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Mississippi Politician Refuses To Let Female Reporter Travel Alone With Him

Jul 11, 2019
Originally published on July 11, 2019 5:52 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A local journalist covering the governor's race in Mississippi has encountered an obstacle, and that obstacle has become a national news story. Republican Robert Foster refused to let reporter Larrison Campbell follow him for a day on the campaign trail unless she brought along a male colleague. Earlier today, Foster explained his decision to NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

ROBERT FOSTER: Perception is reality in this world. And I did not want there to be a perception that I was riding with another female and that something was - promiscuous going on or anything like that.

SHAPIRO: Now let's hear from the reporter, Larrison Campbell of Mississippi Today.

Welcome.

LARRISON CAMPBELL: Thank you so much for having me, Ari.

SHAPIRO: You've covered Robert Foster before. He's a state representative. You actually broke the story that he was running for governor. So were you surprised when he said you could not shadow his campaign without a male colleague?

CAMPBELL: Oh, I was completely surprised. I mean, it was so out of left field. I kind of didn't think it was going to be real. So, you know, my editor and I talked about it. We thought it was a pretty sexist request, so we turned him down.

And we said, but look, you know, if you're concerned about the appearance of impropriety, I'll wear my press badge all day. You know, like, I won't, like, allow myself to be photographed sitting next to you. I assumed that that would be OK. And they actually drew a very bright line. So neither one of us were sort of willing to step over that.

SHAPIRO: He says he's protecting his reputation. In that interview he did with NPR earlier today, he told us people make assumptions.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

FOSTER: With the #MeToo movement especially, there's an opportunity there. I'm not going to ever put myself in a position where a female could come back and say that I made advances on her or I tried to assault her when there's no witness there to say that that did not happen.

SHAPIRO: So I hear your reaction there.

(LAUGHTER)

CAMPBELL: Yeah. I mean, like, can we just dismantle the sexism behind this right now? Let's talk about the perception of impropriety, you know, this idea that if a woman is photographed with a man, it could be perceived as, you know, an inappropriate relationship. Well, first of all, that only happens if you see this reporter who's doing her job as a sexual object first and a reporter second. That's what he's saying.

And second of all - I spoke to him earlier about this, and he had this line. He said, my truck - which is what we would have been riding in - my rules. That's kind of how he laid it out there. Well, it's his truck and his rules. It's also his problem. Like, he's the one who's uncomfortable here. And putting the burden on me to bring along a male chaperone so he feels comfortable, I mean, if that's not sexism, I'm not sure what is.

SHAPIRO: He describes this as the Billy Graham rule. It's also been called the Mike Pence rule after the vice president. On Twitter, Foster described the rule as something he and his wife had agreed to, quote, to "avoid any situation that may evoke suspicion or compromise of our marriage." Then he said, I'm sorry Ms. Campbell does not share these views, but my decision was out of respect of my wife. How do you respond to that?

CAMPBELL: I mean, again, you're putting this on women, you know. You're saying my wife needs this to feel comfortable. I mean, what he's saying is, you know, he has this value system, and it doesn't jibe with the current workplace dynamics which are that women are, you know, capable of and do as much as men.

SHAPIRO: Have you heard of any male journalists being denied access to a powerful woman under similar circumstances?

CAMPBELL: That's a great question. No, I haven't. I mean, think about it. Our state treasurer is a woman. Her name is Lynn Fitch. And she's running for attorney general right now. And I cannot imagine how people would react if she said to one of my male colleagues, I'm sorry, you can't ride along with me unless you bring a woman along. I mean, people would say, you're not fit for the job.

And honestly, is this candidate fit for the job? Can he be a governor? You know, look at our current governor. Some of - his top policy director, his top attorney, they're both women. Is somebody capable of governing a state if they can't be alone in a room with a woman?

SHAPIRO: Do you think this experience makes it tougher for you to keep following this story and covering him as a part of your beat?

CAMPBELL: I sure hope not. Look. It is strange to be on this side of the story. But, I mean, the fact is this is my job. I'm supposed to cover politicians. And, you know, one of the reasons that we decided to run a story as opposed to just letting this happen, you know, this is a revealing thing about this candidate. And it's a weird turn that this campaign took, but it is the evolution of this campaign. And I plan to stay on the story.

SHAPIRO: Larrison Campbell of the nonprofit digital news outlet Mississippi Today, thanks for speaking with us today.

CAMPBELL: Thanks so much for having me, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.