Monday, October 10, 2016

Donald Trump and Hollywood Omertà

Many people have seen, or at least read about, the now-infamous “hot mic” tape of a candid conversation between Donald Trump and Billy Bush in September 2005. News outlets and the internet are currently saturated with analysis of the content of this tape, in which Trump admits that his money and power permits him to commit sexual assault. The astounding crudity of the verbal exchange was seen as revealing the true nature of Donald Trump’s personality and attitude towards women, and the revelation of this tape may well prove to be the tipping point of the 2016 presidential election.

But this article isn’t about the content of the tape: it’s about why it took so long for it to be released. This is the part of this incredible story that seems to be under-discussed— and it relates directly to Hollywood, which is why it’s being discussed here.

The official story is the producer of “Access Hollywood,” Steve Silverstein, remembered this interview about two weeks before the release and dug the footage out of archives. This story is almost certainly false. The reason why it’s not believable is actually embedded in how the tape was recorded.

This political bombshell (more of a nuclear warhead) was taken from a segment of “Access Hollywood” which documented a cameo Donald Trump was making on the soap opera “Days of Our Lives.” It was shot on the backlot of NBC Studios in Burbank. A camera crew was following Trump and “Access” host Billy Bush: both men were fitted with lavalier microphones and transmitter packs which broadcast RF signal to receivers attached to the camera. During the publicly-released segment a cameraman had stepped outside the bus to set up a shot showing Bush and Trump arriving at the studio to be greeted by soap star Arianne Zucker. Thinking they were off-camera, the two men engaged in a crude, degrading conversation about women. Aside from the on-camera personalities there were seven people involved in this taping: two cameramen, the segment producer, a production assistant, Trump’s bodyguard and PR person, and the bus driver.

After this segment was shot, the footage was likely seen and handled by even more people: on-line and offline editors, more show producers, audio technicians and maybe even an archivist.

Charlie Chaplin, during one of his
many, many court appearances.
So about a dozen people— very likely more— heard and saw this footage in 2005. Yet NONE of these people recalled this conversation, one of the most devastating revelations of character any political aspirant has ever uttered? Particularly as this 2005 taping came on the heels of complaints by the cast and crew of Trump’s show “The Apprentice” about his crude on-set behavior? That is an impressive case of collective amnesia.

Hollywood’s code of silence strikes again.

The film industry has been creating and controlling secrets since the days of Charlie Chaplin (and Lita MacMurray) and Fatty Arbuckle (and Virginia Rappe). The studios all had (and still have) well-funded departments which handled public relations and “fixers,” producer-level executives who specialized in keeping indiscretions out of the press. (Hail Caesar was a thinly fictionalized account about a famous studio fixer.)

The culture of secrecy goes very deep in both the film and TV industries. Entertainment is an unusual industry in that the general public is constantly and intently curious about it. Supermarkets do not devote shelf space at the checkout counters with magazines dishing the dirt on astrophysicists and farmers, after all. Scripts and storylines have to be kept secret: details of film shoots are kept from public view as much as possible as well. The need for confidentiality rivals the Pentagon’s.

It’s all for the greater glory of the Industry, of course. That, and jobs. A scandal that would bring down a star would shut down production. A leaked script would kill off box-office potential. Finally, there’s the prestige factor: being on the set gives even the lowest PA or grip access to some of that rare stuff, Hollywood Glamor— stacks of non-disclosure agreements are willingly signed to gain access to that inner circle.

Why did this revelation take so long to emerge into the light of public scrutiny? The culture of Hollywood, a full century of studio secrets kept, reputations protected, indiscretions hidden. And they are so good at it: Did you know that Tom Cruise is only 5’7”? It took a LOT of will to overcome that much inertia and tradition.


  1. I will vouch for Tom's height. I've been in a lobby with him several times, and got an inch or two on the guy. Good looking though.

  2. Short leading men are quite good looking. Apple boxes will never go out of style in Hollywood.