In Trump’s Locker Room Culture, Billy Bush Caught the Fungus

By Casey Bukro

Usually, a journalist at the center of an explosive story would be congratulated. Not Billy Bush.

Billy Bush.
Billy Bush suspended in wake of Donald Trump making lewd comments. Wikimedia photo

He’s the one cackling and giggling in the background of the 2005 tape as Donald Trump brags about kissing and groping beautiful women. “I just start kissing them,” Trump says. “It’s like a magnet. I just kiss. I don’t even wait.”

Egged on by Bush, Trump adds the remark about grabbing women by the genitals, using an obscene term, saying, “I can do anything.”

Released on the eve of the 2016 elections, the tape has been played countless times as commentators speculate about its likely impact on Trump’s chances of being elected president as the GOP contender.

No need to wonder about Bush, Trump’s enabler in that episode. NBC suspended him as a co-host of the “Today” show.

Bush was co-anchor of “Access Hollywood” at the time the tape was made. NBCUniveral Television Distribution, with NBC-owned station KNBC, has been solely responsible for producing “Access Hollywood” since 2004.

Bush was a rising star until the video train wreck. It might be a stretch to call him a journalist.

Television personalities often consider themselves entertainers or performers who want to put on a show. Brian Williams, for example, gave himself credit for doing things he did not do, making his reports more exciting until NBC learned of his fabrications, then suspended and reassigned him. Makes you wonder if these guys ever heard of journalism ethics.

William Hall “Billy” Bush is the nephew of former President George H.W. Bush and cousin of former President George W. Bush and former Florida Gov. John Ellis “Jeb” Bush.

The website MediaShift says Bush’s story “should serve as a cautionary tale for our modern age of journalism, where social media and reality television have oblitered the line between reporting the news and becoming part of it.”

Bush was a rising star until the video train wreck. It might be a stretch to call him a journalist.

Still making comparisons with journalism, MediaShift writer Maggie Quale says “Bush violated one of the oldest and most taboo tropes of professional journalism: Don’t make yourself part of the news.”

Bush issued a statement saying: “Obviously I’m embarrassed and ashamed. It’s no excuse, but this happened 11 years ago—I was younger, less mature and acted foolishly in playing along. I’m very sorry.” Bush is 44.

“The leak leads to larger questions about journalism ethics,” insists the Law Street blog. Bush, writes Bryan White, “withheld knowledge of a presidential nominee admitting to sexual assault.”

Andrew Seaman, Society of Professional Journalists ethics chair, says NBC News should be independent from other divisions of the parent organization. “Also, does NBC News know of any similar conversations caught on tape for other NBC programs, such as ‘The Apprentice?'” he writes on the SPJ ethics blog Code Words.

The fallout and the questions mount as Trump explains his crude remarks by saying they were merely “locker room talk.”

First Lady Michelle Obama said Trump’s remarks cannot be ignored, to “dismiss this as everyday locker room talk is an insult to decent men everywhere.”

Trump denies charges of sexual harassment. His lawyers sent a letter to the New York Times, demanding a retraction of a story about two women who accuse Trump of sexual misconduct. The letter signed by Marc E. Kasowitz said the story was “reckless, defamatory and constitutes libel.”

One of the ironies of the “locker room talk” argument is that only two months ago Roger Ailes resigned as CEO of Fox News amid charges of sexual harassment and promoting a news organization with a locker room mentality.

A Washington Post report on Ailes bore the headline, “He made Fox News his ‘locker room’ — and now women are telling their stories.”

Odd that Trump defended himself by using a term associated with Ailes’ terminable offense as Fox News boss. Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson sued Ailes for sexual harassment and got a $20 million settlement, with apologies from the company.

Video: Trump tape starts national conversation about sexual assault | PBS NewsHour

If there is an upside to Trump’s locker room talk statement, it is that it triggered a national discussion about misogyny and sexual assault. The PBS News Hour broadcast such a discussion, featuring Anita Hill, a law professor at Brandeis University who once accused Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment.

Author Kelly Oxford told of her own sexual assault experience on social media and encouraged others to do the same. She got 30 million responses.

“A lot of women have sexual assault and rape in their families, their grandmothers, their mothers, their aunts, their sisters. And the internet is a place where everybody has a voice and everybody can contribute. And it’s happening.”

The huge response, she said, “says that women are being abused. It’s such an overwhelmingly huge problem that we ignore it, as we often do when things are this large.”

Hill’s charges against Judge Thomas came 25 years ago, before social media. It sparked an early discussion of sexual harassment. Hill said she got many letters, and still gets them, describing harassment in the workplace, on the streets or in schools.

“So this is really a social problem,” she said. It requires policies and procedures that lead to a trusted process, including women, where “there are fair investigations that get to the truth, and then there is appropriate punishment when abuse occurs.”

ESPN sportswriter Mike Wise admits he has heard locker room jokes “that went beyond dirty.” Resistance too easily is dismissed.

“In some ways,” said Wise, “I’m really more worried about the enabling culture we have that it’s so permissive to say these things and to say, oh, we’re too politically correct today. And until we get into a mind-set of, no, that’s wrong and the friends around you that are supposed to tell you what you need to hear, other than what you want to hear, tell you it’s wrong, we’re going to still have this kind of culture.”

Both the Trump and the Ailes controversies suggested that a permissive culture fosters predatory behavior. In their cases, the culture grew in the familiar old boys’ club of the corporate boardroom. Not many women in those clubs. Maybe it’s to spare them locker room talk.

Edited by Stephen Rynkiewicz. Comment below in the “Leave a Reply” box. For advice from our ethics advisers, submit a question.

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