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Would He Ask a Man That Question?; Dan Rather Says the Evening News is "Diminished"; Should We Listen to Dick Cheney?

Aired June 29, 2014 - 11:00   ET



Brian Stelter is off this weekend. I'm Jeffrey Toobin.

We have a lot going on this week. In a few minutes, I'll talk to Dan Rather on the big changes in network news this week.

But, first, did you see this? Matt Lauer's interview with the first female CEO of General Motors, Mary Barra.

Check out these questions and answers.


MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS: I'm going to tread lightly here but you've heard this. You heard it in Congress and you heard it in the headlines. You got this job because you were hugely qualified, 30 years in this company, a variety of different jobs.

But there are some people who are speculating that you also 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 softer image for this company as it goes through this horrible episode.

Does it make sense or does it make you bristle?

MARY BARRA, GENERAL MOTORS CEO: Well, it's absolutely not true. You know, I believe I was selected for this job based on my qualifications.

LAUER: You're a mom I mentioned, two kids. You said in an interview not long ago that your mom -- that your kids said 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.


TOOBIN: So, how many male CEOs get asked these sorts of questions?

When the phones lit up and Twitter caught fire, Lauer responded on Facebook. He said Barra herself was the first to bring up the work/family balance issue. He wrote this, "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."

But would he really? Is it perhaps the sort of sexism that men engage in without realizing it?

Here's someone who knows a lot about these issues, a former host of the "Today" show herself, who now anchors "Inside Edition", while, yes, balancing work and family.

Deborah Norville, welcome.

So, you heard the exchange. What did you think?

DEBORAH NORVILLE, INSIDE EDITION: You know, I'm disappointed. I think a lot of people are. Matt is usually a very elegant interviewer and with that aspect of the interview, he simply bobbled it. It was not the right question to ask.

If he had stopped with the question which gave voice to the speculation about the fact that some have suggested that Mary Barra was put there to put a softer face, as he put in the question to Ms. Barra, as of all of the safety problems were coming to the forefront at General Motors, that's a legitimate question. He could have left it there and I think it just fine. But to go into the mommy juggle question, that is toxic territory in these times, and unfortunately, he stepped into it.

TOOBIN: Well, I guess the reaction that so many people had, certainly I had it, was -- you know, would you ever see a male CEO of General Motors or anywhere else asked that question about raising children.


NORVILLE: Yes. And Matt, you know, gone on Facebook and tried to defend himself and saying, yes, I would ask that question. But the fact is, Matt has been on television for a great number of years asking many very important people a lot of questions and no one can find any evidence that that's a question he's ever put to a male CEO.

And if that's Matt's defense in asking this, then he should just throw up some links and say, yes, remember the time I asked so and so.

He didn't. It was a mistake. I'm sure he wishes he phrased the question differently if he thought that needed to be asked.

But the fact is, no one has asked Alan Mulally, who was running Ford for so many years about his five kids.

Dan Akerson, Mary Barra's predecessor, left General Motors for family reasons. His wife was suffering from cancer. No one has pointed a great spotlight at that in any sort of pejorative or questioning way. People have families but we generally don't get asked a lot of questions about them unless you're a woman.

TOOBIN: So, is the answer for us as journalists to ask both men and women these sorts of questions, or is the answer to ask neither and just concentrate on the business issue?

NORVILLE: Look, I think the reason Mary Barra was there because of the business issues that she is confronting as the CEO of General Motors. Matt said he asked the question because of a small reference that had been made in a "Forbes" magazine interview that he referenced. He actually put the link on his Facebook page.

The first response that I saw when I went on his Facebook page was from the author of that article from "Forbes" who said it was a very, very, very small part of that article.

I think the answer to your question is, when it's appropriate, you ask. If Sheryl Sandberg has just published a book as she did a couple of years ago talking about how she manages her family time and her business time, she's put it out there. Mary Barra didn't do that. Mary Barra was there for the exclusive interview with General Motors approach to the very serious safety problems that have been ongoing and date back to the time when, dare I say it, a male was the CEO of the company.

