NEW YORK, N.Y. – Matt Lauer has no regrets asking General Motors CEO Mary Barra about balancing work and motherhood, saying he sees it as an issue that affects all working parents regardless of their gender.
The host of NBC’s “Today” show said Friday he’d welcome the same question if it were put to him. He noted that he missed his son’s 13th birthday to be in Detroit for the Barra interview.
He struck a nerve in Thursday’s live interview with a question criticized as sexist — no small issue for the host of a network show where women are the bulk of the audience.
“This is one of the major conversations of our generation,” Lauer, 56, told The Associated Press. “I view it very differently. I view it not as a gender issue, but as a work-life balance issue.”
The question came at the end of a two-part interview primarily about GM’s response to safety issues. At first, Lauer asked about reports that one reason Barra got her job was because she could put forth a softer face and image for the company at a difficult time.
He then referenced a Forbes magazine article where Barra said she felt bad about missing her son’s junior prom. The boy told her that being mom was the one job he’d hold her accountable for. Lauer asked, “Given the pressure at General Motors, can you do both (jobs) well?”
Lauer had taken to Facebook to defend himself, explaining what inspired the question. Many people who commented on his post weren’t buying it, including the author of the Forbes piece, who said she never felt compelled to ask Barra if she felt capable of doing her job.
Neera Tanden, president of the Washington-based Center for American Progress, said she’d love it if Lauer started asking male executives the same question. Women hear it frequently, and it perpetuates a double standard when Lauer brings it up, said Tanden, who tweeted Thursday that women should stop watching Lauer.
“It’s a terrible message to young women,” she said.
Lauer said he definitely would ask that question of a male executive he had seen publicly questioning his ability to do it all.
“The reason I think that is so important is I am that father,” he said. “As I was sitting interviewing Mary Barra about that topic, it was my son’s 13th birthday, and I’m sitting in Detroit missing his becoming a teenager. I worry about that every single day: Am I being a good father? I don’t think this is an unfair question.”
He said he doesn’t resent the criticism.
“I take the harsh criticism along with the compliments,” he said. “How could I complain about the comments I get and still reserve the right to ask these questions? People have the right to say whatever they want.”
David Bauder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @dbauder. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/david-bauder.