“Today” co-anchor Billy Bush is negotiating his exit from NBC News, four days after his fortunes at the network were destroyed by the revelation of his vulgar hot-mic conversation with Donald Trump in 2005.
NBC News sources acknowledged Tuesday that talks were underway for Bush to leave the network. A source close to Bush said negotiations to settle his contract were ongoing, but not expected to be completed until later this week, given that Wednesday is the Yom Kippur holiday. The decision for Bush to leave marks a lightning-speed downfall for an anchor who was seen as being groomed for a bigger role on “Today” down the road.
NBC News chairman Andy Lack is steering the decision on how to handle Bush’s exit. Most “Today” staffers have been kept in the dark for the past few days, according to sources.
Bush had only joined the “Today” team as co-anchor of its 9 a.m. hour in August. He spent 15 years on NBC’s entertainment newsmagazine “Access Hollywood.” He was co-anchor of “Access Hollywood” at the time of the Trump conversation. The recording was made while Bush and Trump were traveling to the Los Angeles set of NBC soap “Days of Our Lives.” The two banter about using celebrity to force themselves on women and Trump talks of his unsuccessful effort to seduce Nancy O’Dell, who was then Bush’s co-anchor on “Access Hollywood.”
The frat-boy tenor of the remarks and Bush’s lack of decorum in regard to his co-worker was the death knell for his run on “Today.” The backlash from viewers, male and female, and internal anger from “Today” staffers made it impossible for Bush to return to the anchor desk.
“Today” has tapped Al Roker and Carson Daly as replacements for Bush this week. The whirlwind cycle of events since the 2005 recording was revealed Friday evening by the Washington Post has sent NBC into a scramble.
Bush was carefully selected by “Today” producers for the 9 a.m. slot earlier this year. But he got off to a rocky start during the network’s Rio Olympics coverage when swimmer Ryan Lochte turned out to have lied in his interview with Bush about having been robbed at gunpoint while in Rio. When Bush sought to downplay Lochte’s fabrications after the truth was revealed, co-anchor Roker slammed him on air — a clip that was widely circulated via social media. “Today” sources said Bush was generally seen as a lightweight and not a good fit for “Today,” even on the 9 a.m. hour that serves up lifestyle and feature material.
Bush quickly issued an apology on Friday for his part in the conversation, saying that he was embarrassed and citing his immaturity at the time. But that didn’t quiet the internal and external storm.
The outrage spurred by the release of the conversation has also up-ended Trump’s presidential campaign for the White House. Numerous GOP leaders have distanced themselves from his campaign and in some cases rescinded their endorsements of the candidate.