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The Ballad of Billy Bush

The past, present and future of the latest Bush to be disgraced

When tapes of Donald Trump boasting about his ability to pop Tic Tacs and sexually assault women without consequence were released last Friday, Americans (and beyond) reacted with horror. How could this man be a major party’s nominee? How could hearing these confessions (later explained as “locker room talk”) not change the hearts and minds of people in his camp? And who the hell is the nasally twerp laughing at Trump’s brags?

The question “who is this?” is always a burn for celebrities, but it’s a particularly nasty burn for someone like William Bush, who has been a television fixture for over a decade and is part of one of the most powerful families in the country. Poppy Bush calls this man his nephew. George W calls him cousin. Jenna Bush Hager called him Oh God Billy’s here. But to us — if he’s anyone at all — he’s just Billy. And this is his story.

Act I: Yesterday

1971. William Hall Bush is born in New York City. It was a filthy place back then, nearly bankrupt and crime-ridden. But not in his neighborhood! Oh, heavens no, because William is part of that Bush family. As Mayor Ed Koch spends three terms leaving his mark on the city below, Bush stays up in his tower doing (or paying someone to do) homework from his exclusive schools and dreaming of things all Bush children dream of, like Does this private jet come with a bidet? and absolute power.

The ‘90s. When he finishes boarding school, Bush heads off to Maine for college, as it’s the farthest he can get away from his family while still remaining a train ride from home. While there, he studies government because of his name and plays lacrosse. He spends his first few years post-graduation working at various radio stations down the Eastern seaboard. “Why?” you ask. “Why not,” he replies before burping. For both Billy Bush and the country as a whole, this is a decade of forgettable plenty.

2001. In the final days of our nation’s innocence — when people still went to Blockbuster and the only Kardashian we knew was Robert Sr. — Billy Bush accepts his first television job at Access Hollywood. He’s earned it, you know, and this has nothing to do with nepotism so please banish that thought from your mind. NBC is merely hungry for young, up-and-coming talent to interview big stars of the moment like Jennifer Lopez, Hugh Grant, and, I don’t know, Hoku, so they settle for a young whippersnapper who made a name for himself annoying thousands upon thousands of miserable Beltway drivers during their evening commutes. The folks at Access Hollywood have no idea he’s one of those Bushes. I mean, how could he be? Oh wait—they know he is and prohibit him from ever mentioning it. Phew. Now that that’s settled, he hides in this blurry anonymity of late-afternoon/early-evening network celebrity for, oh, 15 years.

Politics though? “Too many skeletons in this closet,” he tells Las Vegas Review Journal in 2008. “No. I’m so apolitical. I have respect for my uncle and my cousin, who have achieved great heights, but it’s not for me. People don’t even know how I vote.”

Act II: Today

August 2016. Ah, what luck! After years ruffling feathers around the peacock network, our precious Billy is offered one of the cushiest jobs in all of broadcast journalism: a spot on Today as one of its anchors. This is the type of job Holly Hunter’s character in Broadcast News would rant about for days at a time — a position requiring minimal talent and integrity with slightly above zero cultural value that somehow pays millions. If well-dressed, coiffed and caffeinated, it is nearly impossible to fail at this job. Yet somehow our boy Billy does just that in his first month.

Ryan Lochte, that tricky little rapscallion, conned poor Billy into believing his lies, and soon it was known nationwide that he was an outcast. Al (allegedly) grew to hate him, as did Savannah (allegedly) and Tamron (allegedly) and Kathie and Hoda (allegedly), but he soldiered on. Because he is a Bush. And Bushes are nothing if not good at completely ignoring the haters.

October 2016. With one piece of tape, Billy’s house of cards (surprise: they’re all jokers) comes tumbling down. America, suddenly aware of who he is after 15 years, discovers that he once laughed with — not at — a man who bragged about sexual assault. He was complicit in propping up the patriarchy and supporting rape culture. He called himself “Bushy” while asking women to hug him. NBC suspends him, and we — having just gotten to know him — begin to forget.

Act III: Tomorrow

2026. While shuffling to the kitchen to have a cup of coffee before his morning run and ceremonial burning of The Washington Post — a routine he’s had for over a decade now — the phone rings. He touches the side of his glasses — who’d ever thought he’d be a nerd who wears glasses! — and is greeted by the best news he’s had since 2018 (when Ryan Lochte was arrested for mail fraud, of course): Al Roker and Savannah Guthrie have accidentally ended up in Canadian jail after being mistaken for a pair of Toronto-area bank robbers while on assignment. Canada refuses to send them back. Today needs him. They need him to come back.

“You want me?” he asks, still unconvinced he’s actually awake. “Next week? On Tomorrow?” (Today has since rebranded as Tomorrow after Mark Zuckerberg bought both Comcast and GE in 2020.)

Yes, it seems as though 10 years is all it takes to forgive this kind of mistake, or at least the extent of our collective cultural memories. Donald Trump is merely a thing of the past, gone on to launch his own TV network, The Dump, which received wild ratings until World War III began.

Bush, on the other hand, is 10 years older. Wiser. He’s seen what it’s like without the warm embrace of Today’s third hour. He’s been to hell and back — selling drones and assault rifles on QVC. He’s less inclined to be convinced of anything by Ryan Lochte, that’s for sure.

Eagerly, he accepts.

Epilogue

2027. Someone, perhaps you or me, turns on their wall-sized TV one chilly winter morning before heading into the office and quizzically cocks their head at the screen.

Who’s that man? On the TV? Why does he seem so familiar? That man right there, interviewing Jaden Smith and Bella Thorne about their Oscar nominations. Why do I know that face? Why do I know… that voice? Is that… Billy Bush?

No. It’s William.