“When you’re a star they let you do it…”

Alberto A. Martinez

In 2005, on this Access Hollywood bus, Donald Trump and Billy Bush said vulgar comments about women.

Media Meme:

Donald Trump bragged that he commits acts of sexual assault against women, even “grab them by the p—-,” without their consent.

What Really Happened:

Trump was chatting on a bus, saying that he pursued a married woman but failed to have sex with her. He then saw an actress standing outside the bus and said that he was attracted to beautiful women and that he just starts kissing them: “Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the p—-.” To make Trump’s lewd comments even worse, news commentators added the words “without their consent” in order to portray it as a boastful admission of having often committed crimes of sexual assault.


Nobody should defend individuals who commit sexual assault. Nobody should defend rich men who exploit their position of power to physically abuse anyone. Is that what Trump did? For me, the incident described above was so annoying that it took me more than six months to make myself write about it. But it was a major incident in the 2016 elections, so I had to write about it, to analyze how the media covered it.

On Friday October 7, 2016, The Washington Post published parts of a video from 2005 in which Donald Trump had been unknowingly recorded while chatting privately with Billy Bush, a host of the NBC television program Access Hollywood. Billy Bush is a nephew of former President George H.W. Bush. Also, Billy’s first cousin is President George W. Bush.

Billy Bush and Donald Trump were chatting on a bus while arriving at NBC Studios to film a segment about Trump’s cameo appearance on the NBC soap opera Days of Our Lives.   [VIDEO]

Here’s a detailed transcript of the recording. The reason for reading the transcript, instead of just watching the video, is that one can note things that one otherwise misses, such as moments when the editor cut out segments. So here’s what happened.

NOTE: the conversation involves lewd, offensive expressions.

X:  “She used to be great. She’s still very beautiful.” [The speaker refers to Nancy O’Dell, co-host of the entertainment news program Access Hollywood.]

Trump:  “I moved on her actually. You know she was down in Palm Beach. I moved on her, and I failed. I’ll admit it.”

X:  “Whoa.”

Trump:  “I did try and fuck her. She was married.”

X: (Laughing) “That’s huge news there…”

Trump:   “No, no. Nancy. No this was—”

[At that point, just when Trump is about to explain himself, the anonymous leakers of the video cut out a portion of the tape. The audio omits some part of the discussion, while, in the video, the slow-moving bus is seen jumping forward.]

Y:  “Gorgeous, yeah.”

Trump:  “And I moved on her very heavily, in fact, I took her out furniture shopping. She wanted to get some furniture. I said: ‘I’ll show you where they have some nice furniture.”

X:  (Laughter)

Trump:  “I took her out furniture [shopping]. 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.” [He referred to actress Arianne Zucker, wearing a purple dress and standing outside the bus, waiting for them to arrive.]

Various:  “Whoa! Whoa. Yes! Whoa!”

Billy Bush:  “Yes! The Donald has scored.” (loud laughter) “My man!”

[Suddenly the anonymous editor cuts the video and audio tape again. The bus was arriving and parking, taking up nearly all the screen, but suddenly it is much smaller.]

Various:  (Loud laughter)

Billy Bush:  “Whoa, my man! Anyway, you gotta look—”

(A few voices speak simultaneously, but it’s unclear.)

Trump:  “Look at you. You are a pussy.”

Various:  (laughter)

Then, a blond, tall man with sunglasses exits the bus. Then another man starts to walk out, but then starts going back in. At that moment, at 49 seconds, the anonymous editor again cut out a portion of the tape.

Then, a man in a suit and a yellow tie starts to get out of the bus, but just as his face becomes visible for an instant, the video abruptly shows some digital interference, blocking the entire image, as if it has been inserted at just the right moment so that we can’t see the man or men who are getting out of that bus.

Then the interference clears and two more men get out of the bus. Then one of the men outside shuts the door of the bus.

Trump:  “Maybe it’s a different one.”

Bush:  “It better not be the publicist. No, it’s her. It’s–”

Trump:  “Yeah, that’s her. With the gold. I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful— I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. [Bush starts laughing] Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything.”

Bush:  [Still laughing]  “Whatever you want.”

Trump:  “Grab them by the pussy. [Bush bursts out laughing.] You can do anything.”

Bush: “Look at those legs, all I can see is the legs.”

Trump:  “Oh, it looks good.”

Bush:  “Come on, shorty.”

Trump:  “Oh, nice legs, huh?”

Bush:  “Oof, get out of the way honey. Oh, that’s good legs. Go ahead.”

Trump:  “It’s always good if you don’t fall out of the bus. Like Ford, Gerald Ford, remember?” (Then Trump knocks on the window of the door of the bus, to exit.)

