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Candidate Tells Woman Reporter She Can’t Cover Him Unless She Brings a Male Colleague

GOP candidate for governor of Mississippi Robert Foster said he would not allow a woman reporter to ride along with him on a campaign trip unless she brought a male colleague with her. He cited the "Billy Graham rule," which he said he and his wife Heather agreed to before the campaign. Photo via Robert Foster for Governor on Facebook.

Mississippi State Rep. Robert Foster, a Republican candidate for governor, told a reporter that she cannot follow his campaign on a reporting trip unless she brings a male colleague with her. Mississippi Today reporter Larrison Campbell had planned to do a “ride along” with the campaign to several stops later this week, but Foster’s campaign manager said they couldn’t “risk it,” because without a male colleague joining them, opponents might accuse Foster of an extramarital affairs.

“The only reason you think that people will think I’m having a (improper) relationship with your candidate is because I am a woman,” Larrison Campbell told him, she wrote in a story about the incident at Mississippi Today.

She has covered Foster since the day he launched his campaign, she wrote, and decided it would be better to forego the trip than to agree to their terms.

In social media posts after Campbell’s story published Tuesday night, Foster defended himself, citing the “Billy Graham” rule, which U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has also cited to explain that he does not have dinners with women who are not his wife to avoid even a hint of sexual impropriety.

“Before our decision to run, my wife and I made a commitment to follow the ‘Billy Graham Rule,’ which is to avoid any situation that may evoke suspicion or compromise of our marriage,” Foster wrote on Facebook and Twitter. “I am sorry Ms. Campbell doesn’t share our same views, but my decision was out of respect of my wife, my character, and our faith.”

In 2017, Andrew Exum, a practicing Calvinist, wrote in The Atlantic that, even among some evangelical churches, the “Billy Graham Rule” is considered as sexist because it stifles women’s opportunities in male dominated religious hierarchies.

“Outside the church, meanwhile, rules like those the vice president follows likewise harm the professional development of—and the professional opportunities afforded to—women,” Exum wrote. “If, as either governor of Indiana or vice president of the United States, Mike Pence would share a glass of scotch at the end of the day with a male subordinate in a way that he would not with a female subordinate, that creates an obviously unfair advantage for the men working under Pence. Leaders in both the private and public sectors have to be very careful about creating such unequal opportunities for mentorship and professional development.”

Jackson Free Press Editor Donna Ladd, who has called out sexist treatment against women in journalism for years, tweeted on Tuesday night that she is glad more women in Mississippi media are speaking out.

You can read my interview with Foster from early this year at the Jackson Free Press. In that interview, I asked him about his views on abortion and women’s health.