Matt Lauer sat down with General Motors Chief Executive Mary Barra on “Today” on Thursday, but one question he asked left many viewers fuming.
There was certainly a lot to discuss with Barra, whose brief time at the top of the GM pyramid has been troubled since it issued a recall of 20 million GM cars over a faulty ignition switch and other problems. Many have questioned whether the company acted in a proper manner when it first learned of the potential for fatalities from the faulty ignition switch problem.
After an internal review blamed dysfunctional corporate structure and poor employee judgment, Barra, who has only been CEO since December 2013, fired 15 employees and disciplined five more.
But when Lauer sat down with Barra on Thursday, he asked her, “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. Given the pressure at General Motors, can you do both well?”
Barra is the first female CEO of General Motors, but not the first for a major American company.
Barra took the question in stride and responded, “I think I can. I have a great team. We’re on the right path. We’re doing the right things. We’re taking accountability. 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.”
Lauer also asked Barra to respond to assertions that she’d gotten the job not just because of her qualifications, but because her femininity presented a softer face for the company in a time of peril.
Reaction on Twitter was uniformly swift and negative.
“Infuriating,” wrote Shauna James Ahern, author of “Gluten Free Girl.”
Commentator Joanne Bamberger called for a boycott of “Today” until Lauer resigned.
Later in the day, Lauer addressed the backlash on his personal Facebook page, defending the question as a reference to comments about the work-parent balance Barra had made in a Forbes article. Lauer wrote, “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.”
The interview was conducted in Detroit just a day after Lauer had been in London to interview Pippa Middleton. He wrote the Facebook status from Denver. He has three children at home under the age of 13.
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