Bush:  “Down below, pull the handle.”

Then Trump opens the door of the bus and steps out. Arianne Zucker is standing there to meet Trump and Bush.

Trump:  “Hello, how are you? Hi.”

Arianne Zucker:  “Hi, Mister Trump. How are you?” (They shake hands.)

Trump:  “Terrific, terrific. You know Billy Bush.”

Bush:  “Hello, nice to see you. How you doing, Arianne?”

Zucker:  “I’m doing very well, thank you. Are you ready to be a soap star?”

Trump:  “We’re ready, let’s go. Make me a soap star.”

Bush:  “How about a little hug for the Donald? He just got off the bus.”

Zucker:  “Would you like a little hug darling?”

Trump:  “Ok, yeah absolutely. [He lightly hugs her with one arm and gives her a kiss her on the cheek.] Melania says this is okay.”

Bush:  “How about a little hug for the Bushy? I just got off the bus. Here we go. Excellent. Well you’ve got a nice co-star here.”

Then, Arianne Zucker walks the two men to the studio. Finally, Billy Bush tells Trump: “I’m gonna leave you here, give me my microphone.” And Trump gives him the microphone that was pinned onto his jacket lapel.

Was Trump married when he said these statements in 2005? Yes. He married Melania Knavs in January 2005. However, when he tried to have sex with Nancy O’Dell was some time prior to 2005, when he was single. As for Nancy O’Dell, she got married on 1995 but divorced in 2004. Later, in June 2005, she married her second husband.

My point is that it’s unclear whether when Trump made his advances on O’Dell he was single and she was happily married, or, whether he was single and she was separated, in the process of getting divorced. Thus it would be important to know what the anonymous editor deleted from Trump’s words, in particular, what Trump said right after: “She was married. No, no. Nancy. No this was—,” but was cut out.

(I have no interest in gifting imaginative excuses for Mr. Trump. I just want to know: (1) What did he actually say, and (2) Who deleted some of his words?)

The recorded conversation between Trump and Billy Bush happened in September 2005. Eleven years later the Washington Post published Trump’s vulgar comments—mysteriously edited—just one month before all votes were cast in the US Presidential election. Promptly, countless many people and news commentators expressed horror, indignation, and disgust.

The initial accounts of the incident voiced outrage. A staff writer in The Atlantic wrote: “In describing his behavior toward women, Trump is describing sexual assault: non-consensual kissing and grabbing of women’s genitals. He is bragging, if privately, about appalling and illegal behavior.”

Promptly, Trump issued a written statement: “This was locker room banter, a private conversation that took place many years ago. Bill Clinton has said far worse to me on the golf course — not even close. I apologize if anyone was offended.”

That apology wasn’t enough. That evening, Trump also issued another apology on video, saying:

“I’ve never said I’m a perfect person, nor pretended to be someone that I’m not. I’ve said and done things I regret, and the words released today on this more than a decade-old video are one of them. Anyone who knows me knows these words don’t reflect who I am. I said it, I was wrong, and I apologize.”

Trump then said that, as a candidate, his travels around the country had changed him, and that he had been humbled by the American people. He “pledged to be a better man tomorrow,” but he added that the video was “nothing more than a distraction from the important issues we’re facing today: we’re losing our jobs,” etc. He then said that, in contrast to the “foolish things” he had said, the actions of Bill and Hillary Clinton were worse: because Bill had abused women, and Hillary had “bullied, attacked, shamed and intimidated his victims.”

Yet to millions of people the video was not just “a distraction.” It seemed to be clear evidence that Trump was a sexual aggressor of women, a misogynist who objectified and disrespected women, even married women, with his self-entitled unwelcome advances.

Promptly that very first day, many politicians and commentators accused Trump of being an insincere misogynist. For example, all of these Republican Senators dropped their support for Trump: John McCain (AZ), Jeff Flake (AZ), Dan Sullivan (AK), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Senator Cory Gardner (CO), Mike Crapo (ID), Mark Kirk (IL) (he had rescinded his support earlier in 2016), Ben Sasse (NE), Kelly Ayotte (NH), John Thune (SD), Mike Lee (UT), Shelley Moore Capito (WV). The following Republican Representatives in Congress also rescinded their support of Trump: Martha Roby (AL), Joe Heck (NV), Jason Chaffetz (UT), Mia Love (UT), Barbara Comstock (VA), among others. Plus, other prominent Republicans ditched Trump, including: South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard, Utah Governor Gary Herbert, former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, former New York governor George Pataki, and the senior vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Rob Engstrom.

