Journalism Woman, Mississippi Man
Some stories just defy logic in their silliness. Not silly in the applications we take from them — which can be profitable — but silly that they happened in the first place.
I couldn’t help it, the musical chemistry of the late Conway Twitty and the still formidable Loretta Lynn batting lyrics such as “See the alligators all a waitin’ nearby, Sooner or later they know I’m gonna try” back and forth in my own head. That country classic about a man and woman separated by the Mighty Mississip’ was at least humorous and catchy. This is just sad. Apparently, even that formidable body of water might not be enough separation for Robert Foster.
A Republican running for governor in Mississippi denied a female reporter’s request to accompany him on a campaign trip unless she brought along a male colleague, insisting Wednesday that he did so because he “just wanted to keep things professional.”
The reporter, Larrison Campbell, wrote in Mississippi Today on Tuesday that the paper had asked to shadow each gubernatorial candidate seeking the GOP nomination “in an attempt to better inform readers.” While two of the candidates agreed, state Rep. Robert Foster declined, explaining on a Mississippi talk radio show Wednesday that having a female reporter with him could create “an awkward situation.”
Actually, lets just listen to the principles themselves on this one:
“What you’re saying here is a woman is a sexual object first and a reporter second.”
Reporter Larrison Campbell responds in real time to Mississippi State Rep. Robert Foster, who denied her request to accompany him on a campaign trip unless she brought a male colleague. pic.twitter.com/jVqNZvIbsS
— New Day (@NewDay) July 11, 2019
Let us pause for a moment to point out that, just in case you think that cringe-worthy “my truck, my rules” was accidental, a slip of the tongue, or just a charming attempt at macho colloquialism, by the next day…
My truck. My rules. Get yours. 👇🏼 https://t.co/AvaSWdoxx1
— Robert Foster (@RobertFoster4MS) July 12, 2019
Campbell questioned why the “onus” is on her to bring someone with her for the interview in order to make Foster more comfortable.
“Why is it my responsibility to make you feel comfortable about something that — you know, that again as your campaign director said on the phone with me — is this weird request that you have?” she said.
“Let’s go back to the ‘appearance of impropriety’ thing. Why does it appear improper for a man to be with a woman? I mean, why wouldn’t a gay affair be construed if he were with a man? Unless, at the end of the day, what you’re saying here is a woman is a sexual object first and a reporter second,” Campbell later added.
Foster said his rule is “very professional” and noted that the late evangelist Billy Graham and Vice President Mike Pence also maintained the same position.
“I’m a married man and I made a vow to my wife, and part of the agreement that we’ve also made throughout our marriage is that we would not be alone with someone of the opposite sex throughout our marriage, and that is a vow that I have with my wife,” he said, adding that he puts it above “anyone else’s feelings, including yours.”
This same narrative has been hashed out with Vice President Mike Pence, who has a similar rule, but at least he wasn’t working up merch over it. Foster referenced both the VP and the late evangelist Billy Graham, and indeed among evangelicals and particularly ministers such a policy has been named the “Billy Graham Rule.”
Foster has the right to believe whatever he wants. He has a right to have whatever kind of marriage him and his wife mutually agree and consent to. He has a right to decide not to be alone with a member of the opposite sex if he worries about the “perception” of it, as he endlessly has been repeating.
But anything past having those rights is a him problem.
It is not the world’s place or responsibility to enforce Robert Foster’s self-imposed beliefs. It is Robert Foster’s problem if he wants to have someone else around when the opposite sex is present. Which he could do. Easily. Quietly. Without fuss. He can say “My Truck, my rules” all he likes, but he is running for Governor of the great State of Mississippi, which is decidedly not his. But see, to the Robert Fosters of the world, the fuss is the point. Is the man sincere about how he upholds his wedding vows? I have no idea. I hope so. But since he is running for public office, I’m not judging him on his wedding vows, I’m judging him on his projected aptitude of the office he seeks. So I take in things like this when contemplating “le affair de Bob’s truck rules:”
As I anticipated, the liberal left lost their minds over the fact I choose not to be alone with another woman. They can’t believe, that even in 2019, someone still values their relationship with their wife and upholds their Christian Faith. #msgov #mselex
— Robert Foster (@RobertFoster4MS) July 10, 2019
He gives the game away. If he anticipated it, it’s a short scoot across the truck seat to planning it. You start working up merch, and your benefit of the doubt with me goes out the window. I grow utterly weary both as a writer and commentator, but especially as someone who has his own complicated and messy journey with faith, with this insistence of people like Robert Foster to use their faith as a shield from all criticism while he insists on poking everything in front of them with it at the same time. This passive-aggressive victimhood just wears. No one questioned Foster’s relationship with his wife. That’s the weapon he drew out to defend his poor — or perhaps purposeful — handling of a simple request from a reporter. I hate to break it to Team Foster, who apparently consists of two people who cannot coordinate very well by their own excuse to this mess, but sitting governors get a whole heaping bunch of reporter request. Of the thousands of professing Christians serving in public offices of all kinds, it should be telling of Foster that he can sight only two others in his defense, and one of them is a dead preacher, not an officeholder.
