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Defending Walmart Ad; Mike Rowe's New Book

Aired February 19, 2014 - 08:30   ET


MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. Time now for the five things you need to know for your new day.

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KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, please. I'll take that, thank you very much.

All right, "Dirty Jobs" host Mike Rowe is known for being an advocate for the working class and also doing some pretty dirty jobs, but now he's fighting backlash over a new Walmart ad meant to support them. The ad narrated by Rowe promotes Walmart's recently announced pledge to spend $250 billion on American made products over the next 10 years. Take a listen to it.


MIKE ROWE, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER & HOST, "DIRTY JOBS" (voice-over): We will build things and build families and build dreams because work is a beautiful thing.


BOLDUAN: All right. So critics are slamming the ad, slamming Rowe for the TV spot, citing the company's history of outsourcing and low wages. Mike Rowe, the man, is here joining us to talk about it today.

Good morning.

ROWE: Good morning. How are you?

BOLDUAN: Lots to discuss. I'm thinking your (ph) take (ph).

ROWE: Well, first of all, look -


ROWE: I'm still new to the social media thing, you know.


ROWE: A year ago I got a Facebook account and I started trying to figure it out and today I've got half a million people following me and I think 200,000 of them are cranky because --

BOLDUAN: Welcome to social media.

ROWE: I mean it's so weird. This --

BOLDUAN: That does show your reach, though, the fact that you really already -

ROWE: Reach is good.

BOLDUAN: Reach is good, I guess we could all say, but were you surprised? I assume you were.

ROWE: So last Sunday, or whenever it was last week the ad debuted on the Olympics and I was watching and I went over and I checked the thing and people started to talk about it. And then it went bananas. And then I answered some people who seemed upset, then I went to bed. The next morning, 4 million people were having this conversation.

PEREIRA: Four million people.

ROWE: Now 7 million people have read the page and really -


BOLDUAN: That's incredible.

ROWE: Well, there are a couple of different conversations going on, you know.

BOLDUAN: Yes. ROWE: And to me the interesting thing is there's certain topics in the country that the minute you start to discuss them, it's really not about what you're saying anymore. It's who you're talking to.

You know, a couple of months ago I had this foundation. And we do a thing called work ethics scholarships and it -- very focused on American manufacturing. Had been from the beginning. But I went on Bill Maher show and then a few days later I went on Glenn Beck's show. And the same thing, you know, explosion. But nobody was really talking about what we were saying. They were just talking about who I was talking to.

Walmart's the same thing. It's polarizing and it's paralyzing and the conversation, in my opinion, that we ought to be having has to do with reinvigorating the skilled trades and creating jobs. And I know that's such a buzz phrase nowadays but reinvesting in American suppliers and American goods, it interests me. And if Walmart's got a quarter of a trillion over the next 10 years, I'd like to see every company on the Fortune 500 follow suit.

PEREIRA: You get that some people, and obvious with the amount of reaction that you've got -

BOLDUAN: Not just some, I guess, no.

PEREIRA: You said it's polarizing. You know they're only hearing sort of the headlines. They've already got their feelings about Walmart.

ROWE: Sure.

PEREIRA: What do you say to those folks that are saying, hey, you know, they don't pay enough money to the workers that work there. Because of Walmart, a lot of manufacturing had to go overseas. What do you say to those people, because I'm sure you got some of those comments.

ROWE: Let's assume - let's assume the criticisms are both accurate and valid.


ROWE: I don't assume.

BOLDUAN: Right, a big assumption.

ROWE: But let's assume they are. Do you want to see them change? Are you against $250 billion going into the economy? What I really say to them, Michaela, is it's a -- it's a hell of a thing when somebody you've been trained to despise suddenly does something that you agree with, right? The shrinks call it cognitive dissonance. So, you know, that's what I think social media is kind of fun for. It gives you a chance to talk some of that stuff through.

Walmart's an easy target. I'm an easy target. I'm a guy on the TV. And, you know what, it's easy to say things like, hawking and shilling and pandering and selling out. It's kind of funny because typically I say, well, of course I sold out. My first job in TV was in the home shopping industry 25 years ago.

PEREIRA: You got on a bet, I hear.

ROWE: I won it on a bet or I lost on a bet depending on how you look at it.

