UPDATED: NBC will be keeping the troubled anchor Billy Bush off Monday’s broadcast of “Today,” an NBC News spokesperson confirmed, as the network grapples with how to handle an embarrassing “Access Hollywood” tape showing the anchor egging on Donald Trump as he made a stream of sexually charged remarks about women.
The situation remained in flux as early as Sunday morning, a source told Variety, which first reported the news that NBC was mulling keeping Bush off the show. One of the scenarios being considered was that Al Roker and Tamron Hall would host Monday’s broadcast of the 9 a.m. hour of “Today,” while Bush would be sidelined. Roker was supposed to have taken the day off to deal with a surgical procedure, but is preparing to appear on air, this person said. The ultimate direction is being handed down by executives above Noah Oppenheim, the senior vice president and executive in charge of “Today.”
NBC’s handling of Bush on “Today” is complicated by the fact that the network is on the defensive for taking several days to release the damaging “Access Hollywood” material about Trump, allowing the Washington Post to beat NBC at its own story. Observers have noted that NBC faced legal questions regarding the “Access Hollywood” recording that the Post did not.
“NBC News did exactly what you would expect from a great news organization,” a spokesman said. “As soon as we saw the tape and made the assessment it was undoubtedly newsworthy, we moved quickly and deliberately to get it published and to do so in the most responsible way.”
In the 2005 video, first brought to light Friday in a Washington Post report, Bush and Trump were overheard on open mics discussing Trump’s efforts to seduce women, particularly female celebrities. At various times, Bush is heard laughing or egging on the real-estate tycoon. Bush was a host of “Access Hollywood” before joining “Today” earlier this year. On Friday, Bush issued a statement of apology, noting he was “embarrassed and ashamed.”
The mood at “Today” is “anxious,” according to the person familiar with the matter, particularly among female staffers, who view the revelations about Bush’s involvement with the incident to be of great professional concern. The show’s audience is strongly female, and after a newsy 7 a.m. hour, “Today” tackles more feature-oriented material, including cooking demonstrations and celebrity interviews
Bush was brought aboard “Today” to lend a different tone to the 9 a.m. hour of the show, which competes directly in many markets with the popular syndicated program “Live,” featuring Kelly Ripa. Since joining the program during the Summer Olympics, however, Bush has tilled rocky ground. An interview he had with swimmer Ryan Lochte turned out to have been filled with misinformation, and he was chastised on air by fellow anchor Roker in a segment that gained a lot of digital pass-around.