I remember Billy Bush.
In my early college years, he would show up on various clips on television, talking about the latest celebrity gossip news and the newest movies. I never gave him much thought. I remember thinking that he was a lot like Ryan Seacrest, a very white guy, moderately good-looking, middle-aged, well-groomed, with a good radio voice, the perfect white guy host for white guy Hollywood.
I remember wondering if he was connected to the Bush family of presidents, and turns out he is, George H.W. Bush is his uncle, and George W. his cousin. Which also means he grew up with a lot of money and privilege. In fact, a quick Google search of his father, Jonathan Bush, shows him to be a prominent and wealthy banker who has had a number of financial scandals over the years, including potential ties to money laundering and illicit Saudi investments. (Jonathan is still alive. He’s 85. And, weirdly, he sounds a little like Donald Trump. Daddy issues?)
Well, suddenly, with that fact, Billy’s kid brother relationship to Donald Trump makes a lot more sense.
A few days ago, a tape from 2005 surfaced. At the time, Billy was in his early 30s, with a career in radio and television established for him. His radio show was called, and I kid you not, Billy Bush and the Bush League Morning Show. After a few co-hosting gigs, Bush moved himself to Los Angeles and got an ongoing gig with Access Hollywood. As a co-anchor, he started raking in the money, and his name became very well known. And on the side, he hosted reality shows and competitions, kept a radio show going, and showed up at various events for reporting, like the Oscars and the Olympics.
Billy married his wife Sydney Davis, in the late 1990s, and they had three daughters. I have no doubt Billy is a loving husband and father, and he has very lovely things to say about his family being in priority in multiple interviews.
Yet somewhere along the way, Billy got connected to his twisted older-brother-father-figure, Donald Trump, a billionaire who often declared bankruptcy, and a man two decades older than Bush. I’m unsure of the true nature of their friendship, but it is clear the two were more than just professional acquaintances. Billy traveled around with Trump, interviewed him on various shows, and he began hosting Donald’s Miss Universe pageants, a job that I’m eerily sure Donald Trump hand-selected him for. And that’s all kinds of creepy. Trump has stated, for example, that he would walk in on his changing contestants to do inspections, and that they couldn’t keep him out because he was the boss; where was Bush with all of this? Participating? Watching from the shadows with that eerie laugh of his? I’m sure there is much more to this story.
Anyway, in 2016, Billy Bush got the ultimate break in his career, when he was upgraded to a host of Today with a nice salary boost. And then, a few months later, his world caved in.
The released 2005 video footage from last weekend, in which Bush and Trump are on a bus with their microphones on, show Donald Trump talking about trying to coerce Billy’s co-host, Nancy O’Dell, into having sex, despite the fact that he was married. He then shames O’Dell’s new look, “fake tits” and all. Billy sits by, laughing consistently and encouraging Donald on, somehow temporarily forgetting his wife and daughters at home. (Donald was also newly married, with a pregnant super-model wife, and was the father of two daughters).
The bus then pulls up to the soap opera set where they are working, and Billy comments on Arianne Zucker, the actress waiting to greet them, and Bush tells Trump that she is “hot as shit”, adding “Yes, the Donald has scored!” Donald grabs some Tic-Tacs in case he wants to forcibly kiss the woman, as Billy keeps laughing, and Donald says how he just starts kissing women, against their will, and even grabs their genitalia, and they let him do it because he’s a star. Billy just keeps laughing, commenting on Zucker’s legs with impeccable English. “That’s good legs.”
They get off the bus, and Billy pushes Zucker into giving Trump a hug. “How about a little hug for the Donald? He just got off the bus.” (Because getting off a bus is such hard work for men, and they clearly deserve a reward. Note: Donald had a hard time opening the bus door). Bush then asks for one himself, “How about a little hug for the Bushy? I just got off the bus.” (Again, hard work, he deserves his reward, right?) Zucker appears uncomfortable, having originally greeted the men professionally, with a handshake, but complies with the hug, cameras rolling the entire time.
Also, he affectionately calls himself “the Bushy”. This is clearly not the first time he has used this nickname, and I can only presume that he not only thinks it works well for him, but that it has elicited positive results for him with women before and after this, each woman grating with disgust as they moved in for the “Bushy hug” with fake smiles plastered on their faces.
Since this has gone down, Billy has been called names and repeatedly shamed over Twitter by critics who say he is repugnant and disgusting. He has been suspended from his Today show job, and he has offered public apologies, saying he is ashamed. And some feel that this is unfair, that he wasn’t the primary instigator, and that the comments are over a decade old. Many are dismissing them, as Donald keeps saying in presidential addresses, as “locker room talk”.
I’ve been in locker rooms, as a teenager, as a college student, and as a grown-up. I’ve heard men refer to women with lewd statements in such settings. It’s inexcusable, and I have never participated, and when I’m uncomfortable I say something or walk away. For some, talk like this is an every day occurrence. Teenage boys and college frat guys sit around dissing on women and objectifying them.
But here’s where I have a very difficult time with that argument. First, we have to presume that Trump has talked like this with many other men on many other occasions, and we have to presume the same about Bush. We also have to presume that the two of them talked like this often, about co-stars and about Miss Universe contestants. But even if this was an isolated incident, even if this is the only time it ever happened between the two men, it was hardly locker room talk. It’s sexual harassment in the workplace.
What we have, in this video, is pure sexual harassment. Two men in the workplace, one in his thirties and one in his fifties, sitting around and laughing about their female coworkers, relegating them to the status of sexual objects and referring to their, and I quote, “tits” and “pussies.” Lawsuits, terminations, and criminal prosecutions have taken place on less. If their mics had been off, it would be disgusting still, but they did it with their mics on, where anyone could hear them, and with cameras rolling just off the bus. Think about that for a moment.
I will maintain my disdain for Donald Trump and his unfitness to be president. I can only imagine how embarrassed his inner circle is, particularly the women he surrounds himself with, namely his wife, daughters, and campaign managers.
But this entry isn’t about Donald Trump, it’s about Billy Bush. And he is hardly innocent in all of this as either. Looking past the extreme irony that his last name is also a euphemism for female genitalia, the fact that this man with a decades-long career in Hollywood is being held accountable for his misogynistic and sexist words and actions is absolutely appropriate.
Being a well-meaning, hard-working professional who is also a loving husband and father, does not excuse sexual harassment, even when you shrug it off as locker room talk. Sexism is sexism, and harassment is harassment.