The 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain said that Trump’s “demeaning comments about women and his boasts about sexual assaults, make it impossible to continue to offer even conditional support for his candidacy.”

Even many Republicans who did not abandon Trump still denounced his words. For example, Representative Bob Goodlatte wrote: “Mr. Trump’s comments are reprehensible and rightly deserve to be condemned. All women should be treated with respect and these highly inappropriate comments are very disappointing.

The New York Daily News listed various examples of his past incidents of mistreating women, including Rosie O’Donnell, Carly Fiorina, Megyn Kelly, and Gail Collins. I’ve discussed some of those incidents previously.

That same day, October 8, the married woman Trump said he had “moved on,” Nancy O’Dell responded publicly to the audio of Trump and Bush. She wrote:

“Politics aside, I’m saddened that these comments still exist in our society at all. When I heard the comments yesterday, it was disappointing to hear such objectification of women. The conversation needs to change because no female, no person, should be the subject of such crass comments, whether or not cameras are rolling. Everyone deserves respect no matter the setting or gender. As a woman who has worked very hard to establish her career, and as a mom, I feel I must speak out with the hope that as a society we will always strive to be better.”

On October 9, Arianne Zucker too responded to the controversial tape. She wrote:

“I am a strong, independent, hard-working mother, business woman and partner to a great man. I have grown to learn that the words of others cannot affect the value of my self-worth or define the content of my character. How we treat one another, whether behind closed doors, locker rooms or face to face, should be done with kindness, dignity and respect. Unfortunately, there are too many people in power who abuse their position and disregard these simple principles and are rewarded for it. In understanding the magnitude of this situation, I choose to stand tall with self-respect and use my voice to enrich, inspire and elevate the best of who we are as people.”

That same day, October 9, NBC announced that because of Billy Bush’s comments in the 2005 video, Billy Bush was now suspended from the Today Show. (By October 17, Bush was officially fired from the program.)

Still, Melania Trump defended her husband. She wrote:

“The words my husband used are unacceptable and offensive to me. This does not represent the man that I know.” … “He has the heart and mind of a leader. I hope people will accept his apology, as I have, and focus on the important issues facing our nation and the world.”

It would take hundreds of pages to review the countless many critical reactions against Donald Trump over the incident.

So let me just give a few more summary impressions of his critics. Trump was denounced by other prominent Republicans, such as former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. He was also criticized and abandoned by some prominent Republican celebrities, such as actor and former Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger and actress Kirstie Alley.

But such complaints paled by comparison to the countless denunciations by liberals and Democrats. They said that Trump’s words were crude, lewd, vulgar, indecent, degrading, disgusting, disturbing, perverted, sick, offensive, indefensible, and inexcusable. They were stunned that the rich man could grossly brag and laugh as if he had the right to prey upon and sexually assault women because he can get away with it. They said that he was utterly unfit for political office. Some lawyers discussed Trump as if he were a criminal, arguing that he should be prosecuted for sexual battery.

On same day when the offensive video was published, October 7, the Democrat Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said that Trump “has been caught on tape bragging about routinely sexually assaulting women. There is no way to defend the indefensible. In the name of decency, Republicans should admit that this deviant – this sociopath – cannot be president.”

The next day, October 8, the Oscar-winning actor Robert De Niro published an edited video through CBS News in which he frankly insulted and threatened Trump. De Niro said:

“he’s so blatantly stupid, he’s a punk, he’s a dog, he’s a pig, [edited interruption]. He’s a con, a bullshit artist, [cut] a mutt, [cut] who doesn’t know what he’s talking about, doesn’t do his homework, doesn’t care, [edited interruption] thinks he’s gaming society, doesn’t pay his taxes, [edited interruption] He’s an idiot, Colin Powell said it best: “he’s a national disaster,” he’s an embarrassment to this country. [edited interruption] It makes me so angry that this country has gotten to this point that this fool, [edited interruption] this bozo has wound up where he has. [edited interruption] He talks how he wants to punch people in the face, well, I’d like to punch him in the face. [edited interruption] This is somebody that we want for President? I don’t think so…”

De Niro’s recording had been edited multiple times, as noted above, to make it seem as if it were a single spontaneous rant.

Then, on October 9, President Obama too promptly criticized the beleaguered Donald Trump. President Obama said that Trump’s words were “disturbing,” “unbelievable,” “demeaning,” and “degrading” to women.

Hillary Clinton reacted too: “This is horrific. We cannot allow this man to become president.”

On October 10, the Washington Post published an opinion piece titled: “Trump can’t stop his campaign’s death spiral.”

The next day the Post published another opinion piece saying that religious conservatives had made “a deal with the devil,” Donald Trump.

