The campaign of Mississippi Republican gubernatorial candidate and state Rep. Robert Foster (R) denied a journalist’s request to shadow him on a campaign trip because she is a woman, the reporter wrote in an essay published in Mississippi Today on Tuesday evening.
Journalist Larrison Campbell said the campaign director, Colton Robison, told her she could ride along with Foster for a day trip only if she brought along a male colleague. According to Campbell, Robison said he was concerned about the public perception of them being together — that if ‘trackers’ saw Foster and Campbell, they could use it to “insinuate an extramarital affair.”
After consulting with her editor, she said no ― both on principle, telling HuffPost it was a “sexist request,” and because newsrooms are stretched thin. And she was shocked that even after offering other solutions, like making sure she’s visibly wearing her press badge all day, they continued to deny her request.
“They put the onus on me as a woman to make [Rep. Foster] feel comfortable, when it was his issue and his rule.”
Foster confirmed to HuffPost that he denied Campbell’s request.
In an email, Foster told HuffPost that the decision was based on a commitment he and his wife made to follow the “Billy Graham Rule” — a practice named after evangelical pastor who did not spend time alone with women who were not his wife — “which is to avoid any situation that may evoke suspicion or compromise of our marriage.”
“I am sorry Ms. Campbell doesn’t share these same views, but my decision was out of respect of my wife, character and our Christian faith,” Foster said. He tweeted a similar response Tuesday night.
Foster told HuffPost he wouldn’t mind granting Campbell an interview. “We just want it to be in an appropriate and professional setting that wouldn’t provide opportunities for us to be alone.”
Campbell said the “Billy Graham Rule” rationale was never presented to her. Instead, the campaign spoke to her about the concern that “trackers” would try to make him look bad. “He never mentioned anything about his wife or having that agreement with his wife beforehand,” she said.
The professional barriers women face as a result of optics is not unique to the journalism industry. A study last May from LeanIn.org and SurveyMonkey found that 60% of male managers said they’re not comfortable engaging in work activities with women, including mentoring—a 33% increase from the year before.
Campbell spoke to Foster first, on Saturday — he appeared “noncommittal” but seemed “somewhat enthusiastic,” Campbell told HuffPost. Robison called her back Sunday afternoon, and they talked about the details of the trip, she added.
They would go down to the Gulf Coast on Thursday, a couple of hours from Jackson. Then, they’d come up through a few towns in the southern part of Mississippi. It’d be around a 15 hour day in total.
It’s not a small time commitment, Campbell said, but a “great opportunity for a window into a campaign.”
Then, Campbell received the request: Robison reportedly asked if she could she have a male colleague accompany her.
HuffPost attempted to reach out to Robison through the campaign but did not receive a response.
Campbell told HuffPost it would have been different if the campaign suggested a male staffer accompany her. Instead, they were telling her since she was a woman she should provide the additional resources.
Campbell, who covers politics and public health for Mississippi Today, wrote that other Republican candidates for governor — Bill Waller, who was formerly a state Supreme Court chief justice, and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves — had agreed to requests for a ride-along trip with another reporter at Mississippi Today, Adam Ganucheau.
Foster has been a member of Mississippi’s House of Representatives since 2016 and serves as the vice chair of the Accountability, Efficiency and Transparency Committee. He’s branding himself as an “outsider” and according to Campbell’s essay, he’s is further right than others in the race, attempting to appeal to tea party conservatives.
He said that “Anyone who votes Dem. in 18 is either ignorant or evil” on Twitter in November.
Campbell has been covering Foster’s campaign — she broke his bid for the governor’s mansion in November and later wrote a story about him being offered a large amount of money by a Republican operative not to run for governor.
But this isn’t just a Mississippi or GOP issue, Campbell said.
Campbell has had friends and others reaching out and telling her they’ve faced similar situations. “These things feel familiar,” she said.
The conversation this ordeal raises is an important one, Campbell later explained. “Politics has been up until the last couple of decades an almost entirely male space.”
“I think this is an echo of that,” she added.