A gubernatorial candidate in Mississippi invoked the Billy Graham Rule and declined to allow a reporter ride alone with him on a 15-hour campaign trip, a decision the mainstream media has condemned in nearly lockstep.
State Rep. Robert Foster, who represents a district near Memphis, said he had made a promise to his wife before they married that he would not be alone with another woman in a situation that could be construed as compromising. When Larrison Campbell, a reporter for Mississippi Today, requested to ride along with Foster on his campaign swing, he said she could go but she had to bring a male colleague along in keeping with his promise to his wife.
“I didn’t want to end up in a situation where me and Ms. Campbell were alone for an extended period of time throughout that 15- or 16-hour day, and so out of precaution, I wanted to have her bring someone with her – a male colleague,” Foster told CNN’s John Berman on “New Day.” “The other thing I think it’s important to point out is that this is my truck, and in my truck, we go by my rules, and that’s my rule.”
Campbell went on the CNN program as well to say, “Look, we got to call this what it is: When a woman isn’t given access to the same things that a man would be given access to, it’s sexism,” she said.
Berman asked during the CNN interview whether Foster took the step because he didn’t trust Campbell or himself. “I trust myself completely, but I don’t trust the perception that the world puts on people when they see things and they don’t ask the questions, they don’t look to find out the truth,” Foster responded. “Perception is reality in this world, and I don’t want to give anybody the opinion that I’m doing something that I should not be doing.”
Campbell asked Foster on the air why it was her responsibility to “make you feel comfortable about” doing the interview in this manner. Foster said it was because she was the one requesting the interview.
“If constituents are curious to know more about a candidate’s views on social issues, like gender equality, it might be a good idea to look at how that candidate treats reporters,” wrote Nicole Karlis of Salon in the lead to her story, “Mississippi gubernatorial candidate says woman reporter must be joined by male colleague.”
Although Campbell has tried to make this about sexism and squelching the media, Karlis wrote that “Foster has since politicized the move, asserting it indicates that he will not ‘compromise his beliefs.’”
The New York Times traced the controversy in “Mississippi Politician Denies Access to Female Reporter So as Not to ‘Insinuate’ an Affair,” by Karen Zraick.
“The practice [of not being alone with a woman] has drawn renewed attention in recent years, especially after the resurfacing of a 2002 comment by Vice President Mike Pence that he would not eat alone with any woman other than his wife,” Zraick wrote. “That led to a fierce debate among Americans, with some arguing that such limitations on interactions are necessary in the workplace, and others saying that they are unfair to women in professional settings and reduce them to sex objects.”
She later quoted Campbell from her TV appearance saying, “Why does it appear improper for a man to be with a woman? I mean, why wouldn’t, like, a gay affair be construed if you were a man? Unless, at the end of the day, what you’re saying here is, a woman is a sexual object first and a reporter second.”
Campbell, whom the Times pointed out is married to a woman, “said that Mississippi Today strives to do hard-hitting watchdog journalism and rebutted the notion that it is a liberal organization.
“‘They’re trying to take something that is inherently sexist – not giving a female reporter the same access they would give a male reporter – and they’re trying to turn it into this liberal versus conservative thing. It’s just sexism, and that’s not a liberal or conservative issue.’”