Soon, the Post also published another opinion piece titled: “Trump isn’t just a pig, he’s a predator.”

Many famous celebrities rushed to denounce Trump, for example, the Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks and the famous director Ron Howard. Likewise, Lena Dunham said that Trump was “violent” and “abusive.”

Plus, countless many women reacted with deep indignation to Trump’s words. Many women frankly commented that his words had triggered painful, personal memories of being groped without their consent. They shared recollections about unwelcome advances, sexual harassment, molestation, date-rape, sexual assault, violation, and particular men’s predatory behaviors.

The outpouring of personal accounts was so abundant that PBS NewsHour and other news outlets ran reports about the “tsunami of sexual assault stories” that Trump had generated.

On October 11, the British news magazine The Week published an article titled: “Why the Trump tape scandal was the thing that finally toppled Donald Trump.”

However, the writer was wrong.

And countless many other writers were wrong too when they imagined, with high certainty, that finally this lewd incident would prevent Donald Trump from ever becoming President, or that it might altogether destroy him as a public figure.

But it didn’t. Why not?

I mean it. This is a serious question. Why didn’t everyone denounce or abandon Trump?

Some people might quickly think that the reason why many Republicans did not stop liking Trump is “because they’re immoral sexist idiots.” But instead, I tried to analyze what reasons his advocates themselves gave.

In my mind, this offensive and controversial incident involving Trump was nearly his worst ever, second only to his proposed ban on Muslim immigration. That’s my opinion, but for many people the 2005 recording was clearly his worst offense.

Very few prominent people defended Trump. Few sympathizers dared to step up. In response to Robert De Niro’s verbal whipping of Trump, actor John Voight actually defended Trump. Voight is one of very few actors who “dare” to defend Republicans in liberal Hollywood. Regarding the taped conversation, Voight argued that

“Donald Trump’s words were not as damaging as Robert De Niro’s ugly rant. Trump’s words did not hurt anyone.” (But of course, very many people disagreed.) Voight argued that “I don’t know of too many men who haven’t expressed some sort of similar sexual terms toward women, especially in their younger years.” He also wrote that he was ashamed of “De Niro’s rant” and “foul words” against a presidential nominee.

Now ask yourself: was Voight’s position self-contradictory? Was it? He was ok with what Trump said but he was disturbed by what De Niro said. What matters to me right now is: what was the difference? To get to the point, my impression is that Voight thought that Trump had not tried to insult anyone and had not actually assaulted anyone. You may of course disagree. But I’m just noting that he was disturbed by De Niro’s insults and threat toward Trump but not at Trump’s vulgar comments about women.

Consider another, similar example. Another member of that seemingly rare group of individuals, conservative actors, the former television star Scott Baio actually defended Trump too. Interviewed on Fox News, Scott Baio argued:

“I like Trump because Trump is not a politician; he talks like a guy. And, ladies out there, this is what guys talk about when you’re not around. So if you’re offended by it, grow up. And by the way, this is what you guys [ladies] talk about over white wine when you have your brunches, so take it easy with your phony outrage. This is the way the world works. It’s not a big thing.”

Because of Baio’s brazen support of Trump, thousands of people ridiculed Baio online. He received death threats. Still he persisted; he argued:

“Why would I change [my political stance]? Because he [Trump] said stuff that guys sometimes say to each other? It’s absurd. It’s all phony outrage. The people who condemn this condone everything else. They’re the people who make Sex and the City, Fifty Shades of Grey, and now they have moral outrage? It’s bullshit.”

Baio’s references deserve a few words. Sex and the City was the super popular television series produced by HBO for six years; it featured many portrayals of sexual promiscuity, among other topics, and it won seven Emmy awards out of 54 nominations. In the show, the characters Samantha and Carrie had affairs with married men. (Similarly, but in reality, Trump had affairs as a married man, and he had tried to have sexual relations with a married woman.)

Fifty Shades of Grey is a an international best-selling erotic novel that by mid 2015 had sold more than 125 million copies worldwide, and had been translated into 52 languages. The book discusses the sexual relationship of a naïve young woman and a rich man, involving consensual sexual acts such as dominance/submission and sadism/masochism. Countless many women enjoyed the book and its sequels. Yet some Catholic bishops complained that Fifty Shades of Grey was an “assault on marriage” depicting a woman being abused. (Similarly, critics construed Trump’s words as depicting vicious abuse instead of consensual sexual acts.)

Anyhow, Scott Baio clarified his point about Trump:

I don’t condone sexual assault or violence against anybody. But it’s not harassment [what Trump said]. He’s not telling anyone to do anything. I’m lost as to what the big deal is. Listen, between Hillary Clinton and Satan, I’d choose Satan.”

