Why was the Washington Post the first outlet to publish the now notorious video of Donald Trump saying horrific things to a braying Billy Bush? According to the Post, NBC, which owns Access Hollywood, had the video first, but delayed reporting on it because of a lengthy legal review:
Although NBC and “Access” both recognized the newsworthiness of the tape and intended to air it, it first had to undergo a review by the company’s lawyers, the executive said. The executive was unaware of any specific legal issue raised by airing an 11-year-old recording of a presidential candidate who was apparently aware at the time that he was being recorded by a TV program.
Eventually, someone in NBC decided to “force the issue” by leaking it to the Post. NBC seems to have intentionally waited until the Post published it before they ran their story. The implication is that NBC was scared to publish the video because they feared a lawsuit from Trump.
Fear of lawsuits is indeed a plausible reason for NBC to have sat on this; you might say a recent spate of lawsuits brought by rich people against news outlets that publish true things about famous people has had some sort of ... “cooling” effect on certain kinds of reporting. NBC is not exactly the model of swashbuckling, consequences-be-damned journalism.
I propose an even simpler explanation. It’s right there in the name of the program from which this tape originated: Access Hollywood. Donald Trump was a celebrity guest on an access-driven syndicated show business news show. A good way to lose “access” to celebrity guests is to leak humiliating behind-the-scenes footage of those celebrities acting boorishly while appearing on your program. There are a lot of horrible famous people out there, and Access Hollywood promises them a venue where their horribleness will be masked, with a softball Billy Bush interview and some humanizing interaction with a soap opera star. But if it is even possible that your off-camera off-brand remarks will become public once they are deemed sufficiently “newsworthy,” the whole operation collapses.
This also explains why other, similar footage of Donald Trump—which surely exists, I mean this guy has been on TV for thousands and thousands hours and apparently can’t go ten minutes without saying something horrific—has yet to surface. Is Mark Burnett, keeper of the Apprentice tapes, sitting on embarrassing footage of Donald Trump because he wants Trump to be president? Probably not. Is he worried about a lawsuit from Trump? Perhaps. Does he have a lucrative television franchise with the potential to continue making him money for years, so long as marketable celebrities continue being willing to host and appear on the program? Yes, he does.