TOOBIN: I'll say (ph). You know, those of us who do work on live TV, Matt Lauer more celebrated than me, we make a mistake and wish we could take it back. Shouldn't he have said, you know what, I blew it, I'm sorry?

NORVILLE: Yes. That's absolutely the approach.

We are all humans. Our feet are made of clay and live TV is fraught with peril and sometimes we goof. And I think most people appreciate the tight rope that anybody working on live TV does. And I think if Matt had simply said, man, that was a dumb question. That was a boneheaded question or simply, gosh, I didn't phrase that the way I wish I had, I'm sorry, I think people would have moved on.

TOOBIN: I'm sorry. You almost never go wrong with "I'm sorry".

NORVILLE: I'm sorry is a pretty good thing. Spouses should remember that to say to the hubby or wife. I'm sorry is a couple of good words to keep in your back pocket.

TOOBIN: Indeed. Deborah Norville, thank you so much for joining us.

NORVILLE: Thank you so much.

TOOBIN: We have to take a break. But when we come back, a huge change at one anchor desk. What does it mean for network news now that Diane Sawyer is saying good-bye to ABC's "World News"?


TOOBIN: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Jeffrey Toobin.

This week brought news of a major shakeup at ABC News. Diane Sawyer is saying good-bye to the anchor chair. She's being replaced by a guy who is definitely not a household name, weekend anchor David Muir.

Sawyer is not leaving ABC exactly.


DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: At the end of the summer, I'm moving to a new role at the network. Full time, flat out, reporting I love from around the world and in depth specials of the stories that matter so much to all of our lives. I'm going to be telling you more about this in the weeks ahead, but I love every night I get to spend with you.


TOOBIN: So, why isn't her job going to George Stephanopoulos, who is arguably the network's lead anchorman?

Well, follow the money. He anchors "Good Morning America", which makes far more for the network than the evening newscast does.

And ABC says Stephanopoulos will assume a new role of something called chief anchor, handling big breaking news and election coverage.

Anyway you look at it, it sounds like the evening news just isn't the priority it once was. And that's a pretty dramatic change.

I can't think of anyone better to ask about this than one of the legends of the network news, Dan Rather -- who was, of course, the anchor of the "CBS Evening News" for 24 years. He joins me now.

Dan, thanks for being here.

DAN RATHER, FORMER ANCHOR OF "CBS EVENING NEWS": Thank you very much, Jeffrey. Glad to be here.

TOOBIN: So, David Muir is the new anchor of the "ABC World News Tonight". He's not a household name. Do you know him?

RATHER: I do not know him. I know his work, not closely. Frankly, I don't know a lot about him and I don't know a lot about his work.

However, to ascend to being the anchor and managing editor of the "World News Tonight", he must have been doing a lot right for a long while. You can say, well, he's only 40 years old, he could be doing this for very long.

But what young Mr. Muir has inherited is an honor and a great opportunity. But in the great scheme of television and television news, it is now a diminished medallion. As the principle (ph), the medallion goes to the main anchor of morning news which in this case is George Stephanopoulos.

TOOBIN: When you and your generation of anchors became anchors, Peter Jennings had been in London, you covered the White House, Tom Brokaw covered the White House and had been the anchor of the "Today" show. You were at "60 Minutes." There was a tradition, a progression until you got to the evening news.

Why is it -- why is it different now? And should it be different now?

RATHER: Well, it certainly is different now, and I think the reason it's different now is because the leadership of all of the major networks has changed, not only changed in names and faces but changed in attitude.

The idea of news being a public service has gone almost completely out of it. The idea that our number one objective for any network said the network executives of not too long ago, is we want quality news of integrity. If we can make money, that's fine, the rating, that's fine we'd like to do that, but that's not our main purpose.

