Oh, Billy Bush. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice … well, my friend, that’s unlikely to happen.
A few months ago, you defended disgraced Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte as one of a band of “kids” who should be excused from his role in a drunken international incident. A lot of people accused you of adhering to some sort of “bro code” that diminished the responsibility of Lochte and his teammates as some sort of “boys will be boys” boo-boo, when the lead boy was 32 years old and, you know, a full-grown man and everything.
Still, I pondered whether you weren’t thinking less like a bro and more like a journalist with a new gig on the “Today” show trying to protect your scoop. You were the first reporter to hear Lochte’s story of being the lone person to stand up to bandits who he said pulled over his car dressed as Brazilian police officers. I understood what I imagined was your impulse to minimize the fallout from being pitched a huge story that turned out to be less than accurate.
I wrote that even though it was unwise to try to tell your co-anchor Al Roker to “calm down” when he was reasonably upset at his broadcast having been made a fool of, I related to the risk that we as journalists and storytellers take when we trust a story and run with it, even if it winds up running us over.
I think I gave you too much credit.
Now, you’re defending your part in a hideous so-called “locker room” conversation with a powerful man and colleague who is now a presidential candidate as some youthful folly when you were a 34-year-old married father of daughters. This was a conversation about sexual assault, intended or merely suggested (it’s wrong either way) that ended in you suggesting that the subject of this hideous conversation hug both you and the person who was “joking” about forcing a Tic-Tac-assisted kiss on her.
That’s sketchy. And I can’t relate to that at all.
Also, you seem to think that your relative “youth” is a defense for choosing the side of a man who’d just admitted to trying to seduce your married then-co-worker by buying her furniture and that his celebrity was justification to grab women he desires in parts that he was not given permission to grab.
That’s sad. And gross. And indefensible. And speaks to a privilege — yes, I used that word — that you have as a rich dude, because believe me when I say that if I’d suggested, on the job, that some unknowing man hug the friend who’d just declared her right to molest him because of her self-described awesomeness and power, I would no longer have that job. Or any job.
I certainly couldn’t claim that being a mere child of (snort) 34 (chuckle) prevented me from knowing this was gross. Dude, you’re my age. Grow the hell up.
I have been reminded by male friends, as well as a bunch of dudes on various message boards, that we’re apparently supposed to understand some sort of “Mars vs. Venus” divide between men and women, that men just sometimes say provocative and borderline disgusting things about women they fancy, whether they’re in a magazine, on the screen or just at the next table. Women do it, too. And I get it. We’re humans. We fantasize. We try to impress each other. We’re gross.
But Billy — dear, sweet, fawn-like Billy, who didn’t tell his cousin he had some dirt on the guy he was competing with for president — you’re in a special category, darling.
You may have looked at Donald Trump as not only a powerful man but as the owner of the beauty pageant you have hosted, and may have thought that you needed to play along, not needed to shut down, because of business.
But you didn’t just not shut it down. You encouraged it. You listened as he talked about coming on to your “Access Hollywood” colleague Nancy O’Dell, whom he would later try to fire from her hosting duties at the Miss USA pageant because he didn’t like how she looked while pregnant.
And then you looked at this attractive actress that you called to Trump’s attention — and pretended to shoo someone who was blocking your view of her out of the way — and then asked for “a little hug for the Donald” and then “for the Bushy.” (Gag.)
So I assume if some 34-year-old dude bro sets one of your daughters up for a hug that you know is the salacious punchline to a joke she’s not aware of, that he’s forgiven because of his tender age, which is closer to the suggested age that you start having your prostate checked than to your freshman year in college.
You know he wouldn’t be. He shouldn’t be. It’s not OK. There is no defense for it. That you even floated your age and immaturity as a defense is ignorant. And something that would not fly if you were anyone but you.
So shame on me for defending you. There’s no defense for you.
Leslie Gray Streeter writes for The Palm Beach Post.
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