Over the weekend, the New York Times published an op-ed by fallen Today Show and Access Hollywood co-host Billy Bush entitled, “Yes, Donald Trump, You Said That.” The “that” in question: “Grab ’em by the pussy,” and other such boastful, lewd statements the then-presidential candidate said while on a hot mic during an Access Hollywood taping in 2005, ostensibly endorsing and confessing to sexual harassment and assault. The tape, which was released just more than a year ago—just a month before Trump would emerge victorious over Hillary Clinton in the presidential election—resulted in NBC severing Bush’s contract. Yet there was zero consequences for the then incoming commander-in-chief, who has since used that platform to endorse accused sex offenders like Roy Moore in Alabama while dismissing his hot mic'ed statements as little more than "locker-room talk."
But recently, Trump—who previously admitted to, and apologized for, making the statements—has decided the tape is fabricated. “We don’t think it was my voice,” Trump told one Republican senator, according to the New York Times in a story published last week. Enter Bush’s rebuttal, in which he reminds the now-president (and every other reader, for that matter) that he did, in fact, say these things, and seven other men in addition to Bush were present as witnesses. The thing is, Trump must be pretty much the only one who think he didn’t “say that,” aside from perhaps his most diehard supporters. Bush's column is an unequivocal denunciation of the president, but really, it's simply a clever development in his year-long apology tour since he was let go from NBC last October, a mea culpa that attempts to undo the misbehavior that preceded it.
“We laughed along, without a single doubt that this was hypothetical hot air from America’s highest-rated bloviator,” Bush writes. Trump himself said as much in the second presidential debate, acknowledging his remarks while denying he had ever actually initiated sexual contact without a woman’s permission. “Every single one of us assumed we were listening to a crass standup act. He was performing. Surely, we thought, none of this was real,” Bush adds. “We now know better.” Of course, Bush’s “we” is a decidedly limited sampling. Even before the tape was released, there was ample evidence that Trump was not simply “performing.” His ex-wife Ivana had accused him of rape in her 1990 divorce filings, 15 years before the Access Hollywood tape was recorded and more than a quarter of a century before its release; makeup artist Jill Harth accused him of attempted rape in a 1997 lawsuit; several Miss Teen USA contestants alleged Trump walked in on them—in his words, “inspecting” the proceedings—in their changing rooms during the 1997 pageant; and he has been accused of groping, kissing, and engaging in other non-consensual contact with reporters and contestants on The Apprentice over the years. Many of these accusations had surfaced before the Access Hollywood tape crystallized them into a single, damning narrative that some thought, falsely, would sink Trump’s election prospects. Instead, it simply sank Bush’s career. Trump proceeded to the White House, without passing go, without collecting $200.
Bush has since claimed to be “ashamed and embarrassed,” as he told the Hollywood Reporter earlier this year, by his own remarks, which are no less objectifying, if perhaps less outright predatory: “Sheesh, your girl’s hot as s--t,” he says, pointing out a woman who, it turns out, is actress Arianne Zucker. “Those legs—all I can see is the legs.” Then, when he and Trump greet Zucker, Bush demands she pick, between the two of them, which she would prefer to take on a date. He “didn’t have the strength of character” to change the subject, he told the Hollywood Reporter earlier this year.
Despite the column's title, Bush doesn’t just reiterate that the tape is real; he goes on to explain how they are representative of a pattern of behavior he didn’t fully grasp at the time. (“I’d like to think if I had thought for a minute that there was a grown man detailing his sexual assault strategy to me, I'd have called the FBI,” he told the Hollywood Reporter in the same interview.) In the opinion piece, Bush repeats, “I believe her,” echoing the refrain that has accompanied the allegations of sexual assault surfacing in not only politics but also Hollywood, media, music, and theater. The implication is clear: In order to begin to reverse the decades and centuries of abuse of women, we must first uplift accusers and treat their stories as credible and as evidence of a larger power structure that permits their systemic, rather than individual, subjugation. This is real, and worth repeating. Of course, it doesn’t take Bush’s endorsement to believe women. Few, beyond the most hardcore Trump supporters, believe the Access Hollywood tape might be a hoax; not even members of his own party, like Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, have supported the president’s statements. “There’s empirical evidence that says no: You didn’t win the popular vote, there weren’t more people at your inauguration than ever, that was your voice on that tape, you admitted it before,” Flake told the New York Times last week. (Flake, for his part, does not get off the hook for voting in favor of the middle-of-the-night tax “heist.”)
All this is to say, this is not new—but when outlined in lucid terms by a prominent white man in media, it’s given added credence. Believe women, and also believe the man telling you to believe women. The bar is so low for male allies these days, Bush has been widely praised for a column explaining that Trump said what we already knew he said. On the spectrum of apologies issued by men over the past two months, Bush’s is among the more thoughtful, rightfully shouldering the burden of enabling Trump. (Writer Sarah Hagi tweeted, “I want to interview Billy Bush’s ghostwriter.”) It seems, all you need to do to make a comeback as a straight white man is to confirm what much of your audience already knows. Oh, and don’t forget to mention your daughters.
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