TOOBIN: Let's talk about the morning news shows and their rising importance. They were in your day perhaps thought of as something the farm team for the evening news. Now, the situations are sort of reversed as the Muir/Stephanopoulos change illustrates.

Why? Why does that happen?

RATHER: Well, first of all, the morning news programs, put news in quotation marks to a certain degree, they're really a mix of news and things like how to do a better stir fry and what's the latest hit movie. But nonetheless, it's all about money, because it's a two-hour block of time as compared to the half hour block of time in the evening, and because there's not much controversy with it, the money is there.

And because the money is there, that's the reason George Stephanopoulos, who I think probably came to ABC thinking I'd like one day to step in to Peter Jennings' role, now they say, George, you're so valuable in the morning, we can't take you out of the morning, but we're going to make you part of the new face of ABC and you'll be able to do some big events.

TOOBIN: For viewers or for just people who follow news or care about news, should we care that morning shows drive the product anymore? Is that -- is that something that is just sort of an internal matter or does that tell you something about the kind of news that's going to be available to the public in the future?

RATHER: No, I think it tells you something about the kind of news that will be available in the future, and here's the point, Jeffrey. I think people understand this when they stop and think about it. To have a free and independent, truly independent, fiercely independent press when necessary, is the red beating heart of freedom and democracy. It serves as a check and balance on power in government, exposing malfeasance and corruption. That's journalism at its best.

Now, we're getting far less of that today than we ever had it -- and these events of the last few days, I like all the people involved, I'm pulling for all the people involved, but you get less quality news of integrity dealing with really serious subjects and you're going to get lighter fare, you're going to get less serious news and you're going to have it dictated from the very top of these corporations a, listen, it's all about the ratings. Forget about public service, forget about public trust, it's all about ratings and demographics which equal money.

TOOBIN: That is an important message from an important messenger.

Dan Rather, pleasure to talk to you. Thanks very much.

RATHER: Thank you very much, Jeffrey.

TOOBIN: Coming up next, the chaos continues in Iraq and Dick Cheney blames Barack Obama. Is he right? And does he still deserve the air time the media is giving him? We'll debate with two top military analysts, coming up next.


TOOBIN: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Jeffrey Toobin.

Quote, "Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many," unquote. That's from former Vice President Dick Cheney talking about President Obama and Iraq. And some people are saying, pot, kettle?

It's an understatement to say that Dick Cheney is still a polarizing figure, and the questions remain. Is Cheney a reliable source on Iraq? Should you listen to what he says?

And there's this question. Does he damage national security by saying it?

Joining me now to discuss that is in New York, CNN military analyst and retired lieutenant colonel, Rick Francona. And here in D.C., counterterrorism analyst Philip Mudd.

OK. Dick Cheney's given a lot of interviews lately. One of them was with Charlie Rose. And here's an exchange that they have.


CHARLIE ROSE, PBS HOST: You've heard this at every interview you've done, you know, and saying, here comes the guy who's responsible for a lot of the bad things that went wrong in Iraq, now wants to come in and point the finger to the Obama administration for the situation we have in Iraq today. And they often even say, how dare he step forward to do that?

DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: I don't hesitate to defend what we did and with respect to whether or not we did the right thing going into Iraq, I believe it. I won't argue about it. Different people have different views. The reason I'm concerned now is because there was a relatively simple proposition in front of the administration. The president as late as 2011 was talking about what good shape Iraq was in in terms of being stable.


TOOBIN: Philip, so is listening to Dick Cheney like listening to an arsonist on fire prevention? I mean, should we listen to what he's saying?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Look, I faced the vice president when I was at the CIA. He's a challenging guy to talk to. The former vice president is seen as someone who's seen as always claiming the sky is falling.

That said, as I said, when I talked to him in government, and he was very tough for me to deal with in the vice president's office, he visited at CIA headquarters when I was there, we had exchange, very thoughtful guy, very smart.