But, look, every time you buy something today -- this shirt. I like it. I was just told by somebody in makeup that it brings out my eyes. You know, it was made in China, OK. Is that good? Is that bad? I don't know. But if I had a choice to buy the same shirt in the same basic color for the same basic store on the same day and it was made here -

PEREIRA: For the same basic price.

ROWE: For the same basic price, I'd do it.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: So the criticism is, Walmart doesn't make the shirt. You know, they buy it, they sell it at a markup -

ROWE: Sure.

CUOMO: And they don't pay their people right. They don't do the right things by insurance, that's why they've become - because they're the biggest, they've also become the biggest target.


CUOMO: Do you believe it's your job to take on the defense of the company because you're paid to represent them or is that just about the commercial?

ROWE: No. First of all, I'm not paid to represent them. I'm not here on their behalf.


ROWE: I agreed to narrate one 60 second spot for now because, look, if this was like a venn diagram, right, you know, the -- Walmart's initiative around American manufacturing and my foundation's focus share a lot of real estate. In 2008, I started a foundation that basically said, work is a beautiful thing. Now there's a campaign by the largest retailer on the planet saying, work is a beautiful thing.

They said, hey, Mike, right, there's a certain symmetry here, you know, would you like to connect two of the dots? And I thought for between maybe, you know, a half a second to a whole second and I said, well, of course I would. Of course I would. I know there's going to be blow back. But again -

BOLDUAN: You do not regret doing this ad then? There may be a silver lining on it. You get to talk about the issues you care about.

ROWE: This whole thing is about PR. You invited me on your show, not because everybody agreed with me, but because 7 million people got all twisted up and said, hey, whoa, wait a second, right? I get it. Walmart gets it, you know. And for people to say, well, wait a minute, it's just a PR campaign, I would say, no, it's not just a PR campaign, it's a PR campaign. And it's not just for a store, it's for this whole notion that if the country doesn't get back to the business of making things, and if our biggest companies don't get back in the business of affirmatively purchasing from American suppliers, right, then the consumer is not going to have a viable choice.

So I get a little, you know, when people start pointing to the consumer and going, look, it's your fault. You want to change it, buy American, that makes a lot of sense if the options are there. What I think Walmart is going to do - look, I hope they succeed. If they don't, I'll come back here and I'll be like, that was very disappointing. But when somebody writes a PO to the United States of America for a quarter of a trillion dollars, don't look for me to go, that's bad.

CUOMO: Well, we had you come here because you'll discuss what's going on intelligently because what you're finding on social media is a lot of time negativity is a proxy for insight. So we want to talk to you more. Stay with us. We're going to take a break because this is a little -

ROWE: You'll let me stay.

CUOMO: This is a commercial enterprise.

ROWE: I get to stay.

BOLDUAN: (INAUDIBLE) in the break.

CUOMO: So far you can say.

BOLDUAN: I'm 50/50.

CUOMO: At any moment we could just knock you out. We'll talk with Mike Rowe more. He's got a book coming out. You're going to want to hear what that's about as well. Stay with us.

BOLDUAN: Or is it really a book? That's what I want to talk about.


CUOMO: Welcome back to NEW DAY.

We're joined again by Mike Rowe. He's got a new book coming out called "Profoundly Disconnected." And it's very interesting. It's going to actually wind up raising some eyebrows. And already here we've established something, we've proven something today.

ROWE: What's that?

CUOMO: The theory that social media can be just an ugly, mean place where negativity is across the (INAUDIBLE) has been triggered (ph) --

PEREIRA: Breaking news. BOLDUAN: And this is why the book is going to raise some eyebrows. There are many blank pages, Mike Rowe.

CUOMO: No, that's just to make notes.

ROWE: It's important to create the expected distance between the front and back cover when you run out of stuff to say.

CUOMO: When Mike Rowe is getting beat up on social media you know it's a mean place. He is not easy to dislike.

Now this book has a theory that we used to capture in the idea of when we talk about jobs, what should you do? You have to go to college. You have to be high skilled.

Everybody needs a plumber.

ROWE: Yes.

CUOMO: That, you know, line. Everybody still needs a plumber. It's somewhere at the heart of this book. What are you getting at here?

ROWE: Well, the book really happened for a number of reasons. First of all I don't care about raising eyebrows, I care about raising money. All the money goes to the Mike Rowe Works Foundation for scholarships and advocacy. But the book's based on the idea that from the very first show of "Dirty Jobs" to the last one, even at the height of the recession when the headlines on shows like this and papers across the country were unemployment and no jobs, everywhere I went said "help wanted". Everywhere -- all 50 states without exception.

