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Tale of the Trump Tape: NBC Has A Lot of Explaining to Do

By Stephen Miller | 12:03 am, October 9, 2016

When Donald Trump’s 2005 hot mic moment with then Access Hollywood host Billy Bush (now at the Today show, both NBC properties) went public Friday afternoon, two days before the second Presidential debate, it rocked the Internet, cable news and the foundations of Trump’s campaign and the election itself.

CNN’s Brian Stelter has a good summation of how the tape made it into the press via David Farenthold from the Washington Post, who ended up breaking the story:

“The videotape of Donald Trump that is shaking up the presidential election sat forgotten on a shelf at NBC’s “Access Hollywood” until just a few days ago.

On Monday, according to an NBC source, one of the entertainment newsmagazine’s producers remembered Trump’s 2005 taping session with former “Access” co-host Billy Bush.

Trump’s offensive comments about Alicia Machado were still making waves. And the Associated Press had just published a detailed story quoting former “Apprentice” employees saying Trump “was lewd and sexist” while taping the reality show. With that in mind, a producer dug up the tape.

By mid-week, executive producer Rob Silverstein and his producing team had taken a look at its contents, and discovered that among other things it included a moment in which Trump told Bush, “And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything… Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”

The release of the tape, in which Billy Bush can be heard laughing along to Trump’s lewd sexual quips and making embarrassing, frat boy-like comments of his own, resulted in Bush deleting his Twitter account and releasing a formal apology.

Now, according to the Hollywood Reporter, the Today show is in crisis mode about what to do with Bush.

But other than what we heard from Bush himself, there doesn’t appear to be any other internal soul searching at a network that not only promoted Trump on its late night shows and had him host Saturday Night Live just last season, but actually employed Trump himself as host of The Apprentice, one of its highest rated shows in the last decade.

Indeed, NBC’s behavior surrounding the tape is highly suspicious and raises several questions:

  • Stelter reports that NBC found the tape on Monday, and were still debating how to report on its existence when it was leaked to the Washington Post on Friday. What really was taking NBC so long? It only took the Post a few hours to publish the material.
  • Was NBC sitting on the audio because it was worried about the damage it would do to Billy Bush?
  • Why did someone within NBC feel compelled to leak the audio to the Washington Post? Was it because NBC never actually intended to release the audio until after the election?

NBC News reporters and anchors are spending plenty of time asking for comment from Republicans about the Donald Trump tape – but they aren’t asking tough questions of their own bosses. We’ve gotten no statement of culpability from the network that not only sat on this audio for more than a decade, but also enabled and promoted Trump for just as long. Trump was reportedly paid three million dollars per episode of Celebrity Apprentice alone.

Will NBC itself be held accountable for its role in promoting and employing Trump for 14 seasons of The Apprentice, 12 of which came after the 2005 interview with Billy Bush?

According to Bill Pruitt, a producer on the first two seasons, there exist many tapes of Trump from the Apprentice days which he claims are far worse than the Bush audio. If so, why did NBC continue to employ Trump for 12 more seasons?

More to the point, why hasn’t all this terrible audio already surfaced? At any point in the last year, when there was still time to deprive Trump of the GOP nomination, did NBC brass ask Apprentice producer (and Trump friend) Mark Burnett for a look into his archives? Or were they complicit in allowing Trump to cruise to the GOP nomination when they knew there was likely evidence in Mark Burnett’s basement that could disqualify him?

Mark Burnett and a friend

Instead, the circus played on. Just this past January, per The Wrap, NBC Entertainment Chief Bob Greenblatt stated he had no regrets about allowing Trump to host Saturday Night Live. When asked if the high ratings the episode generated were worth the controversy, Greenblatt stated that he thought so. “I think it was, at the end of the day, he was on the show for 11 minutes, and as I like to say, the Earth didn’t fall off its axis.”

Back to NBC News’ anchors and reporters, who have been conspicuously silent about their network’s role in enabling Trump for years, then sitting on the explosive tape for (at least) five days before a whistleblower leaked it. Donald Trump was employed by the same network that currently employs Lester Holt, Brian Williams, Chuck Todd, Andrea Mitchell, Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes and its biggest star of all, Matt Lauer. Why the silence? They’re like Cardinals in the Vatican maintaining omerta about a pervert in their midst.

There are clear lines of accountability here – to NBC News Chairman Andy Lack and NBCU CEO Steve Burke. Did these executives just look the other way for many months while a former employee whose bad behavior was well-known got closer and closer to the White House? And did they place the career of Billy Bush – reportedly being groomed to replace Matt Lauer on the hugely profitable Today program – ahead of the U-S presidency? That sounds absurd, but this is the twisted world of network television and NBC has some explaining to do.