Politico gives a partial transcript of the interview:
“I want to tread lightly here, but you’ve heard it, you’ve heard it in Congress and you’ve heard it in the headlines... But there are some people who are speculating that you got this job 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 a softer image for the company as it goes through the episode [faulty parts linked to deaths],” Lauer said on the Today show.
Barra, the first female CEO of GM and a mother of two who has been with the carmaker for decades, rising up through the ranks, immediately dismissed the speculation as false.
“Well, that is absolutely not true,” she told Lauer in the exclusive interview. “You know, I believe I was selected for this job based on my qualifications.”
Lauer continued, asking if she will be able to balance the demands of her work and her family.
“You’re a mom, I mentioned, two kids, you said in an interview not long ago that your kids said they’re going to hold you accountable for one job, and that is being a mom,” he said. “Given the pressure at General Motors, can you do both well?”
“You know, I think I can,” Barra responded. “I have a great team, we’re on the right path, we’re doing the right things, we’re taking accountability and also I have a wonderful family and a supportive husband, and I’m pretty proud of my kids the way they’re supporting me in this.”
So, to recap: Lauer has a short, general, softball morning-show interview with a troubled company's CEO and manages to ask her not only "Did you only get your job because you're a woman?" but also "Do you think you can be good at your job and also a good mother?" What the hell is going on over there?
Look, there are probably contexts in which versions of those questions wouldn't be as offensive. I can't think of any right now, but they may exist. But that scenario is not one of them. I know morning shows are utter garbage, but the Today show reaches millions of people a day. Matt Lauer alone makes a reported $25 million a year. (He can't afford to hire an it's-the-21st-century-already coach, huh?)
Also relevant: Lauer, a 56-year-old TV personality with what is likely a grueling schedule and a job that requires frequent travel, is also the father to three young children. Can he really do both of those jobs "well"? That's really how I wish Barra had responded. But she can't—she has to pretend not to be offended and politely repeat on national TV that she thinks she's qualified for her job even though she's a woman. BARF.
Lauer should be ashamed of himself, as should NBC. I absolutely expect Lauer to apologize and address this soon—and I also expect him to totally screw that up, too. Asshole.
UPDATE 12:25 P.M.: Matt Lauer has already
apologized oh, I'm sorry, I mean, "wanted to share some thoughts" on this issue via his Facebook page:
A busy few days of travel from London to Detroit… I’m writing this update now from Denver. Thanks for all of the comments and feedback around our interview with GM CEO Mary Barra this morning. I wanted to share some thoughts around one of the questions that has started an important conversation. 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. A couple weeks ago, we did a series on “Modern Dads” and the challenges of fatherhood today. Work-life balance was one of our focuses. It’s an important topic, one that I’m familiar with personally, and I hope we can continue the discussion.
Ummmm, so to summarize: (1) Since she once brought up her kids in a different interview, questions like this are fair game now; (2) one time Today talked about dads, so we're totally cool; and (3) "I would have asked [a male CEO] exactly the same thing."
NOPE. (1) Her saying she was bummed to miss her son's prom because of work does not make the question "Do you think you can still be a good mom?" okay. (2) I don't have time to watch your weeklong series, but I fuckin' bet that wasn't a series on if you can still be a good dad and also have an important job. And (3) it really grates on me that he says he'd ask a male CEO "exactly the same thing"—you know, if they'd already brought it up publicly. I mean, who's to say that Barra is even the one who brought up her kids in that Forbes interview? The interviewer may well have been the one to ask her about her family life. And it's not socially permissible for Barra to be like, "You know, that's irrelevant, please ask me a better question." Trying to use other people's reporting to escape responsibility for his—and/or blaming Barra herself for his dumb questions—is evasive and obnoxious.
Try again, Mr. Lauer.