Maybe to some people Baio’s words confirmed that Trump is the Devil, and Baio is a deranged Satanist. But to me it just meant that Baio thought Hillary Clinton was such an awful candidate that he much preferred Trump.

Again, you may disagree with what Baio said. But it shows that he seemed not to construe Trump’s words as having anything to do with the crime of sexually assaulting women. It’s as if Trump were not talking about abusing his power and wealth to serially victimize women.

Similarly, consider the words of Joe Walsh. He’s a conservative radio host who once served one term in the US House of Representatives. Walsh tweeted: “If women are so outraged by Trump’s dirty talk, then who the hell bought the 80 million copies of ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’? Grow up.”

Now compare the reactions of Voight, Baio, Walsh with the reaction of a top news anchor on CNN, Jake Tapper. When discussing Trump’s words with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Tapper argued:

“I will gladly tell you, Mr. Mayor, I have never said that. I have never done that; I’m happy to throw a stone. I don’t know any man ― I have been in locker rooms, I’ve been a member of a fraternity ― I’ve never heard any man brag about being able to maul women because they get away with it, never.”

Notice Jake Tapper’s exact words: “brag about being able to maul women.” Is this what Trump said? No. But it seems to be what his words literally meant to CNN’s Jake Tapper: that Trump can sexually assault women because he can get away with it.

We should quote Trump’s own words again; what he had privately said in 2005, while Billy Bush  laughed:

“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 them by the pussy. You can do anything.”

To persons such as Jake Tapper, Harry Reid, Lena Dunham, John McCain, and many others, the words “they let you do it” apparently meant that women were afraid to complain or defend themselves against Trump’s abusive sexual assaults because Trump is an intimidating and powerful businessman. Meanwhile, to persons such as Voight, Baio, and Walsh, instead, the words “they let you do it” apparently meant that when Trump tried to make physical advances on some women they let him do it because they were consenting adults who liked him because he was a famous star.

One day after the shameful tape was revealed, the online news magazine Politico published a nationwide poll (by the nonpartisan group Morning Consult) about people’s reaction to Trump’s words of 2005. They surveyed 1,549 registered voters, including both Democrats and Republicans. After hearing Trump’s words in a recording, 70% of those Democrat voters said that “Donald Trump should drop out of the presidential race.”

But 78% of the Republican voters said that Trump should not drop out of the presidential race. And 78% also said that they would still vote for Donald Trump on that very day. Just 12% of the surveyed Republicans said that Donald Trump should end his campaign. And only 35% of Independents (with no lean) said that that Trump should end his candidacy.

These results show that although Voight and Baio’s comments seemed unusual and insensitive, amidst the outcry of prominent condemnations, they were somewhat in accord with the majority of conservative voters. Likewise, by that day, October 9, at least 16 Republican Senators (out of 54) had publicly unendorsed Trump; but roughly 38 had not.

Let’s now compare some of the ways in which various news outlets characterized Trump’s words.

New York Times   “Trump repeatedly made vulgar comments about women.”

NBC News     “he shared candid and lewd views on women that were caught on tape.”

CNN online   “Trump brags about being able to grope and kiss women.”

Daily Mail (UK)   “boasting about how his celebrity status allows him to grope and kiss women”   “bragging about his attempts to seduce a married woman”  “bragging about how his celebrity status allows him to do ‘anything’ to women.”

Los Angeles Times   “Trump boasted that he might  just start kissing her, and how being a star enabled him to just grab women’s genitalia.”

Seattle Times   “he brags about groping and kissing women without their permission in a lewd 2005 recording.”

Glamour     “boasting about how his celebrity privilege has allowed him to grope women and kiss them whether they want it or not.

NPR    “Trump talked about kissing women and grabbing them between their legs (using far cruder language) without permission.

Bloomberg     “kissing and groping women without their consent.”

Vanity Fair     “Donald Trump can be heard making lewd comments about groping women without their consent.”

Business Insider   “Trump boasting about grabbing and kissing women without their consent.” 

Chicago Tribune   “Trump brags about kissing and groping women without their consent.”

The Guardian (UK)   “Trump boasts about groping and kissing women without their consent.”

Cosmopolitan      “Trump is heard telling Access Hollywood’s Billy Bush that he enjoys groping and kisses women without their consent.”

The Daily Beast     “Trump Brags About Nonconsensually Groping Women”  “a new low: bragging about grabbing women without their okay”  “Trump further describes his propensity to kiss attractive women without their consent.”

The Atlantic    “Trump Brags About Groping Women”     “In describing his behavior toward women, Trump is describing sexual assault: non-consensual kissing and grabbing of women’s genitals.”

