A male gubernatorial candidate, a female reporter and a Pence-like storm over 'Billy Graham rule'

Remember a few years ago when a bunch of people flipped out over news that Vice President Mike Pence wouldn’t meet alone with a woman?

Interestingly, a New York Times poll later found that — surprise! — not just Pence but many men and women are wary of a range of one-on-one situations.

Fast-forward to this week.

A little-known Republican candidate for Mississippi governor is getting national attention, mostly negative, after citing the same “Billy Graham rule” that Pence did. The candidate, state Rep. Robert Foster, sparked a furor by declining to grant a female reporter’s request to shadow him (unless she brought a male colleague along).

CNN, the New York Times, the Washington Post and USA Today — among other major news outlets — have covered the story. The journalist in question, Mississippi Today reporter Larrison Campbell, offered her firsthand perspective on Foster’s decision.

What is the Billy Graham rule? The Times explains:

Mr. Graham, who died last year at 99, was the country’s best-known Christian evangelist. He sought to avoid any situation involving a woman other than his wife “that would have even the appearance of compromise or suspicion,” he wrote in his autobiography.

In Lloyd Bentsen style, CNN Religion Editor Daniel Burke felt compelled to let Foster know that he’s no Billy Graham:

You can click the links (and I encourage you to do so) to familiarize yourself with all the details of this story.

It’s a strange case. I mean, the candidate refuses to let the reporter trail him unless she brings a male colleague along. But, as some have asked, why wouldn’t he simply make sure he had a male staff member with him? And the journalist has pointed out that there would be photographers around. But that appears to be a part of the problem. Again, the links have all the intricacies.

Is there a religion angle here? Yes, that would seem to be obvious given the Graham connection. Yet most of the stories contain little or no mentions of how the candidate’s faith plays into his position. The Times, for example, does not reference Foster’s religion, although it does cite that of Graham.

CNN says:

Foster also defended his decision on Twitter Wednesday, citing his Christian faith as the reason he denied access to Campbell.

"As I anticipated, the liberal left lost their minds over the fact I choose not to be alone with another woman," he said. "They can't believe, that even in 2019, someone still values their relationship with their wife and upholds their Christian Faith."

The Post says:

Following the phone conversation, Foster tweeted: “Typical liberal Washington Post is now criticizing me for my Christian beliefs. Not surprising, considering they are totally out of touch with America.”

If Foster’s story is national news, it would be helpful for journalists to provide a few more details on his religion: Does he have a home congregation? Does he regularly attend worship? Does he serve in any leadership roles at his church? What does his pastor say about his citing of the Billy Graham rule?

Bottom line: This story has drawn some predictable responses on both the left and the right. And it’s haunted by some familiar ghosts.

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