It’s Time to Pardon Billy Bush

billy-bush This piece was originally published in December 2016. In the wake of Bush publishing a story about Trump we re-publish now. ‘Tis season of the pardon. As with all modern Commanders-in-Chief, President Obama will soon wave his pardon wand and offer clemency to an additional group of convicted criminals whose sentences may have been disproportionate compared to their crimes. Heck, he recently pardoned a turkey. Now, Billy Bush certainly wasn’t convicted of any crime, but he did receive about as tough a sentence as media organizations dole out — banishment from the hallowed halls of NBC News despite having a long term contract. Bush, of course, was heard on that now infamous Access Hollywood tape laughing along with now President-elect Donald Trump as he gloated about everything from his fame’s irresistible allure to women to his penchant for grabbing them “by the pussy.” So with that in mind, why anyone suggest that Bush, who rode shotgun on Trump’s troubling tirade, be spared anything short of the ultimate professional punishment? Well in the legal world, when assessing a sentence, it is entirely fair, even expected, to evaluate the penalty doled out to the primary perpetrator when considering the appropriate punishment for an accomplice. In this case the principal was unequivocally Donald Trump. Listening to that tape, there can be no doubt or debate about that reality. Yet so many seem to have forgiven (and/or forgotten) Trump and yet Bush remains a sort of pariah. Of course Bush doesn’t have, and his role really didn’t encourage, the sort of built in vocal base a political commentator might enjoy, so it is hardly surprising that few would publicly question his punishment. And Bush absolutely deserved scorn and an unambiguous rebuke for his objectification of women heard on the tape. But for both Trump and Bush the jury would be the court of public opinion and based on the election results (despite Trump’s loss in the popular vote), Donald Trump has since been promoted to President while Bush effectively expelled. And again to view this through a legal prism, Bush’s “crime” wasn’t remotely comparable to Trump’s. In fact, when Trump made his most offensive comment: “Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything,” Bush actually changed the subject talking (in a sexist way) about the woman approaching them. And Bush also steered the conversation in a different direction when Trump made arguably his other most offensive comment (there were a few)
Donald Trump: “I moved on her like a bitch. But I couldn’t get there. And she was married. Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything. She’s totally changed her look.” Billy Bush: “Sheesh, your girl’s hot as shit. In the purple.”

To be clear, Bush was caught saying things that aren’t, and shouldn’t be, acceptable, in particular for a network morning television host. Bush said as much in an apology. But Trump’s comments were exponentially worse and after an initial apology, he increasingly dismissed the criticism by attributing his comments to casual “locker room” banter. Bush, on the other hand, never veered from an unequivocal apologia. Accepting responsibility for one’s actions is another consideration judges assess in sentencing. Do two wrongs make a right? Of course not and this isn’t actually a court of law. But the comparison is instructive as many in the media including Trump critics, declare a willingness to look forward and “give Trump a chance” in his new role. Donald Trump was effectively declared “not guilty” by the jury of American citizens while somehow Bush was “convicted” for a far lesser offense. NBC can’t and won’t hire Bush back, but others in media can determine that Bush committed a transgression for which he has served time and now pardon any remaining sentence. At this point, any other result is difficult to reconcile. Author’s note: Since I published this piece, the world has changed with many serial harassers (and some accused rapists) being expelled from the news and entertainment businesses. One could argue that makes it less likely that Bush will ever be accepted back into the mainstream media world. I would argue that it remains critical to assess degrees of guilt and there is simply no doubt that Bush’s “crime” does not compare to the others we have been discussing as of late. [image via shutterstock]

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