Thursday’s headline about Robert Foster (running for governor) and a reporter named Larrison Campbell was devious by itself: “Candidate hopes to capitalize on reporter dispute” (July 11). But to find that the article was co-written by Larrison Campbell herself compels me to ask: Have you cast aside the goals of being objective and independent in reporting a story?
For readers who missed the story: Ms. Campbell asked to ride along with Mr. Foster for a day of campaigning so she could write a news story about him as a candidate for governor. Mr. Foster refused unless Ms. Campbell arranged for a male reporter to come along on the road trip with them.
Ms. Campbell and her employer, Mississippi Today, turned that into a news story. Ms. Campbell flew to her Twitter page and accused Robert Foster of discriminating against females. Other reporters at Mississippi Today retweeted Ms. Campbell’s launch tweet. Then she whipped the story up more by accepting a TV interview on CNN, where she accused Mr. Foster of looking at her as a sexual object first and a journalist second.
What Mr. Foster did out of respect for his wife and sensitivity toward her feelings, Ms. Campbell and her employer twisted into an act of disrespect for women in general.
The Commonwealth editors failed to perform your gatekeeper function.
When Nissan’s employees at the Canton plant — and when Volkswagen’s employees at the Chattanooga plant — choose not to authorize a particular labor union to represent them, do you editors publish the United Auto Workers’ press release wholesale as your news article about the election result?
Did you allow the district attorney, Doug Evans, to write a news article for the Commonwealth about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to reverse the conviction of Curtis Flowers?
Of course not.
Yet, a news agency called “Mississippi Today” let its reporter, Larrison Campbell, co-write a follow-up report about how Robert Foster is handling the news coverage, the interviews and the groundswell of encouragement over his requirement that Ms. Campbell bring a male reporter to accompany them so the two of them won’t be alone together in a vehicle for long stretches of the day as they travel to his campaign stops, and to avoid having others make wrong assumptions when they recognize Robert Foster in a truck stop enjoying a snack with an attractive woman other than his wife. And you decided to publish her report in the Commonwealth as news.
After Ms. Campbell made herself the victim/star of the story, she disqualified herself from writing any further news about Robert Foster’s campaign.
If a male candidate’s terms of engagement with a female reporter is newsworthy (in this case, it was not), then I agree that same reporter is the best person to report the facts for the initial story. But for follow-up coverage of how an ensuing controversy affects his campaign, that reporter becomes ineligible to write the news.
Why did Mississippi Today decide to let Larrison Campbell continue to shape publicity about how Robert Foster’s campaign is surviving the controversy she ignited? I think the skew-factor is that she is a female. Could that be why you decided, contrary to principles of journalism, to go ahead and publish the article, even though it was co-authored by Larrison Campbell? In the pool you reporters and editors swim in, feminism has become more important than journalism.
Let’s back up to Ms. Campbell’s first report that Robert Foster lives by a policy made famous by Billy Graham and Mike Pence. Reactions among women were split. Married women have told me, “I don’t know any woman who would take kindly to her husband traveling around with another woman for hours by themselves in a car.” But others (I don’t know if they are married or single) posted remarks sympathizing with the female reporter and resentful toward the male candidate.
Hands down, most of the news and commentary in public forums is consumed with only two players: the reporter and the candidate. A third person gets left out. She, too, is a woman. Mrs. Foster seems invisible to and forgotten by a lot of interviewers and commentators.
Why is it so easy to forget about the candidate’s wife?
Materialism causes blind spots. Any profession — not just journalism — takes priority over promises made to one’s spouse. Working for hire in tall, tall buildings is treated as more worthwhile than unpaid work of homemaking and raising a family in a cottage and a truck patch. Employment outside the home is viewed as more vital than investing yourself into the lives of your husband and your children. A job has jumped ahead of the rising generation. Career enjoys more respect than keeping the marriage covenant.
That’s how Mississippi Today and the Commonwealth editors slipped into sacrificing balance and fairness on an altar built to feminism.
George Whitten Jr.