CUOMO: What kind of jobs?

ROWEL: You name it. It could be painting bridges. It could be welding. It could be plumbing. It could be steam fitting, pipe fitting. It could be mechanics. It could be diesel mechanics. A good diesel mechanic right now up in the high plains can basically write his own ticket. It's incredible.

PEREIRA: When did we get allergic to hard work?

ROWE: I think it happened -- I mean look, it's a sociological anthropologist is probably better suited to answer your question. My own view is it happened around the same time we pulled vo-tech out of high school and started using a certain part of our workforce as sort of an apocryphal, cautionary tale. Go get that degree. Doesn't matter what it costs because if you don't get it you're liable to wind up like this guy -- and there's some guy holding a wrench. Right?

CUOMO: Is it hard work or is it the difference between like being an artisan and being a professional or a service industry?

ROWE: Yes. Well look, it used to be called vocational arts, right?

PEREIRA: Yes, that's true. ROWE: Artistry used to be a part of everything we did. But we sort of arbitraged that out of the proposition and in our anxiety to create neat verticals now we have clean jobs and dirty jobs, good jobs and bad jobs.

PEREIRA: It's one or the other --

ROWE: Exactly.

PEREIRA: -- except that we need both for our society to function.

BOLDUAN: Did your love of this or your passion on this topic, did this come from "Dirty Jobs" or did you have this going in to "Dirty Jobs".

ROWE: A little of both. A little of both.

CUOMO: The dirty world of opera singing.

ROWE: Yes. Well look, "Dirty Jobs" called me on a lot of my own BS. I had evolved into a -- I had become profoundly disconnected from the things I grew up with. My granddad eighth grade education, master electrician, plumber architect -- he could do anything. That guy today is largely invisible be we don't value those skills in the same way.

The book is really an attempt to look at a lot of different disconnects. But here's the big one. Trillion dollars in student loans -- we're still telling kids if you don't get the four-year degree, the odds are stacked against you. And yet the three million jobs that are available right now 90 percent of them don't require a four-year degree.

Result we're lending money we don't have to kids who will never be able to pay it back to educate them for jobs that no longer exist. The skills gap is not a mystery. It's a function of what we value.

PEREIRA: That's a huge proposition we were talking about in the break. That's a massive culture shift that we'd have to --

CUOMO: But you have all the data that says that people with college degrees wind up having higher rates of employment than those without.

ROWE: Not all the data. Some of the data would lead you to conclude that. But if you look at everything and again I'm not an macroeconomist. I can't even say it -- I just know that what I saw in all 50 states was a yawning, gaping skills gap.

And the people I worked with on "Dirty Jobs" to me they should be on a poster because -- look "Dirty Jobs" looks like an anthem to hard work skilled labor. It is. But it's also a tribute to risk entrepreneurship and small business.


ROWE: A lot of those guys -- there were 40 or 50 multimillionaires on "Dirty Jobs". You never would have known it because they were covered in crap, right? But look, it's the debate today that I don't think we should take is this idea that employees are forever pitted against employers. That's not what I saw. It's what I hear but it's not what I saw, you know.

And until we get jobs in place and until real investment comes back in a proper way we're just going to go down the same rabbit hole of talking points and Internet screaming and we're not going to converse. We're just going to argue.

BOLDUAN: It's interesting like -- as we're talking you're a bit of a juxtaposition. You keep saying I'm not an anthropologist, I'm not a macro economist --

ROWE: I'm just a simple man.

BOLDUAN: -- you're just a simple man with simple opinions but you're very passionate about these things. It seems that you said in the break, this was an idea that then just got out of hand. It seems that's how you're entire career has gone. "Dirty Jobs" was one show and it got out of hand in a very good way, I guess.

ROWE: No, look. I "Forrest Gumped" my way through every good thing that's happened to me but yesterday at this time, I was standing at Tulsa Welding School down in Jacksonville, Florida. They are training as hard and as fast as they can dozens of welders. There are 800 jobs right there in the area at the local shipyard for welding. They can't fill them. These guys are starting at $55,000 -- $60,000 a year. In a couple of years you can make -- where is the headline?

So yes, I'm passionate about it?

CUOMO: So let's get the headline. Let's get the headline because a big part of the sell on the book is that there is a disconnect and if you get past that you will see opportunity where right now we see dead ends. So the headline is for you that there are jobs available but we culturally are looking in the wrong places for what we define as success. Is that fair?

