Matt Lauer Tries to 'Tread Lightly' Through Feminist Minefield with GM CEO and Fails

On Thursday’s Today, NBC host Matt Lauer walked into trouble with the feminists by asking GM CEO Mary Barra if she could be a mother and a CEO and do both jobs well – causing every liberal to pull out the card “You don’t ask the males that.”

Charlotte Alter at Time
asked: “How’s this for a question: Can Matt Lauer be a good dad and host the Today Show? Let’s discuss.” (Video below)

It could be argued that Lauer’s only building “sexism” from previous interviewers who asked Barra about her work-life balance. But Lauer knew he was "treading lightly" through a feminist minefield:

LAUER: I want to tread lightly here, but you’ve heard this, you heard it in Congress. You got this job because you’re hugely qualified, 30 years in this company a variety of different jobs. But some people are speculating that you also got this job because as a woman and as a mom, because people within General Motors knew this company was in for a very tough time and as a woman and a mom you could present a softer face and softer image for this company as it goes through this horrible episode. Does it make sense, or does it make you bristle?

BARRA: Well it’s absolutely not true. I believe I was selected for this job based on my qualifications. But we dealt with this issue [faulty ignition switches] — when the senior leadership of this company knew about this issue, we dealt with it the minute we knew about it.

That may upset the feminists, but it’s not an unfair question, even if men don't face it often. GM may have named a female CEO back in January to please GM's former overlords in the Obama administration. It's a question in this specific case of corporate governance and public relations in a troubled company with a classic brand. Feminists can't argue Barra didn't ride a wave of positive press at announcement time.

ABC’s Rebecca Jarvis didn’t get in trouble for a puff piece (complete with “Shattering the Glass Ceiling” graphics) on the January 13 Good Morning America, when she asked: “When you were originally told you were gonna be the CEO of General Motors, was there a conversation with the family about, okay, things are gonna change?” Barra said, "Just sitting at, at the dinner table and, you know, shared with the kids that I had been selected for this role, and, and they were very excited."


Can anyone recall a feminist furor over NBC’s Amy Robach asking on the September 3, 2008 Today “If Sarah Palin becomes Vice President, will she be shortchanging her kids or will she be shortchanging the country?” (Or CNN's John Roberts on infant neglect just minutes after Palin was announced.)

Lauer continued:

LAUER: You’re a mom, I mentioned, two kids. You said in an interview not long ago that your kids told you they’re going to hold you accountable for one job and that is being a mom.

BARRA: Correct.

LAUER: Given the pressures of this job at General Motors, can you do both well?

BARRA: You know, I think I can. I have a great team, we’re on the right path. I have a great team. We're on the right path. We're doing the right things. We're taking accountability. And I have a wonderful family, a supportive husband and I’m pretty proud of the way my kids are supporting me in this.

LAUER: Well, I know it's a difficult time for you and a very busy time, and I really appreciate you taking the time with us.

After the feminist attacks (and there are some doozies at IJReview.com), Lauer defended himself on his Facebook page:

As part of the interview, I referenced this Forbes article (http://www.forbes.com/sites/joannmuller/2014/05/28/exclusive-inside-mary-barras-urgent-mission-to-fix-gm/) where Barra talked about the challenge of balancing work life and home life. She said, “My kids told me the one job they are going to hold me accountable for is mom.” She had just accepted the job as the first female CEO of a major American automotive company, and in the article she said that she felt horrible when she missed her son’s junior prom. It’s an issue almost any parent including myself can relate to. If a man had publicly said something similar after accepting a high-level job, I would have asked him exactly the same thing.

That’s the catch: male CEOs don’t say something similar, and aren’t generally asked about it. Joann Muller, who wrote the Forbes story shot back under that Facebook post:

Matt, I wrote that story in Forbes. I, too, am a working mother and Mary Barra and I have a lot in common. During our interview, we chatted about our kids, our jobs, and how we balance work and life. I never felt compelled to ask if a "mom" could handle being CEO, because I already knew the answer. Of course, she could. Women, like men, must always balance life's challenges. And I don't think her gender or her role as a mom is relevant to how she is handling the crisis at GM.

But Muller's story also focused on how Barra met with grieving parents who lost their children in Chevy Cobalt crashes. As if being a mom isn't more sympathetic public relations on that point? Also notice how GM puts government relations and public relations at the fore of their praise to Forbes:

“The confidence has grown over a period of time, given the way that Mary has handled all the situations: testifying before Congress, meeting with the media,” GM Chairman Tim Solso tells FORBES. “She’s done a superb job, and the board recognizes that.”

Has Joann Muller asked male CEOs about their work-life balance? I asked Muller on her Facebook page on Friday morning.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis