Trump gave an apology that really wasn't an apology. He said that the comments were about 11 years old and pretty much do not reflect him today. Then he criticized Bill Clinton's extra-marital affairs, which happened a little over 20 years ago. Billy Bush fared better in this controversy. Much better. He apologized with no "but." He apologized, blaming his irresponsibility on his youth. He was in his mid 30s at that time the remarks were recorded.
In Donald Trump and Billy Bush, we see characters who would have been ripe for satire in a Chayefsky screenplay. We also see TV celebrities whose careers are examples of why we minorities push for diversity in entertainment. The playing field has never been level. If NBC had a young black host of a network game show and the host made red carpet comments that Rudy Giuliani disrespected black people and that Sarah Palin was an absolute idiot who was not the right woman to be a Vice President of the U.S., that host surely would have been replaced for the show's next season. But Trump was still NBC talent as he demanded to see President Obama's birth certificate.
On the Saturday, Oct. 8th, Weekend Edition hosted by Scott Simon on NPR, one guest Scott interviewed about Trump's lewd remarks asked "Why didn't Billy Bush tell NBC he had this video?" I think I can answer that. Billy Bush was not about to bite the corporate hand that feeds him and his family -- and that hand is NBC. Another thing -- and this is major -- is that Billy Bush was hired by NBC news but he was not a journalist. He didn't enter 30 Rock with hard news reporter skills, instincts and experience his bones. I write this as someone who worked at WNBC, knows people who were there when he worked on local NBC news programs in New York City, and I write this as someone who worked with Billy Bush for one week on a radio show back in 2003.
Billy Bush was hired by WNBC News in 2001 when he had a relative in the White House. This was his second relative to hold the office of Republican President of the United States. Billy was the host of a local Washington, DC morning radio show on a rock music station. He'd not taken journalism courses in college. He'd never covered any news stories. He had no TV experience whatsoever. But lucky Billy got hired by WNBC news. He made his debut doing light features -- fashion trends, pop culture news -- and, within six months, he was doing network pieces on the TODAY Show. Then he was booted up to host NBC's prime time version of the Let's Make a Deal game show. Within a year or two of his WNBC debut, Billy became a contributor on NBC's Access Hollywood hosted by Pat O'Brien and Nancy O'Dell. During those years something that seemed like a male version of All About Eve occurred. Billy went from regular contributor to replacing the older Access Hollywood male host, Pat O'Brien. Billy co-hosted the show with Nancy O'Dell. In time, she left the show and he became the primary host. Now Billy is formerly of Access Hollywood. He was added to the host list on NBC's TODAY Show. He's been co-hosting the show's third hour called Today's Take. He's the second member of the Bush Family to be talent on the morning program. Jenna Bush Hager, former White House daughter, was hired and turned into a news contributor.
I've written before that, in its first 50 years, the TODAY Show had only two African American contributors/hosts. They were Bryant Gumble and Al Roker. That was visually noticeable in its 50th anniversary special edition. The show is diverse now but think about it ...only two black people as on-air talent in half a century that started in 1952. Now think of all the black journalists who probably wanted to be on TODAY but got no consideration from its network executives.
Those of you who know me already know this. I was approached to work for WNBC News. It was launching a new program called Weekend TODAY in New York. I was approached to do film reviews, other entertainment reports and some lifestyle features. That appealed to me because then, as now, it's rare to see a black person as the regular film critic on a news show. And black reporters in New York City rarely get the theater beat so they can cover Broadway and off-Broadway. I took the WNBC job in September 1992 and then my assignments were changed. I was to be the "community calendar" guy who told you about things to do around town. I was shifted to be the funny man-on-the-street contributor. Of course, I argued with management about that but I kept the weekend job because I needed the money. My boyfriend had been diagnosed with full blown AIDS. I became his New York City caregiver. He died in June 1994.
I went to WNBC after having had my own prime time talk show on VH1, a show that got a great review in The New York Times. During my VH1 years, I did six months as talent on CBS Late Night. After my VH1 years, I was an occasional guest host on CNBC's Talk Live and I was the host of a summer replacement syndicated late night TV game show. The game show was airing when I was contacted by WNBC. The game show's summer run ended and I took the part time WNBC job. We premiered on September 1992.
After pushing to do them, I got to do occasional entertainment interviews on the show. But, for the most part, I was assigned live shots in shopping malls and at street fairs. At the beginning of January 1995, the news director called me in for a meeting. He told me that my work was excellent and that I was very popular with viewers. However, I would not be moving up to full time employment at WNBC and I would not be doing any entertainment features for the network edition of Weekend TODAY. I gave my two weeks' notice that same day. Why stay there if I would not be moving up?
Billy Bush was getting network exposure on TODAY within six months of his debut on local WNBC. By the following year, he'd been elevated to Access Hollywood. No journalism experience. No previous TV experience. He got the kind of gig I hoped to get. Here's some of the work I'd done on VH1 before I was hired by WNBC in 1992.
And, again, I quit in 1995 when I was told that I had no chance of moving up to network opportunities. That's what I mean about the playing field not being level.
As a friend in Harlem says, "White people be lucky." What a follow up to NETWORK Paddy Chayefsky could've written from all this. Wow.