ST. LOUIS — Billy Bush has been suspended from the “Today” show “pending further review of the matter,” NBC News said Sunday night.
It is unclear if he will ever return to the broadcast.
“He will never be on the show again,” an on-air source said, reflecting what staffers are saying behind the scenes.
NBC’s sudden change came amid a chorus of calls for disciplinary action against Bush over his 2005 conversation with Donald Trump in which the GOP presidential candidate made lewd and sexually aggressive comments about women. Video of the conversation surfaced Friday.
The news came shortly before Trump was to debate Hillary Clinton on CNN at 9 p.m. ET. The town hall forum is co-moderated by CNN’s Anderson Cooper. Follow updates and watch coverage on CNN.
The taped 2005 conversation between Bush and Trump has upended the careers of both men.
Trump’s vulgar and aggressive comments about women, alluding to sexual assault, caused some Republican leaders to retract their endorsements of him.
Bush played along and joked with Trump, even while Trump talked about trying to sleep with one of Bush’s colleagues.
At the time the video was recorded, Bush was a co-host of NBC’s entertainment show “Access Hollywood.” Now he is a key player on the “Today” show, the profit engine of NBC News. Until Friday, some observers believed he was being groomed to take over for Matt Lauer someday.
Bush is a cousin of both former President George W. Bush and 2016 Trump opponent Jeb Bush.
Bush issued a forthright apology statement on Friday, but it did not quiet the calls for action by NBC. There is an online petition circulating that calls for his firing, and there are hundreds of outraged comments on the “Today” show’s social media pages.
On top of that, as Anthony Quintano — who formerly ran the “Today” show’s social media efforts — pointed out on Friday, “a majority of the ‘Today’ show production staff is female.” It “won’t go over well internally to keep Billy Bush around,” Quintano said in a tweet.
Bush’s 9 a.m. hour is heavy with lifestyle fare, with less political news than the earlier hours. Still, it is a product of NBC News, so the news division has ethical considerations to make about Bush’s role in the tape — and in ongoing coverage of the election.
Decisions about releasing the “Access Hollywood” tape reached to the highest level of NBCUniversal, to the office of CEO Steve Burke, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday.
An NBC source confirmed Burke’s involvement and reiterated that the network was preparing to broadcast a report about the tape when it was leaked to the Washington Post on Friday.
Adding a slightly bizarre element to the story, the New York Times reported Sunday that the outgoing voicemail message on Bush’s extension at NBC says, “You’ve reached Billy Bush’s office, he’s busy making America great again, please leave a message.” The voice is apparently not his.