So, I'm not saying I'm Republican, I'm not saying a Democrat, I'm just saying let's be careful about ignoring the message because we don't like the messenger.

TOOBIN: But, Rick, I think a lot of people when they hear Dick Cheney talking about Iraq, they hear him saying there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, that the invasion was going to go a certain way, which it certainly did not. Isn't there a problem independent of the merits now that his record in the past is frankly was so bad that people won't listen or shouldn't listen to what he says now?

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes. It calls to his credibility. I mean, here's a guy that most people pinned a lot of the problems we had in Iraq.

I mean, many of us supported the invasion of Iraq. We were appalled by the way it was conducted, all the mistakes that were made, disbanding the Iraqi military and all of that. He had to have a role in that. So, you can question his credibility.

But if you look at what he's saying today going back to, say, 2008 to 2011 and then 2011 to where we are now, I think he makes some valid points and I think they need to be listened to. Now, you can question his credibility but he still has some valid points.

TOOBIN: What about the argument that, look, you know, these people are -- were involved in making the policy. They are taking responsibility. Cheney is stepping up saying, yes, I was involved. And we can learn for better or worse from their experience and the only way we can challenge them is if they speak out.

Shouldn't we be grateful that Cheney is making himself the target that he is?

FRANCONA: Well, as I've said, he brings up some very important points. We need to have a discussion about what happened in 2011, the failure of the United States to secure an extension to the status of forces agreement -- I think that plays a big role in where we are right now. Now, you can argue about whose fault it was, was it an Iraqi decision, an American decision, but the fact is, that is a critical decision that's gotten us to where we are now and we need to talk about it.

TOOBIN: Philip, where do you stand on Cheney's approach versus George W. Bush's approach on commenting on the actions of their successor?

FRANCONA: Well, when I watch this play out, I think there's a difference between tone and substance. People who lead the White House as president or vice president I think have the responsibility to be statesmen in America to bring the country together. You can comment on national policy with a tone that's meant to reflect decades of service. I find sometimes that the president comes in, with the former president comes in, with that tone, I find sometime --

TOOBIN: Which former president?

FRANCONA: Former President Bush does. I find sometimes former President Cheney is maybe more willing to engage in a debate that gets to be partisan. And whether you're Democrat or Republican, I think when you hold one of those top positions, you almost discard party.

TOOBIN: Rick, isn't it true that even if you, the policy executors, the people who are actually implementing the policy, are not distracted by the press, your bosses, the politicians, are deeply involved and paying attention to what the press is doing? How does that affect what you do?

FRANCONA: Actually, if you've got a good boss, they will take all of the heat and they will let you do the operations. I've worked for some great, great people who said, OK, here's how this is going to work. I'm going to handle everything from here up, and you're going to handle everything on the ground. You run the operation, I'll take the flak.

That's what you want, somebody like that who can take, like Phil says, answer all the inquiries from the executive branch, and then prepare whatever testimony and all that. But let you run the operation. I think it works very well that way.

TOOBIN: That's the theory. Does it work that way in practice?

MUDD: That point is critical. We're not here for leadership forum. But let me tell you something -- I saw a lot of heat, a lot of heat. There are two kinds of people in circumstances like that, those who reflect it down to the workplace and those who absorb it. I swore I saw that every day.

If you reflect it, the workforce is going to tense up and respond. If you absorb it, the workforce will maintain focus.

TOOBIN: Well, one thing I think we know for sure, is that Dick Cheney is gong to continue bringing the heat for better or worse and I'd like to thank Rick Francona in New York and Philip Mudd here in Washington.

MUDD: Thank you.

TOOBIN: We'll have more RELIABLE SOURCES after the break.


TOOBIN: That's all for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Jeffrey Toobin.

Brian Stelter will be back next Sunday at 11:00 a.m.

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CNN's media coverage continues all the time under RELIABLE SOURCES blog on and on Thanks for joining us.

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