WASHINGTON – On Wednesday, state Rep. Robert Foster, a Republican candidate for governor in Mississippi, said he had asked a female reporter to bring a male counterpart along to shadow his campaign to avoid any "opportunities for an awkward situation."
"In our case, it was a female reporter asking to ride along, and my campaign director is in and out and gone sometimes...it's just going to going to be a lot of opportunities for an awkward situation I didn't want to put myself in...we just wanted to keep things professional," Foster said in a radio interview with SuperTalk Mississippi radio host Paul Gallo.
"There's only one person that comes to mind more than anyone and that's my wife. I've always had the same practice in business. I'm not alone with a female employee and put myself in a situation to have a 'he said, she said moment,'" Foster added.
Foster was directly responding to a column Larrison Campbell had published in Mississippi Today earlier on Tuesday alleging Foster's campaign had declined to let her follow and cover it because "because I am a woman."
The Mississippi Republican had tweeted about it on Tuesday evening, referencing the late evangelist Billy Graham's practice of not traveling, meeting or eating with another woman alone. The practice is reportedly common among many evangelicals. A Washington Post profile of Second Lady Karen Pence cited a 2002 interview with The Hill in which Vice President Mike Pence says he follows a similar rule.
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"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. I am sorry Ms. Campbell doesn’t share these views, but my decision was out of respect of my wife," Foster wrote.
Foster tweeted again on Wednesday, defending his position and accusing the "liberal left" of "[losing] their minds over the fact I choose not to be alone with another woman. "
Mississippi Today had planned to ride along with gubernatorial candidates on the campaign trail in order to better inform their readers about the election and had submitted requests to each major campaign. According to Campbell, the campaign called her on July 7 to say that a male reporter needed to accompany Campbell if she were to ride along on a 15-hour campaign trip to avoid any appearances of an extramarital affair.
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“Perception is everything. We are so close to the primary. If (trackers) were to get a picture and they put a mailer out, we wouldn’t have time to dispute it. And that’s why we have to be careful,” Campbell said campaign manager Colton Robison told her.
Despite several requests from Campbell and her editor, the Foster campaign refused to let her travel alone with the campaign, insisting that video could be taken out of context by "trackers," or political operatives hired to shadow a campaign and record video of politicians.
“I wish it weren’t the way it is. Unfortunately, this is the game we’re playing right now,” Campbell said Robison told her.
Campbell's publication of her column prompted a backlash online for the Foster campaign from media critics and female journalists.
CNN media correspondent Brian Stelter included the column in his newsletter, calling it a '"what century is this?!' headline out of Mississippi."
Erica Hensley, a Mississippi Today reporter, noted, "This is not a compromise a reporter should have/be asked to make."
Mary Beth Schneider, an editor at the TheStatehouseFile.com, wrote "Sometimes I think my capacity to be shocked is waning. And then something like this happens and my head explodes."
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Updated 8:08 PM EST Dec 16, 2019