ROWE: That's a fair headline. If I could do it shorter, I would say that we're simply -- we're rewarding the behavior we have right now -- right? So when you celebrate one form of education, let's call it higher; at the expense of all the other forms, let's call that alternative, you basically guarantee the end result.

Alternative education becomes the vocational consolation prize, sorry Chris maybe this finance degree didn't work out for you. Here's a welding torch -- right? So the whole thing starts from a premise of subordinates. That's insane. That's what we do.

CUOMO: And impractical.

CUOMO: Mine was much shorter, by the way, but yours is better.


ROWE: It's a one page book. It's a one-page book.

BOLDUAN: Remember he started with QVC guys. The guy know how to talk.

CUOMO: His voice is better. Everything he says --

ROWE: If only I had something to say.

PEREIRA: Mike Rowe in the house.

BOLDUAN: Sell me this NEW DAY mug -- go.

ROWE: Well, I'll tell you something, Kate. It's so beautiful. First of all look at the color design. The red and the white pop in a way that clearly isn't accidental. The handle is perfectly positioned for fingers of average size and the rim, perfectly engineered not too fat, not too thin. And because it's made of a special enamel it will keep your beverage hot or cold for as long as it needs to be kept in that state.

PEREIRA: I'll buy 20.

BOLDUAN: We should just drop the mike the walk out.


CUOMO: Smooth as the stuff he's scraping up --

ROWE: My work is done.

BOLDUAN: Mike Rowe great to meet you. Thanks for coming in.

PEREIRA: What a delight. Oh my goodness.

ROWE: Thanks for having me. I love this set, by the way.

BOLDUAN: You can stay. You can help rebuild it.

CUOMO: Made in America.

BOLDUAN: Made in America. "Profoundly Disconnected".

ROWE: Thanks guys.

PEREIRA: Good to have you with us.

ROWE: Nice to be had.

CUOMO: We'll be right back. We're going to keep talking to Mike. We'll see you on the other side.

ROWE: I'm not leaving. Where would I go?

CUOMO: Come back for the good stuff.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CUOMO: All right. We got a good guy, Mike Rowe; we got good women here you get to see every day.

BOLDUAN: Good stuff all around

ROWE: Good. Great.

CUOMO: Let's see some good stuff. This is proof that sometimes the smallest gesture can have the biggest impact. Why? Well, 84 years young, Tinney Davidson moved into their Ontario home there in 2007. Little did she know it was on the way to a school so each day the kids would walk to and from school and each day Tinney would wave at them.


TINNEY DAVIDSON, WAVES TO SCHOOL CHILDREN: I love it. They seem to like it also. So, you know, it's been a fun few years.


CUOMO: So touched by her waving day after day and it's a nice extended wave, somewhat royal just basically gentle that the entire school recently held an assembly in her honor.

PEREIRA: Oh my goodness.

CUOMO: Tinney received a gift basket, peaches, a special video presentation and, of course, plenty of hugs. Here's a taste of what she has meant to them.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Every day as I walk to school we can always count on her to be that warm smile on a dreary day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She does it on your way to school. She does it at lunch and she does it after school.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's one of those people who's like pumping everyone's attitude up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It makes everyone's day a little bit brighter.

DAVIDSON: I'm overwhelmed. It's wonderful.


PEREIRA: Just a little kindness that goes so far.

CUOMO: The ordinary becomes extraordinary and that's often all it takes to be the good stuff. Thank you Tinney -- great name, great wave.

BOLDUAN: Great woman.

CUOMO: Appreciate it. BOLDUAN: Mike Rowe, what have you done today?

ROWE: I can't top that. You guys should do an hour of that stuff. I swear. That's great.

BOLDUAN: Look what we get in two minutes at each show.

CUOMO: If only they would watch. We're going to take a break now. When we come back -- violent protests, that's what's making news around the world, what will the U.S. do in response? We'll tell you.

ROWE: We'll wave.


BOLDUAN: It's been a very fun day here at NEW DAY, I would say. A lot of news happening still -- a lot of it overseas. Let's get you straight over to Carol Costello and the "NEWSROOM" -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks a lot. Have a great day. "NEWSROOM" starts now.

Happening now in the "NEWSROOM", crisis in Kiev. In the shadow of Sochi, pro-Western protests erupt.