When the now-infamous 2005 recording of President Donald Trump joking to former Access Hollywood host Billy Bush about grabbing women by their genitals surfaced in 2016, it seemed like it had to be enough to keep him from winning the election. Yet, somehow, Trump still made it to the White House — and ultimately, it was Bush who ended up losing his job. The anchor kept quiet amid the backlash, but after recent reports claimed that Trump was denying it was actually him on the tape, he spoke out in a scathing New York Times op-ed published Sunday. In it, Billy Bush said we need to believe Trump's accusers, and that message — along with his public condemnation of the president's actions — is certainly an important one. But, as many users are pointing out on social media, the fact that he's saying it doesn't necessarily make Bush particularly deserving of applause or public sympathy.
Despite the fact that Trump offered up a public apology after the tapes were released in October 2016, The New York Times recently reported that, behind closed doors, he has suggested that the tape was "not authentic," and that it may have been doctored. That seems pretty hard to actually believe, but according to The Guardian, Access Hollywood host Natalie Morales made sure to reiterate the program's position on-air anyway, telling viewers, "Let us make this perfectly clear. The tape is very real. Remember his excuse at the time was ‘locker-room talk’. He said every one of those words.”
Those words, of course, were the ones recorded during a conversation Trump had with Bush on the set of Days Of Our Lives, on which the president was making a cameo appearance. On the tape, Trump said, according to The Guardian:
I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything…Grab ’em by the p*ssy. You can do anything.
In his op-ed, Bush opened the piece by confirming what we already know — and what Trump had already admitted to — which is that it was indeed him on the tape. Bush explained that, at the time, he and the seven other men who'd heard him say it "laughed along, without a single doubt that this was hypothetical hot air from America's highest-rate bloviator." He wrote that they all assumed they "were listening to a crass standup act," and that he shouldn't be taken seriously. But after he read the personal accounts of 20 different women who had accused Trump of sexual misconduct following his suspension from NBC, Bush wrote that he realized that "the 'grab ’em by the p*ssy” routine [was] real."
Bush later goes on to own up to some of his mistakes, admitting that his segments with Trump had been a huge boost to his career, and that he had been "acting out of self-interest" and "enabling our future president" without actually knowing it. He wrote, "this last year has been an odyssey, the likes of which I hope to never face again," but said that the difficult emotions have "given way to light, both spiritual and intellectual." And while the sincerity of those comments can be debated, the truth is that they don't entirely matter. What matters — the part of his explanation that has real value — is that, twice, he wrote that he believes Trump's accusers, and that he agrees that "the hard work of exposing these injustices" is not only necessary, but that it needs to be viewed "as a men's issue."
The sincerity of those comments can be debated too, but regardless, it's a message that needs repeating. Because, as we are finally now seeing clearly and very openly, sexual harassment/assault/misconduct/etc. against women (which, at its core, is really just misogyny) is so prevalent, and such a part of existing in the world for women, that it would be easier to ask who hasn't been affected by it than who has. The accusations against Trump are serious and they should be taken that way. But instead, he's been able to continue sitting in the Oval Office, suggesting that the tapes were somehow a setup.
The problem with Bush's piece though, is that it also shows how little a white man in Hollywood actually has to do in order to receive a pat on the back for a job well done. Bush's career was pretty much steamrolled by the Access Hollywood tapes, and no one really seemed to have much sympathy for him at the time. Now that he's come out and said the right thing — the thing that should be glaringly obvious in all instances — it seems like he's somehow instantly redeemed himself.
It's not necessarily Bush's fault, though. Although some on social media have suggested the piece is mostly just an attempt at reviving his career, the reality is also that the bar for public male redemption is incredibly low. Yes, we should believe women who have their genitals groped without their consent by influential men. Yes, men need to care about sexual assault against women, and yes, they need to speak up, and they need to push back, and they need to acknowledge the bravery and strength of all the women who are already doing the work of taking a stand. But should men like Billy Bush actually get credit for doing that? Should that not just be considered part of the price of admission for existing as a decent human in the world?
To be clear, it is a good thing that Bush wrote that op-ed — every voice that repeats the message that everyone needs to keep hearing until it is no longer up for debate is worthwhile. It is important that men like Trump get called out for their behavior, and it's also especially important that Trump specifically continues to get called out for his behavior (since, for some reason, it seems to continue to be downplayed or ignored). But maybe it's also important to consider that men like Billy Bush still need to do more. They need to say they believe women, sure, but they also need to call out men like Trump, instead of just assuming it's "crass standup." They need to think that the behavior is wrong, yes, but they have to act like it is, too.
Hopefully Billy Bush's words will serve as a reminder of the strange reality we're currently living in — that even after all the allegations, and his own recorded admission, Donald Trump literally became the President of the United States. But those words alone shouldn't be considered enough for men like Billy Bush. They should be considered the beginning.