Mississippi Politician Blocks Female Reporter From Campaign Trip

Robert Foster, a Republican state representative in Mississippi who is running for governor, blocked a female reporter from shadowing him on a campaign trip “to avoid any situation that may evoke suspicion or compromise” his marriage.

The reporter, Larrison Campbell of the news site Mississippi Today, wrote in an article published on Tuesday night that Mr. Foster’s campaign manager, Colton Robison, had told her that a male colleague would need to accompany her for a “ride-along” on a 15-hour campaign trip around the state.

Mr. Robison said that the campaign “believed the optics of the candidate with a woman, even a working reporter, could be used in a smear campaign to insinuate an extramarital affair,” Ms. Campbell wrote.

In blocking the reporter, Mr. Foster invoked the “Billy Graham rule,” which refers to the Christian evangelist’s refusal to spend time alone with any woman who was not his wife.

The practice 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.

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.

Ms. Campbell wrote in her article on Tuesday that she and her editor had decided that the request was sexist and “an unnecessary use of resources” given her experience. She has interviewed Mr. Foster numerous times and broke the story of his candidacy. But the campaign would not budge, she wrote.

After her article was published, Mr. Foster responded on Twitter that he and his wife had committed to following the Billy Graham rule before he announced his candidacy.

“I’m sorry Ms. Campbell doesn’t share these views, but my decision was out of respect of my wife,” he wrote.

In a radio interview on Wednesday, Mr. Foster said he has the same policy of not being alone with women at the agri-tourism business he runs. He said the report was slanted.

“That’s part of the process that I knew I was getting into, is that the media has their agenda and it doesn’t align very often with the conservative agenda,” he said.

“I would much rather be called names by the liberal press than to be put in a situation where it could do damage to my marriage or my family.”

Mr. Foster is running to the right of his opponents and is considered a long shot to win the primary election on Aug. 6, Mississippi Today has written. He was not immediately reached for comment on Wednesday.

Mr. Graham, who died last year at 99, was the country’s best-known Christian evangelist. He sought to avoid any situation involving a woman other than his wife “that would have even the appearance of compromise or suspicion,” he wrote in his autobiography.

More recently, the practice has been referred to as “the Mike Pence rule.”

A 2017 Washington Post profile drew attention to a statement he made in 2002 that he would not eat alone with any woman other than his wife, or attend an event where alcohol was served without her.

While many have criticized the practice as sexist, the attitude behind it is common among Americans: A 2017 poll conducted by Morning Consult for The New York Times found that many men and women are wary of a range of one-on-one situations.

Around a quarter said that private work meetings with colleagues of the opposite sex are inappropriate, while nearly two-thirds believed that extra caution should be taken around members of the opposite sex at work, the poll found.

And a majority of women — and nearly half of men — said it was unacceptable to have dinner or drinks alone with someone of the opposite sex other than their spouse.

In the #MeToo era, some men have expressed greater reluctance to interact with women at work, wary of being accused of sexual harassment. That could curtail women’s opportunities.

“What we’re seeing now is men are backing away from the role that we try to encourage them to play, which is actively mentoring and sponsoring women in the workplace,” Al Harris, who runs workplace equality programs, told The Times in a 2017 interview.

The Republican primary has drawn high interest from Mississippi readers, and political observers believe Mr. Foster could force a runoff vote, said R.L. Nave, the editor of Mississippi Today, a three-year-old nonprofit site that seeks to provide information on government and politics in the state.

Mr. Foster’s primary opponents are Bill Waller, a former State Supreme Court chief justice, and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, both of whom agreed to let another reporter for the site, who happens to be male, shadow them.

Mr. Nave said his organization decided to publish Ms. Campbell’s account of her interaction with the campaign in order to be transparent with readers. He still hopes that the Foster campaign will allow greater access.

“Our women reporters are exposed to a lot of very sexist behavior by the men that they cover,” Mr. Nave said. “But this is the first time in the three years we’ve been in existence, and the first time in my 15-year career in journalism, that we’ve had this experience with a political candidate. And so for that reason, we thought it was news.”

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