Slate        “Trump’s Boasts About Sexual Assault.”   “Trump was bragging about sexual assault.”

TIME       “he bragged about sexually assaulting women.”  “‘I don’t even wait,’ he says – suggesting that he does in fact realize he should have a woman’s consent to kiss her, but feels fine about forcing it).”

Independent  (UK)     “Trump caught on tape talking about sexually assaulting women”  “the real estate mogul said that he can do anything he wants to women—including grabbing and kissing them without consent.”

Huffington Post      “Trump boasted of kissing women without their consent and grabbing them”   “boasting he can sexually assault women at will because of his fame.”    “Trump’s Latest Comments About Women Are Rape Culture In A Nutshell


The quotations above do not all say the same thing. Among these quotations, in my opinion, the most accurate characterizations of what Trump actually said were by The New York Times, CNN online, The Daily Mail, and the L.A. Times.  In contradistinction, the other quotations add something that Trump did not actually say. They interpolate the claim that Trump was kissing and groping women “without their consent,” “without their permission,” “whether they want it or not.”

Why did the various writers and political commentators add such phrases? Apparently they were convinced that since Trump said “I don’t even wait” he must have meant: “I don’t even wait for their consent, I just force myself on them.”

Is that what he must have meant that? Why? Because of his tone?

But he didn’t say that. To the contrary, he said “they let you do it.” So, in order to disregard this phrase about apparent consent, the news commentators apparently interpreted those words to mean: “they let you do it, against their will and despite the fact that they have not given consent.”

A few liberal persons voiced surprise at how the media had interpreted Trump. Days before the Presidential Election, on Friday November 4, 2016, the popular African-American comedian Dave Chappelle was giving a surprise standup show at a night club in New York City, The Cutting Room on East 32nd Street.

Among other things, Chappelle discussed Trump’s 2005 tape. According to The Observer, Chapelle said: “What I heard on the tape was gross.” He conjectured that the tape had been released by Hillary Clinton, which “was even more gross,” but still he voted for her for President (in early voting). Then, Chappelle suddenly shocked his liberal Manhattan audience by arguing that the media had misrepresented Trump’s words as if it were sexual assault. Reportedly, Chappelle said:

“Sexual assault? It wasn’t. He said, ‘And when you’re a star, they let you do it.’ That phrase implies consent. I just don’t like the way the media twisted that whole thing. Nobody questioned it.

Three days later, Chappelle replied to a question on camera, saying: “Jesus Christ. I’m not a Trump supporter, unequivocally No. I ain’t gonna elaborate on it, hell no.” He then cast doubt on the source of the overall news story: “It was from The Observer. That’s it. Just come see my shows for yourself, and not listen to conservative paper reviews.” Still, he did not deny the specific quotation about sexual assault.

Personally, I don’t know whether Trump was discussing sexual assault in 2005. I imagine that he was not encouraged by Nancy O’Dell when he wanted to have sex with her but failed. But did he physically try to force himself on her? He didn’t say that, and neither did O’Dell herself claim that he had sexually assaulted her.

Also, Regarding when he told Billy Bush that he just starts kissing women, I don’t know whether Trump meant that he does so “without their consent.” He didn’t say that. And I think that when he said: “You can do anything” he did not mean that he was personally able to have sex with any woman, because, he had just admitted that he failed with Nancy O’Dell.

In short, there are differences between what Trump actually said and the criminal accusation that was voiced by many news commentators.

The tape recording was revealed on October 7, 2016. Two days later, Trump faced Hillary Clinton in a Presidential Debate. At that moment, it seemed that Trump’s political run had almost entirely collapsed. It seemed surprising and awkward that he even showed up to the debate. At the live televised event, CNN’s Anderson Cooper confronted Trump:

“You described kissing women without consent, grabbing their genitals. That is sexual assault. You bragged that you have sexually assaulted women. Do you understand that?”

But Trump replied: “No, I didn’t say that at all. I don’t think you understood what was said.”

Needless to say, millions of people (especially Democrats) thought that Trump was a liar, an abusive sexual predator, and that sexual assault was precisely what he frankly meant in 2005.

Nowadays, many people view Trump as a monster. He is described as evil, incompetent, horrible, and repulsive. But he wasn’t always seen that way.

Years ago, Donald Trump was considered a personable and charming entrepreneur; the kind of rich celebrity that gets along with both Democrats and Republicans. He was considered a playboy, a ladies’ man with a lavish lifestyle, an attractive and charismatic bachelor. His name was on many luxury buildings in New York, and, after his books had become bestsellers and he did cameo appearances in many movies and TV shows, Donald Trump was essentially a star.

