Billy Bush's biggest mistake in the Trump-tape aftermath

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Even though it wasn't official until Monday afternoon, Billy Bush's nascent career as the Today show's 9 a.m. co-anchor was probably over the moment the Washington Post published audio of his now-infamous conversation with Donald Trump, in which he could be heard in a leaked Access Hollywood tape from 2005 giggling and egging on the now-presidential candidate as he bragged about sexually assaulting women. Senior NBC management may not have immediately realized it, but most folks outside the 30 Rock bubble immediately saw how having someone who said the things Bush said continue to host a fluffy, feature-packed hour meant to appeal to middle-aged female viewers was ... ridiculous. And yet, as awful and damning as the audio tape was for Bush, it's his behavior since that has made me question what sort of future he has in mainstream TV. Specifically, it's what Bush has failed to do, even 11 days after the fact: Offer a specific and sincere apology to both Nancy O'Dell and Arianne Zucker, the women whom he and Trump verbally degraded on tape.

Sure, Bush had a publicist put out a statement saying he was "very sorry," coupling a blanket expression of embarrassment and shame with the ridiculous non-excuse excuse that he was "younger" and "less mature" 11 years ago. Nowhere, however, did Bush acknowledge he had personally mistreated a co-worker (O'Dell) and an interview subject (Zucker). Trump's casual bragging about the ease with which he sexually assaults women has (rightfully) overshadowed everything else on the tape. But remember: At the very start of the conversation, Bush is heard saying of O'Dell, "She used to be great. She's still very beautiful." Bush and O'Dell were co-workers on Access Hollywood for years, but he apparently had no problem objectifying his co-anchor as a woman who "used to be great." He didn't just stand by as Trump described his failed attempts to bed O'Dell; he added his own assessment of her physical worth. What's more, at least according to the audio that has been released, it is Bush — not Trump — who initiates the verbal assault on Zucker. "Sheesh, your girl's hot as shit. In the purple," Bush says, referring to the Days of Our Lives actress waiting just outside the bus. "Yes, yes! The Donald has scored!"

See photos of Billy Bush through the years:

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Billy Bush through the years
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 22: NBC News' Billy Bush in conversation with Jeff Rossen for SiriusXM's TODAY Show Radio at SiriusXM Studios on August 22, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for SiriusXM)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 10: Billy Bush arrives for the women's final at Arthur Ashe Stadium on day 13 of the 2016 US Open at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 10, 2016 in the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/GC Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 08: Billy Bush & Olympic Legend Carl Lewis for Speed-Walking Race for Ages at Copacabana beach on August 8, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Access Hollywood )
CULVER CITY, CA - MAY 21: TV personality/host Billy Bush attends the Kaleidoscope Ball at 3LABS on May 21, 2016 in Culver City, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 10: Billy Bush visits 'The Elvis Duran Z100 Morning Show' at Z100 Studio on February 10, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by D Dipasupil/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 11: Radio host Billy Bush (L) and actress Olivia Jordan attend The American Heart Association's Go Red For Women Red Dress Collection 2016 Presented By Macy's at The Arc, Skylight at Moynihan Station on February 11, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for AHA)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 10: Billy Bush visits 'The Elvis Duran Z100 Morning Show' at Z100 Studio on February 10, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by D Dipasupil/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 10: Billy Bush (L) and Bethany Watson at 'The Elvis Duran Z100 Morning Show' at Z100 Studio on February 10, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by D Dipasupil/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - DECEMBER 09: Billy Bush arrives at the Make-A-Wish Greater Los Angeles Annual Wishing Well Winter Gala at the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel on December 9, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/WireImage)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - DECEMBER 09: (L-R) TV personalities Billy Bush and Kit Hoover attend the Make-A-Wish Greater Los Angeles Annual Wishing Well Winter Gala at the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel on December 9, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Barry King/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - DECEMBER 09: TV personality Billy Bush speaks onstage during Make-A-Wish Greater Los Angeles Honoring Oscar De La Hoya, Michael Rosenfeld And Tom Mone at its Annual Wishing Well Winter Gala at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on December 9, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images for Make-A-Wish Greater Los Angeles)
YOUNTVILLE, CA - NOVEMBER 13: Billy Bush attends the Celebrity Tribute during the Napa Valley Film Festival 2015 at the Lincoln Theatre on November 13, 2015 in Yountville, California. (Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - OCTOBER 29: Master of Ceremonies Billy Bush attends the imagine1day Visionary Leadership Dinner at The London West Hollywood on October 29, 2015 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Rachel Murray/Getty Images for imagine1day)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 11: TV host, Billy Bush attends 16th Annual Ubuntu Education Fund 1 Million to One: Changing The Odds Gala at Gotham Hall on June 11, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by John Lamparski/WireImage)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - SEPTEMBER 09: Radio host Billy Bush attends the Farrah Fawcett Foundation 1st annual Tex-Mex Fiesta at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on September 9, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Matthew Simmons/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 10: Television personalities Bethenny Frankel (L) and Billy Bush tape a segment at 'Access Hollywood' at the NBC Rockefeller Center Studios on June 10, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Ray Tamarra/GC Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - APRIL 23: TV personality Billy Bush attends The CinemaCon Big Screen Achievement Awards on April 23, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by C Flanigan/FilmMagic)
BURBANK, CA - MARCH 08: TV Host Billy Bush attends the advance screening of 'Cinderella' benefiting Los Angeles JDRF at Walt Disney Studios on March 8, 2015 in Burbank, California. (Photo by Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 17: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE/SPECIAL RATES APPLY) TV host Billy Bush visits 'The Elvis Duran Z100 Morning Show' at Z100 Studio on November 17, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Ben Gabbe/Getty Images)
WATCH WHAT HAPPENS LIVE -- Pictured (l-r): Andy Cohen, Chloe Grace Moretz and Billy Bush -- (Photo by: Charles Sykes/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 23: EXCLUSIVE ACCESS/SPECIAL RATES APPLY - Billy Bush visits 'The Elvis Duran Z100 Morning Show' at Z100 Studio on September 23, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images)
WATCH WHAT HAPPENS LIVE -- Pictured: Billy Bush -- (Photo by: Charles Sykes/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
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Bush may think his all-purpose apology sufficiently expressed regret for his actions. Had he and Trump been talking about women in general, perhaps they would have been. But Bush's biggest sin isn't that he engaged in what Trump likes to call "locker-room" talk, or that, as Melania Trump claimed on Monday, he "egged on" Trump. What is so awful is that Bush, someone who has played a journalist for more than a decade, felt okay engaging in such talk about a longtime professional colleague and an interview subject. Then, when he got caught, he didn't see a need to apologize for those specific transgressions or to offer any acknowledgement of the very specific pain they caused.

