Robert Foster, a Republican candidate for governor in Mississippi, is defying increasing backlash over his refusal to meet with a female reporter unless she has a male colleague present.
The DeSoto County state representative cited his religious beliefs and the cultural climate in the wake of the #MeToo movement to explain why he denied Mississippi Today journalist Larrison Campbell’s request to shadow him on the campaign trail.
“They’re going to look at a glimpse of somebody passing in a car, sitting together at a restaurant eating alone with someone and they’re going to make assumptions. That’s the way people are,” he said. “I don’t want to put myself in a position to be assumed that I’m doing something I shouldn’t be, that’s inappropriate.”
The possibility of political opponents trying to exploit such meetings also factored into the decision, according to the Mississippi lawmaker.
Then, there’s feminism, he said.
“There’s a lot of things out there in the #MeToo movement, all of the things happening where people are making claims, accusations against people, and I don’t ever want to put myself in a position to where it could be a he-said she-said situation,” Foster declared. “I want to make sure that I protect myself and my family and my marriage with not having anybody make claims that can’t be refuted other than just my word.”
But Campbell, who said she’s interviewed Foster before in the past, claimed his refusal to grant her access unless a man is with her was plainly sexist.
“What you’re saying here is a woman is a sexual object first and a reporter second,” she said during a Thursday appearance on CNN.
“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
Campbell also told WMC that she hopes an article she penned about the controversy raises awareness regarding how female political reporters are treated.
“Politics has long been a male arena and female reporters are treated differently and we need to talk about that,” she said.
Several progressive and feminist commenters on Twitter expressed support for Campbell and decried Foster’s actions.
During Foster’s appearance on CNN, Foster called in to defend himself. He dismissed the notion that his decision was sexist, pointing out that Campbell’s specific request would have involved her riding along with him in his truck for an extended period of time.
“I didn’t ask you all to do the interview. So it’s my rules, my truck,” he told a visibly flustered Campbell.
In a series of tweets earlier in the week, Foster excoriated the media and the “radical left” over mounting criticism surrounding his decision.
“Typical liberal Washington Post is now criticizing me for my Christian beliefs. Not surprising, considering they are totally out of touch with America,” Foster tweeted on Wednesday.
Robert Foster and #MeToo’s unintended consequences
A survey released by LeanIn.org in May revealed that a large and growing majority of men feel uncomfortable interacting with the women they manage in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
And while #MeToo has seen many successes in its bid to eradicate the harassment faced by career women, critics have long warned that the movement is going too far. In addition to stoking resentment among men, some have argued, #MeToo risks fulfilling its own vision of women as victims.
LeanIn.org’s finding were not the first evidence that the naysayers have a point. Last year, Bloomberg News reporters interviewed 30 male Wall Street executives and observed that “many are spooked by #MeToo and struggling to cope.” According to the report, male managers are avoiding even hiring women in an attempt to avoid sexual harassment allegations.