Billy Bush’s apology tour has reached its inevitable conclusion: He will return to television in much the same role he had before, as a host of Extra Extra. The show will be a reboot of Extra, People reports, a shiny new version that is premiering in September and will bring viewers an “in-depth look at topics including pop culture, sports, and politics.”
An in-depth look at politics is exactly what Bush gave audiences at his old job, very much by accident. A month before the 2016 presidential election, the Washington Post published a 2005 recording from Access Hollywood in which Bush could be heard laughing along as Donald Trump, then host of The Apprentice, bragged about the frequency and ease with which he sexually assaulted women.
“You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them,” Trump said. “It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”
“Whatever you want,” Bush chimed in.
“Grab them by the pussy,” Trump said. “You can do anything.”
It seemed at the time like the kind of thing that should end at least one person’s career; in hindsight, it seems obvious that it would do nothing of the sort.
Trump, of course, won the election, and Bush, though suspended and subsequently fired by NBC, was scooped up by Warner Bros. not three years after the tapes came out. In the interim, Bush has given a few interviews about how he has grown and changed and learned from this experience, acknowledging that he did not have “the strength of character” to even change the subject with Trump, whose show was then a ratings bonanza for NBC.
“I own the moment,” Bush told People. “It was a bad moment. And I was in it. But one moment doesn’t define your life.”
Whether or not this moment will define Bush’s life remains to be seen, though the odds of it landing anywhere past the first line of his obituary seem extremely low. As for the rest of us, this “one bad moment” did, in fact, go on to define much of our lives.
The tape, and Trump’s insistence that it was not an accurate description of his conduct with women but merely “locker room talk,” prompted several women to come forward and say that Trump had sexually assaulted them in exactly the manner he described to Bush. These firsthand accounts — and, critically, the country’s collective failure to see this pattern of violent misogyny as disqualifying — set the scene for would become the modern Me Too movement.
With the Access Hollywood tape, what many hoped would be some disgusting outlier turned out to be a harbinger of what was to come. Because while the most vile dialogue in the tape belongs to Trump, it is Bush’s reaction to Trump’s boast that turned out to be the sound that stuck around: laughter.
Laughter of exactly this sort — callous and encouraging, delighting in violence — has become the noxious score of the Trump era.
Laughter like this is, in its way, more chilling than any other sound. It’s the sound of no one coming to help you, of the people who could help you thinking it’s hilarious that you believe you would ever be helped. It is conspiratorial in the most literal interpretation of that word — a collusion among like-minded people against another.
Laughter was the sound Dr. Christine Blasey Ford said she will never forget hearing from Brett Kavanaugh and Mark Judge while the former was on top of her, trying to rape her. “Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter,” she said, in what instantly became the most searing and unforgettable line in her hours of testimony. “The uproarious laughter between the two. They’re having fun at my expense.”
That laughter, multiplied from a pair’s to a crowd’s, is the same sound that bursts out at Trump rallies in response to some spasm of cruelty or threat of murder. This has been the case as long as Trump has been a candidate. On the campaign trail, Trump gleefully mocked a reporter with disabilities; his audience laughed along. At the Golden Globes just months later, Meryl Streep would cite this moment as a performance that “stunned me; it sank its hooks in my heart, not because it was good, there was nothing good about it, but it was effective and it did its job: it made its intended audience laugh, and show their teeth.”
Trump also “joked” about “second amendment people” taking out their rage at Hillary Clinton by assassinating her. This, too, prompted laughter amid cheers from his followers. And just last night, an attendee at a Trump rally in Panama City yelled that the way to deal with migrants who can’t be stopped by Border Patrol is to “shoot them.” This suggestion was met with — what else? — laughter.
When Trump was called upon to explain this latest spurt of incendiary rhetoric, he dismissed the whole thing as a “joke” which only a humorless liberal would find offensive. Obviously the person in this country least capable of taking a joke is President Trump, whose ego is so fragile that he is unable to withstand the fair-game ribbing of a White House Correspondents’ Dinner roast.
Though Bush has been a fixture on the infotainment hosting circuit for over a decade and belongs to one of the most famous families in America, he is not, on his own, an especially famous person — his job requires him to be a standard deviation south of celebrity, so as to not outshine his guests. The Trump tape made him a household name; it is, without question, the thing for which he is best known.
Surely that infamy is key to the calculation of bringing him on to Extra Extra at all. The spin of the show is that it will be a “modernized” take on its predecessor, but there is nothing modern about re-employing a middle-aged, straight, white man who could barely hack it on the third hour of the Today show.
A hilarious point in all of this mess is that Bush was never particularly good at his job, and shortly before he was fired was proving to be quite bad at it. Just before the Trump tapes came out, Bush had been promoted from Access Hollywood to Today. Only months into this move, he was already apologizing for an act of journalistic malpractice: His was the first interview with Ryan Lochte after the Olympian was supposedly the victim of an armed robbery in Rio de Janeiro, and Bush failed to question any of the glaring inconsistencies in Lochte’s version of events. It quickly became obvious that the whole story was a hoax, and when Bush tried to equivocate on matters (sample dialogue: “He certainly lied about some details”), he was reamed out on the air by Al Roker for falling for a liar and failing to do the most basic part of his job.
Bush, by the way, is displacing Mario Lopez, who is expected to head to NBC to host Access, a rejiggered version of Access Hollywood. Which leads one to ask: Are there only three men in all the world capable of doing this job? Is there no woman on Earth who would be at least as good at this gig as the holy trinity of Lopez, Bush, and Ryan Seacrest, who — while we’re on the subject of scandal-proof men — was barely benched from the red carpet while a #MeToo investigation into his alleged misconduct was ongoing and has since resumed his full hosting duties as if nothing ever happened?
Bush’s professional skill set is lacking, and his brand is “the guy from the Trump tape,” so why hire him at all? Are viewers craving George W. Bush’s cousin’s sizzling takes on the stories of the day?
In a statement, Extra Extra’s senior executive producer Lisa Gregorisch-Dempsey said Bush “is the consummate journalist” (…okay) “with extensive celebrity industry contacts and reach.” There it is!
This 47-year old man is “the perfect host as we reinvent Extra for a new generation,” Gregorisch-Dempsey said. “I’m thrilled to welcome him back to television.”