As It Happens

This Mississippi reporter bowed out of Republican campaign trip over demand she bring a male chaperone

Mississippi Today reporter Larrison Campbell says Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert Foster's request that she bring a male colleague along while covering his campaign is an act of "blatant sexism."

'It's unprofessional to be alone with a woman who's not my wife': Republican primary candidate Robert Foster

Mississippi Today reporter Larrison Campbell says she refused to grant a gubernatorial candidate's request that she bring a male colleague on a campaign ride-along. (Kayleigh Skinner/Mississippi Today )
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Mississippi Today reporter Larrison Campbell says a gubernatorial candidate's request that she bring a male colleague along while covering his campaign is an act of "blatant sexism."

Campbell wrote in the newspaper that when she requested to shadow Robert Foster on the campaign trail before the Aug. 6 Republican primary, his campaign director told her the candidate wouldn't ride in a vehicle alone with a woman because someone might accuse him of having an extramarital affair. 

Foster did not respond to As It Happens' request for an interview, but he told The Associated Press: "It's unprofessional to be alone with a woman who's not my wife."

He also wrote in a campaign fundraising email that before he decided to run, he and his wife "made a commitment to follow the 'Billy Graham rule,' which is to avoid any situation that may evoke suspicion or compromise of our marriage."

Campbell spoke to As It Happens guest host Robyn Bresnahan about why she doesn't accept that explanation. Here is part of their conversation.

The candidate Robert Foster invoked the "Billy Graham rule." What is that exactly?

He has pitched it as sort of a means of self-preservation. But, I mean, honestly, to me it is blatant sexism.

First of all, you're saying, you know, this woman, people aren't going to see her as a reporter first. Even though it's in a work context, she's a woman, therefore people see her as a sexual object first.

And secondly ... it's his problem, but he put the burden on me by saying: "I need you to bring, essentially, a male chaperone around to make me feel comfortable."

He's the one who should work to fix it. Whether it's, you know, by providing the chaperone through his campaign himself, or whether it's working to dismantle his ideas about what a woman in a workplace context represents.

It is his problem, but he's asking a woman to fix it for him, to make him feel better so he doesn't have to change his antiquated views of what a woman represents.

If that's not sexism, I do not know what is.

Robert Foster, a candidate for the Republican nomination for Mississippi governor, had defended his decision not to spend time alone with women, even in a professional context. (Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press)

He actually has doubled down since all this came out. He has framed this as a case of liberalism versus conservatism. He has said [on Facebook] that "Once again, the liberal left and Hollywood are attacking someone for their integrity, professionalism and Christian beliefs." Do you think that this stance will actually help his campaign?

I really think that, you know, this is some notoriety. It will help. And I think his supporters agree with him. A lot of them do.

I've seen responses on both sides of the aisle. I'm getting a lot of emails ... and there are plenty of people out there — you know, Mississippians who vote — who seem to think that he did the exact right thing. That, you know, in today's world, a man needs to watch his back. He needs to be protected.

What do you make of his argument that he brought his wife into this, saying that it would be unfair to her, that he wants to avoid any situation that may evoke suspicion or compromise his marriage?

How many different ways can he blame women for making him feel uncomfortable? 

Again, he is the one who is worried about this. He is the one who says that, like, it might make his marriage look bad. I think it is deeply disingenuous to put this on a woman, whether it's his wife ... or whether it's a woman who, you know, infringes on that just by showing up and doing her job.

To add another layer to this, you are openly gay.

I am.

Does he know that?

I actually don't know. Mississippi is not a big state. A lot of people know each other, and I would be surprised if he weren't aware of that.

It's irrelevant who I'm attracted to. What is relevant is the fact that I am a woman and, therefore, regardless of where my desire falls, I am a threat.

You have, in a way, become part of this story now. How does that affect how you're going to cover the rest of this campaign?

That's a great question. My editor and I made a really conscious decision to put this out there. Obviously, you know, we're a news site. We don't typically do first-person stuff. But we did it for two reasons.

The first one was we wanted to let readers know why this one candidate wouldn't get the same coverage as his opponents.

And the second one was also along those same lines. You know, it's our job to reveal as much as we can about the candidates. This was a very firm stance that he took and we needed to let readers know that this is what this candidate believes.

It is a little weird that I'm part of this story, but I definitely plan to keep covering it. You know, I love this job and I'm excited to stay right on it.

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from The Associated Press. Produced by Morgan Passi. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.