Among many feature stories about him, consider just one, when CNN interviewed him on April 3, 2004. Here is some of the praise that was heaped on Donald Trump in that one TV documentary:

“His name is synonymous with living large,” “lavish life style,” “real estate mogul,” “a super celebrity,” “he is quite literally the gold standard,” “Trump has been a cultural icon for 20 years,” “one of the most prolific real estate developers in American history,” “He is the epitome of champagne and caviar dreams,” “an unlikely television star,” “he excelled at sports and academics,” “one of the highest-ranking cadets at the academy,” “he has a very Democratic, in fact American idea of success,” “he loves perfection,” “he is beloved,” “a national phenomenon,” “bestseller,” “The fame went well beyond business,” “the epitome of how billionaires are supposed to live,” “Trump led the good life,” “he had…the biggest and best of everything,” “in the political polling game, Trump had staggering numbers,” “the world’s most popular businessman,” “Rappers … pay homage to him in their songs,” “Donald’s the epitome of a luxury brand,” “Trump has always worked hard and lived clean,” “He really is very smart, very sassy, very tough, but a warm and caring guy,” “Donald Trump is New York.”

None of this shows that Trump never made any unwelcome sexual advances on any woman. Still, his level of success shows that Trump was really “a star.” Note again that all of these compliments appeared in just one documentary about Trump. And that was on CNN! Imagine how many thousands of compliments were showered on him from many other TV stations, magazines, and newspapers. Yet twelve years later, they readily portrayed him as a perverted and despicable sexual predator and abuser.

Therefore, before ending this chapter we should focus for a moment on words that the media neglected. Many writers focused on words that Trump did not say: “without their consent,” “without their permission,” “whether they want it or not.” However, let me give a bit of context to a phrase that Trump did say in 2005: “when you’re a star they let you do it.”

Suppose for a moment that this phrase is not about Trump. Is it true that some famous men, who are regarded as stars, are so coveted by certain women that those women let them make sexual advances on them? I can only answer this question with anecdotal claims.

By 2014, Benedict Cumberbatch was a movie star. In an interview for Elle Magazine, Annabel Brog reported that by his mid-30s, Cumberbatch found that:

the better part of the female population suddenly want to bang his brains out. He admits that it’s a “reaaally double-edged sword.” That “it’s important to be able to have some fun with your currency,” but also that, “You know, you discover why people find you attractive – in a relationship, or a tryst – and if it’s just to have a go on you, or try you out, then I can smell that a mile off.”

Actor Daniel Radcliffe is also a star. He played Harry Potter in the famous Harry Potter movies. And allegedly he too had some experiences with female fans. In 2007, MTV echoed gossip that

“Daniel Radcliffe has absolutely no problem banging groupies who only want to sleep with him because he’s famous and not because they genuinely care about the person he is inside.”

Likewise, young Harry Styles too became a star, as the singer of the pop rock band One Direction. Hence a writer for SoFeminine Entertainment remarked:

“Harry Styles is one of the most eligible bachelors in the world what with his money, his fame and the fact that most girls would give their right arm to go out with him.” The writer added: “According to Harry’s cousin Ben Selly, Harry never knows whether girls are genuine or if they just want to go out with him for his money and fame.”

In 2016, in Harper’s Bazaar, Sarah Gidick listed actor Benicio del Toro as one of the most attractive men of all time.

Yet he wasn’t always considered so attractive. Many peers thought he was ugly. Benicio Del Toro recalls: “When I was in school, because of my gaze and the dark circles under my eyes they thought that I used drugs… But I didn’t even drink!”

He won an Oscar in 2001 and became a famous movie star. In 2008, he was asked about being “a womanizer.” He replied: “Listen, it’s not just me. There’s the other part too. I am a womanizer, but women are also womanizers with me.”

The interviewer asked: “And does the touch of fame help?” Benicio del Toro replied: “Of course. You can’t even imagine how much…!

In 2014 Benicio del Toro spoke frankly to the French magazine Paris Match:

“With age, I’ve discovered compassion and tolerance. With fame, sometimes I have the impression that I have become a woman.” Because, “When a woman goes into a bar, she can leave with anyone she wants. Being a star, it’s similar.”

But no. Del Toro does not know what it’s like to be a woman in a bar. He never will. But maybe he meant that some beautiful women have the ability to attract many men anywhere, and the he too can do that with some women.

Benicio del Toro’s point was that by being famous he became much more attractive to many women. Fame and stardom helped him to attract certain women. “You can’t even imagine how much…!” But Benicio del Toro just didn’t say how much. Some things are not discussed in public.