As women in Hollywood, O'Dell and Zucker almost surely encountered sexism and probably harassment of some sort long before they heard Bush and Trump treat them like meat. But imagine being O'Dell two Fridays ago, hearing the man who likes calling himself "Bushy," the man who stood next to you for years on the set of Access Hollywood, saying you "used to be great." Put yourself in the shoes of Zucker, who now knows Bush's on-camera attempt to get Trump and Zucker to kiss was preceded moments before by Trump telling Bush about how he grabs women by their genitals. If you were O'Dell, you might feel just a bit better if Bush had taken the time to tell the world that he had worked side-by-side with you for years and that he thought you were a smart, professional co-worker who deserved more respect than he had shown. If you were Zucker, the audio tape might sting a bit less if Bush acknowledged that you weren't just a body to be objectified but a successful actress with a hugely loyal fan base.

See photos of Nancy O'Dell through the years:

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Nancy O'Dell through the years
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Nancy O'Dell through the years
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 18: TV personality Nancy O'Dell attends the 68th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 18, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Barry King/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 18: TV personality Nancy O'Dell attends the 68th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 18, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Barry King/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 18: TV personality Nancy O'Dell attends the 68th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 18, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - AUGUST 10: TV host Nancy O'Dell arrives at the CBS, CW, Showtime Summer TCA Party at Pacific Design Center on August 10, 2016 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JULY 04: Jimi Westbrook, Nancy O'Dell, Demi Lovato, Nick Jonas and Keith Lockhart speak to the press prior to the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular at the DCR Hatch Shell, broadcasted live on cbs, on July 4, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. Organizers estimate app. 500,000 people attended the Fourth of July celebration along the Charles River. (Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 15: TV personality Nancy O'Dell (L) and actress Oprah Winfrey arrive at the premiere of OWN's 'Greenleaf' at The Lot on June 15, 2016 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 17: Nancy O'Dell throws out the ceremonial first pitch at a baseball game between the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on May 17, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Noel Vasquez/GC Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 01: TV Personalities Nancy O'Dell and Kevin Frazier speak onstage during the 2016 Daytime Emmy Awards at Westin Bonaventure Hotel on May 1, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/WireImage)
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - APRIL 03: TV personality Nancy O'Dell attends the 51st Academy of Country Music Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on April 3, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Taylor Hill/FilmMagic)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - MARCH 03: Nancy O'Dell attends Best Buddies 'The Art of Friendship' Benefit Photo Auction, hosted by De Re Gallery, on March 3, 2016 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by JB Lacroix/WireImage)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - MARCH 03: TV personality/Best Buddies Global Ambassador Nancy O'Dell (L) and actress/Best Buddies Global Amassador Lauren Potter attend Best Buddies 'The Art of Friendship' Benefit Photo Auction, hosted by De Re Gallery, on March 3, 2016 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Rochelle Brodin/Getty Images for De Re Gallery)
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - APRIL 03: Nancy O'Dell attends the 51st Academy of Country Music Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on April 3, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by JB Lacroix/WireImage)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - MARCH 03: Nancy O'Dell and Keith Zubchevich attend Best Buddies 'The Art of Friendship' Benefit Photo Auction, hosted by De Re Gallery, on March 3, 2016 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by JB Lacroix/WireImage)