Robert Foster either a) botched this badly or b) did it on purpose to draw attention to his long-shot campaign. Either way, he probably has no business being governor of a state either by temperament or decision-making ability.
Don’t like me judging? Don’t like me questioning his use of faith as a shield while he uses his political aspirations as a sword to stab from behind it?
My piece, my rules.
Maybe I should hashtag that and have get some t-shirts made up.
See how that works?
Anyway, back to Conway and Loretta…
The Good Society: you should trust us!
Way off topic, but what the hell is that reporter doing on CNN there?Report
Which one, there are twoReport
Only see the one.Report
This makes no sense. Doesn’t Foster already travel with campaign staff?Report
No. He’s running a low-budget, grass-roots campaign. All he has, so far as I can tell from his interviews, is that he has a campaign manager, but one who often isn’t traveling with him.
He’s also said that the day’s campaigning would have been 12 to 14 hours riding in his truck. There is no way I’d let anyone I’m not very familiar with ride with me in my vehicle for 12 to 14 hours. The reporter was off base even asking to do that.
Would you let me ride around with you all day long?
And that’s all he should have said, something to the effect of “Don’t be silly. Of course not.”
I’d have been more mischievous and added things like:
“Do you think you can listen to Conway Twitty cranked to 11 for 14 hours straight? Cause that’s how I roll.”
“Sure, but I’ve gotta warn you that I’ve been taking this medication that causes uncontrollable flatulence. You know them ads that spend two minutes listing side-effects? Yeah. And it’s foggin’ up the windows, paint peelin’, eye-waterin’ flatulence. But it’s up to you!”
“Oh, you’re gonna love all my coon dog stories. I got tons of ’em! I could go on all day. I had this one dog, well, he wasn’t my dog, he was my friends dog, but anyway, this dog was playing with one of my dogs out by the barn over by the creek, and this possum was on this limb right out a reach, and them two dogs was sittin’ there just a barkin’, and…”Report
Would you let me ride around with you all day long?
Absolutely, if you kept feeding me straight lines like that.Report
If I was running a low budget campaign, hell yes I’d let a reporter be with me all day. It’d be like having a free press secretary.
The only appearance of impropriety is in this guy’s head.Report
You can make that argument on principle, but you can’t make it on results. Unless her article was going to get national coverage.Report
It doesn’t need national coverage, just Mississippi coverage. Unless the guy is a Bidenesque gaffe machine, there’s nothing but good that could result from something like this.
I’ve had one on one meetings with female co-workers and not once have I come out of them thinking I wonder if anyone thinks we’ve been knocking boots in there. The whole thing is utterly preposterous.Report
These one on one meetings, where you running for governor at the time?Report
Doesn’t matter. People will think what they want to think.
I’m pretty sure my first thought when reading her now impossible account of his campaign would not be I’ll bet they were boning.Report
Methinks the candidate doth protest too much.
I have known men who had “the Graham rule” in place (mostly men in “trusted” careers, like ministers) but they didn’t trumpet it from the rooftops. It was more….if they were going to be speaking with a woman, they arranged for someone else to be in the room (presumably as a witness, to avoid he-said, she-said)
For that matter, why doesn’t he get his wife to hang out with them when he’s interviewed, if he feels like he needs some kind of a chaperone?
I think this is all just a big Look At Me. And like the famous cartoon about broccoli, “I say it’s spinach and to Hell with it”
All that said: I’m a college prof and when I meet with students I do not close my office door. Even for confidential matters – I just turn up the classical music I stream in my office. Because yeah, sometimes you do have to protect yourself a little bit. (I once had an angry student block my office door…)Report
But the proposal sounds more like a road trip than an interview.Report
I used to find this kind of thing risible but now I’m not so sure. I think fillyjonk is probably right. There’s making a rule to protect yourself and then there’s an over the top stunt to make a point. Sadly we should probably expect more of this as long as the ‘believe all allegations no matter how absurd or discredited’ mobs are out there.Report
I have emailed several of my favorite female performers, explaining that while I respect them highly both as artists and as individuals, my religious scruples forbid me from spending time alone with them.Report
I’m on record several times advocating for a new etiquette, a formal set of shared rules and norms which guide our behavior so as to make everyone feel comfortable and safe.
But I’ve also noted each time that the history of such rules is that they get gamed and weaponized to serve the opposite purpose intended.
This guy is Exhibit A.
He somehow takes a message of “We are all fallible beings so its best to avoid the appearance of impropriety” and turns it into “I am the lord and master of my property and anyone in it must bend the knee to my will”.Report
Great piece as always! Now I gotta go listen to that song…Report
I’m just waiting for life events that allow me to work in Conway & Loretta’s “You’re the Reason our kids are so ugly” duet…Lord haste the day…Report
This guy is doing the smart thing for his marriage, and it probably works out to be the smart thing for his campaign.Report
Our nation is really dumb sometimes. This is decadentReport
A long time ago, I called the wife and said that I was going out to dinner with a former supervisor and would be home late. She was in town on a business trip. Her response was “you’re having dinner in public alone with a single woman, as a married man”..or words to that effect. I chose to invite a third person to dinner. It keeps the rumor mill at bay.