We’d have to catch a famous man talking in private. We’d have to record him. Contrary to countless many political news pundits, my impression of Trump’s words of 2005 is that he was referring to the kind of fame described above by Benicio del Toro and others.

When he spoke with Billy Bush in 2005, Trump was 59 years old. Back in the 1980s, he had been a playboy of sorts, whatever that meant back then. In 1997, he spoke with Howard Stern about dating and venereal diseases. Trump said: “It is my personal Vietnam. I feel like a very brave soldier!”

And certainly, even in his 50s he did not have a politically-correct approach to sexual affairs. And I don’t think he tried to learn such a skill. His idea of dating was old-fashioned and sexist, as if he were an “alpha-male” and women should be flattered to be wooed by him.

When he was young, in the 1970s, it was common for some men who wanted to kiss women to pick an appropriate moment and make their move, and thus risk sudden rejection, rather than ask whether the woman desired to be kissed.

It reminds me of a passage in the 1908 novel A Room with a View, by E.M. Foster. In that novel, an insecure upper-class man, Cecil Vyse, tries to win the love of the protagonist, Lucy. At one point, Cecil and Lucy are walking in the woods together, and Cecil says: “Up to now I have never kissed you.” Lucy blushes and says no. Then Cecil says: “Then I ask you—may I now?” And she kindly replies: “Of course, you may, Cecil. You might before. I can’t run at you, you know.” Then they kiss, but the writer portrays it as an awkward and “business-like” moment. Therefore, Cecil suffers in silence:

“He considered, with truth, that it had been a failure. Passion should believe itself irresistible. It should forget civility and consideration and all the other curses of a refined nature. Above all, it should never ask for leave [permission] where there is a right of way. Why could he not do as any labourer or navvy—nay, as any young man behind the counter would have done? He recast the scene. Lucy was standing flowerlike by the water, he rushed up and took her in his arms; she rebuked him, permitted him and revered him ever after for his manliness. For he believed that women revere men for their manliness.”

I’d guess that this old-fashioned view of manliness is how Trump imagined his daring or pushy advances toward women. And I imagine that some women really were not interested in such moves from him, while some others were.

Did Trump sexually assault women? I don’t know, but that’s not what he literally told several men in a bus in 2005.

Yet by reading between the lines, politicians and news commentators were ready to prosecute and condemn him for crimes of sexual aggression.


Alberto A. Martinez is a professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin.

Next, Chapter 24:   “The Serial Rapist?

4 Comments on “When you’re a star they let you do it…”

  1. I waited to see if O’dell or Zucker would say that in fact trump tried to take advantage of them, but they didn’t. They didn’t. He should still be ashamed of himself for being such a pig.

    No reality show or soap opera was as lewd as this election and it was because of trump and the news. he said it and they spun it, always making it worse.

  2. one interesting thing is loudmouth Scott Baio: he was a big tv star, a teen heartthrob and all that in the 80s, on the cover of teen magazines, so i bet he has his share of stories about fans and groupies, right but he doesn’t mention them when trying rather poorly to defend his trumpo.

  3. I agree with most of your points especially the thing about Benicio Del Toro. But i think maybe the media people thought that when Trump said “they let you do it” he wasn’t referring to the women but the society that let’s him oppress women without stopping him. I don’t agree with that interpretation, but it’s missing here, to discuss maybe that’s what some people thought? maybe thatt’s what they chose to think in order to make a bigger story than it was, like a personal confession of sexual assault in a society that doesn’t prosecute him because he’s a star. Or WAS a star.

  4. A very thoughtful, well-written and well researched piece.

    By now we all know the Weinstein dam has burst, many of the same politicians and celebrities that condemn Trump run silent ..after their obligatory ‘very disappointed’ and ‘wasn’t aware’ comments to distance themselves of course.

    Trump said what everyone else knew all along, celebrities have their groupies, some women will throw themselves at rich men ..not predatory behavior, just one of the ‘benefits’ of being a star. Yet many pretend to be unaware of such things, just like Weinstein’s friends pretend they didn’t know of his predatory and sexual aggression towards women. But for decades we’ve heard of the infamous ‘casting couch’ quotes from famous actresses of what they no longer had to do since signing a long-term Hollywood contract, these type stories go on and on.

    What I do find amazing is at the end of the day Trump is right, as hard as the media attacks him, sooner or later we find they either twisted statements, edited-out context, or flat-out lied about what he’s actually said. As a result people no longer trust anything the media says, they’ve become nothing more than an extention of one political party, no matter how sensational the headline they create, people will research on the own to find a transcript or video to see exactly what was said, and when it doesn’t match the media’s version they’ve completely lost their credibility and trust ..and losing that ability to control their viewers thought process is driving them mad.

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