Commentary

Billy Bush: Anatomy Of A P.R. Campaign

Billy Bush is on a mini-media campaign to polish his tarnished image.

His strategy seems to be: Shift the attention away from his own role in the infamous conversation he had with Donald Trump in 2005 entirely onto Trump. And you know something? This could turn out to be a very sound strategy.

When we last saw Bush, he had been fired by NBC in October 2016 following the firestorm that erupted after video was leaked from 2005 in which he and Trump were seen having a rather jocular conversation about women. 

The footage comprised unaired material from Bush's visit on that day in 2005 with Trump, who was starring in another season of “The Apprentice” on NBC, and Bush was a correspondent at the time for “Access Hollywood” (a syndicated show also owned by NBC).

This was the conversation in which Trump talked in vulgar terms about grabbing women by their genitals.

The footage was leaked just a month before Election Day. Trump's reaction was to dismiss this off-the-record conversation as mere “locker-room banter.” As events turned out, the incident did nothing to derail Trump's campaign. He was elected president four weeks later.

But it did derail Bush's career as a rising star at NBC because in the leaked footage, Bush didn't reveal any sense of surprise or even revulsion at what Trump was saying.

On the contrary, he continued the conversation with Trump as if this kind of talk was just a typical conversation between men who didn't know they were being recorded (or didn't care). 

As a result, Bush was seen as tacitly agreeing with, or approving of, Trump's attitudes toward women and NBC felt it had to let him go.

But here is the interesting part: More than a year has gone by since he was fired, and at no time has Bush himself ever been accused by anyone of sexual harassment or sexual misconduct of any kind.

But in that same year's time, a score or more of prominent men have been accused of far worse than simply engaging in a conversation in which sexual misbehavior (if not outright sexual assault) was discussed in a lighthearted (and boorish) way.

In other words, compared to people like Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer (to name just three), Bush's “crimes” now seem trivial and unimportant.

Thus, this is the perfect time for Bush to re-emerge publicly. And Trump has given him a great excuse for doing so by reportedly suggesting in private conversations (according to The New York Times) that the voice heard on the leaked tape that sounds like him was not really him.

Let the record show that the TV Blog deems this claim to be ridiculous, as would anyone with half a brain.

On the basis of this claim, Bush wrote an opinion piece that no less a paper than the Times itself published on its op-ed pages on Monday morning. In the piece (which you can read in its entirety here), Bush confirmed in no uncertain terms that the voice on the tape was Trump's. Bush then used the piece as an opportunity to explain his own role in the conversation.

To try and explain why it looked and sounded like he was agreeing with what Trump was saying, Bush characterized his participation in the conversation as that of a journalist on the celebrity beat whose job was to make nice with, and possibly befriend, the TV and movie stars he interviewed. This rings true.

On Monday night, Bush followed his Times op-ed triumph with an appearance on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” on CBS (photo above). The appearance gave him an opportunity to reiterate his points about Trump and the context of the statements Trump made in their conversation.

There was an added bonus too: His appearance on “Colbert” was widely covered and shared all over the place on Tuesday in story after story that positioned Trump as the bad guy and Bush as just this guy who was unfortunately nearby when the statements were made.

Can Bush parlay this mini-P.R. campaign into a new job? Well, this is America, where anything is possible.

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