Billy Bush is down but not out.
The television personality’s career came to a screeching halt on October 7, 2016 after a lewd 11-year-old conversation between Donald Trump and Bush was leaked to The Washington Post. In the tape, Trump could be heard bragging about grabbing women “by the p***y”, with Bush egging him on.
What could’ve potentially ended the “Apprentice” host’s presidential campaign instead tanked Bush’s career — all while Trump ascended to U.S. Presidency.
“I could not put two thoughts together,” Bush, 45, told The Hollywood Reporter of the leak. “Things were happening way too fast.” The one-on-one is the former television host’s first extended interview since the scandal seven months ago.
Bush was soon suspended from “Today” and quickly found himself ousted from NBC News with a multimillion-dollar severance package and a nondisclosure agreement. “I would have welcomed addressing the audience [on air],” Bush said.
Reflecting on the tape, Bush said he felt “totally and completely gutted” by his part in the conversation. “Looking back upon what was said on that bus, I wish I had changed the topic,” he continued. ” [Trump] liked TV and competition. I could’ve said, ‘Can you believe the ratings on whatever?’ But I didn’t have the strength of character to do it.”
The aftermath of his exit may have been the most challenging as he was forced to explain to his three daughter why he was let go: “My [then] 15-year-old, Mary, called me from boarding school, and she was in tears: ‘Dad, Dad, Dad,’ and I said, ‘Everything is going to be fine, Mary. Everything’s going to be OK.'”
“It’s just instinctively what you say to your daughter,” he added. “And she said, ‘No, why were you laughing at the things that he was saying on that bus, Dad? They weren’t funny.’ It hit really hard, and I stopped for a second, and I said, ‘I have no answer for that that’s any good. I am really sorry. That was Dad in a bad moment a long time ago. You know me. I am really sorry that you had to hear and see that. I love you.’ She needed to hear that, and I certainly needed to tell her that.”
Fortunately, Bush could rely on the support of his family, “My 18-year-old is more of a fighter. She was like, ‘All right, who do I need to take out?’ And my wife, Sydney, knows the environment and the atmosphere I was in at the time, and she knows very well the person she married. She has been very supportive from the very beginning.”
He said the last seven months have “been a roller coaster,” but the irony of the outcome isn’t lost on him. Juxtaposing his departure with Trump’s Presidential arrival, Bush said “I will admit the irony is glaring. [Trump] has his process for his participation [in the tape], and I have mine.”
Bush doesn’t plan to stay down for good. He’s already working on his comeback, but realizes the importance of taking his time: “There’s a process that needs to take place because you just can’t come back; it has to have changed you in some way.”
“But I plan to return to the job that I love, which is television, communicating, interviewing people,” he continued. “I have changed in a way that I think will make me better at my job. I believe there will be more people like me in crisis. And with social media, a flame becomes a bonfire quickly. So I will be picking up my pen and writing them and calling them on the phone, and I will pursue these interviews and these moments with these people.”
“And through what I’ve learned and where I’ve been, I will tell them, ‘You have empathetic ears in me.'”