TV personality Nancy O'Dell arrives at the 22nd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards held at The Shrine Auditorium. (Photo by Frank Trapper/Corbis via Getty Images)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - MARCH 03: Model/Best Buddies Global Ambassador Cindy Crawford (L) and TV personality/Best Buddies Global Ambassador Nancy O'Dell attend Best Buddies 'The Art of Friendship' Benefit Photo Auction, hosted by De Re Gallery, on March 3, 2016 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Rochelle Brodin/Getty Images for De Re Gallery)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 30: TV personality Nancy O'Dell attends The 22nd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 30, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. 25650_015 (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images for Turner)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 10: TV personality Nancy O'Dell attends the 73rd Annual Golden Globe Awards held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 10, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by George Pimentel/WireImage)
TORRANCE, CA - OCTOBER 06: Television host Nancy O'Dell and Zendaya attend Nordstrom Del Amo Fashion Center Opening Gala at Nordstrom Del Amo Fashion Center on October 6, 2015 in Torrance, California. (Photo by Jerod Harris/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 20: TV personality Nancy O'Dell attends the 67th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 20, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
TORRANCE, CA - OCTOBER 06: Nancy O'Dell attends Nordstrom Del Amo Fashion Center's Opening Gala at Nordstrom Del Amo Fashion Center on October 6, 2015 in Torrance, California. (Photo by Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 10: 73rd ANNUAL GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS -- Pictured: TV personality Nancy O'Dell arrives to the 73rd Annual Golden Globe Awards held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 10, 2016. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 20: TV personality Nancy O'Dell arrives at the 67th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at the Microsoft Theater on September 20, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Barry King/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 20: TV personality Nancy O'Dell attends the 67th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 20, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by John Shearer/WireImage)
BURBANK, CA - APRIL 26: Nancy O'Dell arrives at the 42nd Annual Daytime Emmy Awards held at Warner Bros. Studios on April 26, 2015 in Burbank, California. (Photo by Michael Tran/FilmMagic)
BURBANK, CA - APRIL 26: TV personalities Kevin Frazier (L) and Nancy O'Dell speak onstage during The 42nd Annual Daytime Emmy Awards at Warner Bros. Studios on April 26, 2015 in Burbank, California. (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for NATAS)
ARLINGTON, TX - APRIL 19: Recording artists Kenny Chesney (L) and Garth Brooks (R) pose with television host Nancy O'Dell (C) backstage during the 50th Academy of Country Music Awards at AT&T Stadium on April 19, 2015 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Rick Diamond/ACM2015/Getty Images for dcp)
ARLINGTON, TX - APRIL 19: TV personality Nancy O'Dell attends the 50th Academy Of Country Music Awards at AT&T Stadium on April 19, 2015 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Rick Kern/WireImage)
ARLINGTON, TX - APRIL 19: Nancy O'Dell attends the 50th Academy Of Country Music Awards at AT&T Stadium on April 19, 2015 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Gary Miller/FilmMagic)
DALLAS, TX - APRIL 17: Co-host Nancy O'Dell attends the ACM Lifting Lives Gala at the Omni Hotel on April 17, 2015 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Jason Kempin/ACM2015/Getty Images for dcp)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - APRIL 13: TV personality Nancy O'Dell arrives for the Premiere Of Marvel's 'Avengers Age Of Ultron' held at Dolby Theatre on April 13, 2015 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images)
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Instead, all you got was a CYA PR "apology" from Bush, followed Monday by an even more worthless statement of non-regret: "I am deeply grateful for the conversations I've had with my daughters, and for all of the support from family, friends and colleagues," he said. It's possible Bush has reached out to O'Dell and Zucker privately, but whether he has or not is beside the point. Bush's comments were broadcast to the world, and they caused particular, and public, pain to both women. His response so far has been to express ambiguous regret. "I look forward to what lies ahead," Bush concluded in his Monday statement. Hopefully that future includes a lot of soul-searching.


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