By Rebecca Heilweil
Mississippi Today reporter Larrison Campbell had a lot of questions for gubernatorial candidate Robert Foster. So she reached out to his campaign staff requesting a standard ride-along to learn more about the Republican candidate, who currently sits in the state's House of Representatives.
But she didn't get any answers. That's because Foster's staff said she'd need a male colleague to accompany her throughout the day. Campbell rejected the request, as she explained in Mississippi Today.
"As a woman who reports on politics, sure, I get treated differently from my male colleagues. But nothing this blatant," Campbell told Cheddar Friday. "I really didn't think they were going to draw this line."
The campaign maintains that Foster didn't want to provide any perception that he was cheating, and has since said he had agreed to the "Billy Graham" rule with his wife, promising that he would not spend time alone with another woman.
The "rule" is generally associated with the late evangelical Christian leader Billy Graham.
But denying Campbell the chance to do the ride-along — a decision Foster has continued to defend — has been widely condemned as sexist.
Now the journalist says there's even more to ask about: couldn't being alone with a male reporter also be construed as cheating? Why was it her responsibility, not the campaign's, to find a third person to sit in the ride-along? What if a female candidate had instituted the same rule?
Campbell also says that the Foster campaign has changed its story.
"The first thing that I heard from his campaign director was that they were concerned about opposition research from other campaigns, you know, one of his opponents having someone take a photo that could paint him in a compromising position by being on the campaign trail with a woman. It was about, sort of, this idea of perception," Campbell told Cheddar. "Since the story fell apart, they've sort of been selling it as this thing he calls the 'Billy Graham' rule."
Cheddar had not heard back from the Foster campaign by the time of publication.
"You cannot govern a state if you cannot be alone in a room with half of your constituents," said Campbell. "It's about men who have that point of view, who see women this way, not wanting to do the work that they need to do to change their antiquated point of view of what a woman in the work setting is."
But Campbell said that Foster has gained support from the outrage.
"There are a ton of people who are thrilled that he's taken this position," she said. "I think there's this perception among a certain sect of the population that men are under attack right now, and they have to protect themselves from women and all these false accusations. And the Billy Graham rule is just something he's doing to honor his wife and to keep himself safe."
In a fundraising email sent to supporters earlier this week, as reported by Time, Foster wrote, "I am sorry the liberal media doesn't share our views, but their attack on us is all the more reason we need a conservative that will protect these values we share."