I’d probably say what this guy said about his truck…but 100% he’s using this for coverage….nothing i have issue with..he’s a politician..Report
In our post-Kavanaugh witchhunt, Title IX loss of civil-rights era, I can’t say that I blame him one bit. It also effectively signals to potential voters that he will not be lied about by unfriendly “journalists.” Which, when you think about it, is pretty savvy. Would that the world hadn’t come to this, but here we are.Report
Whether or not I’d make a big deal about it I don’t know, but, were I in public life I’d take similar measures for exactly those reasons.Report
I would say there is pretty much the same level of distrust and dislike for the media on the right as there is towards Trump on the left. He is signaling which side of the aisle he is on, and how that isle is treated, quite clearly.Report
The Trump presidency has been educational in all kinds of ways.Report
A civics lesson every day!Report
Hey, we beat up Andy Ngo- doesn’t that count as hostility to the media?Report
That doesn’t count bc Antifa and CNN are the same corporation.Report
The media is putting children in cages.Report
Indeed, and cell phone companies also.Report
Mr. Foster is running as a Republican. The head of that party is Donald Trump. When it comes to sexual propriety, he strains at gnats but swallows camels.Report
What has he said about Trump?Report
I maintain a Graham Rule at work, which I rarely have to invoke, but the only person who knows about it is my boss, who is also a close friend. I don’t announce it to my coworkers and I put the responsibility on myself. With all of that said, I’m confused about the timeline here…. Did Foster make this a public spectacle first, or was it the reporter writing about it that first made it public? If the former, yeah, he’s using his rule to score political points, which is gross. If it’s the latter, this feels like journalistic activism and I would put the kerfuffle more on her.Report
If I had tried to have a Graham Rule at work, particularly for travel, I would have been shuffled off into a less interesting (and lower paid) corner. For example, demo infrastructure prep often ran late into the night — sometimes at my regular building, sometime in a strange city somewhere — and on more than one occasion meant working alone with a woman.Report
If I was stuck in the office late at night I wouldn’t worry about it. We have cameras everywhere. For me it’s more about the out-of-the-office stuff. Car rides, hotels, etc.Report
Never had any such rule in my work life. In mental health, social services and court work the women folk are all over the place. Wouldn’t be possible to function if i couldn’t meet with a woman alone. Never been an issue.
I believe the timeline was that the reporter announced it since she couldn’t get an opportunity male reporters could get. That denied her an opportunity to do her job based on her gender. That is the kind of thing that should be wrong and pol, even a lower tier one, should be dinged for.Report
Our HR department actually recommends we never meet alone with an employee, male or female. Too much opportunity for hearsay, etc. I made that mistake years ago and the employee was so confused about what we discussed that they reported me. Hearing HR’s version of what they were told I said was like the most hilarious game of telephone ever. Several members of our management staff have actually requested permission to record every personnel conversation just to cover their asses.Report
The candidates safest dodge would have been, “I’d let you go with me, but if I spent all day riding all over the state with a pretty reporter my wife would keep bringing it up for the next fifty years.” Nobody would second guess it, and the reporter wouldn’t take it as sexist or insulting. Both men and women would just think “Good point.”
On an only vaguely related note, the other day I saw a complaint that resonated with me.
“Porn gives young people a completely unrealistic impression of how fast a plumber will show up.”Report
Yes, damn journalist being an “activist” by reporting a candidate for Governor refuses to let a reporter on a campaign trip because of that reporters gender. The kerfluffle is totally on the side of the political candidate who is trying to discriminate based on gender.Report
Did other reporters ask to do the same thing and he allowed it? Because of male reporters also wanted to tag along, it seems like he could invited them AND her and been in compliance with his rule. That’s how I handle it. I just find a business justification to bring along a third employee.
I suspect she knew he had this rule and asked anyway…but I’m pretty cynical about the motivations of people these days.Report
So as the apparently lone Mississippian in the room . . . this is a virtually unknown state Republican running in a hot lot contested primary to replace a middling popular Republican governor who is term limited and is running against the Republican Lieutenant Governor who is wildly popular on the Right (though known colloquially as Tater Tot). He’s already been panned for this stunt by the remaining daily papers in Mississippi and while he got his 7.5 minutes of fame out of it, he’s not likely to actually win anything from this stunt.
As to her relationship with him professionally – she has been a political reporter in Jackson fro several years and covered him routinely in his current position, in both open fora and interviews where, presumably, she and he were alone together. Up to this point she has had no other access issues, so I believe her request was probably routine. I haven’t seen reporting of any other reporters asking or being denied – though she is not the only female political reporter in the state or in Jackson. Point being, he’s trying to break almost insurmountable party odds and this stunt probably seemed like a good way to do it, misogynistic as it is.Report
As a coda to this unfortunate chapter – Mr. Foster received 66,441 votes (17.8%). Clearly his gambit didn’t work.Report