Billy Bush has been suspended from NBC’s “Today” show pending a review, according to the executive who oversees the morning-news franchise, potentially ending months of work designed to make the show’s third hour more competitive.
“Let me be clear — there is simply no excuse for Billy’s language and behavior on that tape,” said Noah Oppenheim, the NBC News senior vice president who oversees “Today,” in a memo to staffers. He was referring to a 2005 “Access Hollywood” outtake that recently surfaced showing Bush and Donald Trump discussing sexual harassment of women in extremely lewd terms. “NBC has decided to suspend Billy, pending further review of this matter,” Oppenheim said.
The decision marks the latest contretemps to mar Bush’s short tenure at the show. Indeed, there is speculation within NBC News that the anchor will not return to the program. One person familiar with the situation suggested NBC News was in the process of determining whether it might end Bush’s contract.
NBC News declined to comment.
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 stumbled noticeably. 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.
NBC News wrangled with what to do about Bush all weekend. In the wake of Friday’s disclosure of the tape, the anchor issued a statement, saying he was “embarrassed and ashamed.” As of Friday night, NBC had hoped his offer of contrition would be enough. All weekend, however, as news outlets played the tape multiple times, Bush’s comments could be heard. In the outtake, he eggs Trump on as the real-estate tycoon talks about harassing and assaulting women with unwanted sexual attention. Perhaps the network hoped audiences would place blame squarely on the Republican candidate for President. Bush, however, sounded like a willing accomplice.
Even “Saturday Night Live,” an NBC program that has shied away from controversy involving NBC News figures in the past, took a shot. In the show’s opening sketch this past weekend. Alec Baldwin played Donald Trump being interviewed on CNN about his conversation with Bush, saying “I mean what normal, red-blooded American doesn’t want to impress Billy Bush?”
“I know we’ve all been deeply troubled by the revelations of the past 48 hours.,” said Oppenheim in the statement. NBC News offered no information about how long the review might last or what the scope of the network’s investigation might be.
Should Bush leave, NBC could pursue other options. Willie Geist and Natalie Morales, who had helped host the third hour of “Today” for several years, moved on to new roles within NBC News after it became known that a deal had been secured to bring Bush to the program. Would either of them return? Morales moved to Los Angeles to take up Bush’s former “Access Hollywood” job. Geist continues to contribute to “Morning Joe” and has taken the reins of a Sunday broadcast of “Today” designed just for him. NBC News and Geist had been engaged in discussions to renew his contract, which is slated to lapse at the end of this year. If the two sides have come to terms, they have yet to announce it. Jenna Bush has recently been in consideration for a new role and weekend “Today” meteorologist Dylan Dreyer continues to get more airtime on the program.