how Trump’s attempt to discredit the tape has likely “reopened the wounds of the women who came forward with their stories about him, and did not receive enough attention.” He takes aim at the many men who have been accused of sexual assault in recent months. “I have faith that when the hard work of exposing these injustices is over, the current media drama of who did what to whom will give way to a constructive dialogue between mature men and women in the workplace and beyond.”
If his op-ed is just another step in his quest for forgiveness, then fine. The New York Times was willing to give him a forum and he would have been stupid not to have taken it. But Bush’s reemergence still feels ill-timed, cynical and unnecessary. The TV personality has explicitly said in the past that he wants to return to the small screen, and with Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose both out at their respective networks, there’s a few job openings. Is it any coincidence that in a time when it feels like no good men are left in broadcast television, Bush comes riding in on a moral high horse?
On Colbert, Bush again pointed out that Trump’s revisionist history can be harmful to his accusers. “Enough’s enough,” he said, addressing the president directly. “Stop playing around with people’s lives.” It was the only time the audience warmed up to Bush, who later lost the room when he explained his passivity toward Trump when he detailed his sexual assault strategy. “I sort of equated what he was saying to some kind of crass stand-up act. Like, you know, an Andrew Dice Clay performance,“ Bush said. "You figure, well that’s not Dice when he’s home. He doesn’t actually do those things.” If Bush’s first interview since he was fired from NBC was a litmus test for whether or not America will welcome him back with open arms, he has some work to do.
This nation was built on second chances and Bush will eventually be allowed to do the thing he loves in some capacity. He was never accused of sexual harassment, and we cannot and should not equate his behavior with Trump’s. If Americans are ready to welcome him back into their living rooms, it doesn’t mean that actual harassers like Kevin Spacey and Louis C.K. will be emboldened, too.
But this comeback needs to be earned and not the product of crisis management from a Beverly Hills boardroom. At a time when women in media are still fighting for an equal playing field and others have been deterred from pusruing their careers thanks to overt workplace sexim, there are plenty of people more deserving of the spotlight than a man who couldn’t find his way out of a locker room.