A Mississippi gubernatorial candidate denied a female reporter’s request to shadow his campaign over something informally known as the “Billy Graham Rule.”
“The Billy Graham Rule” was named after the famous evangelist who refused to allow himself in a situation where he was alone with any woman other than his wife. Reportedly, this included even members of his staff.
It’s designed to be an effort to prevent any situations in which a scandal — or even the perception of scandalous behavior — could result. And if you’ll recall, the Rev. Billy Graham was one of the few world-famous evangelists who never had such a scandal plague his ministry.
But in Mississippi, a gubernatorial candidate reportedly refused to allow a female reporter to shadow his campaign unless she brought a male colleague along for the ride.
I wasn’t that familiar with the rule until about 10 years ago.
I was visiting friends in California to volunteer with a church that was in the works. One evening, the leadership of that church decided to attend a sister church’s service as a sign of goodwill and to foster a relationship.
On the way there, I rode with friends of mine who I was staying with and one other volunteer I had already met. But on the way back, the seating arrangements were different. Suddenly, I was asked to ride back with the lead pastor, who I didn’t know well at all, and a volunteer I hadn’t met. The pastor was male and the volunteer was a female.
I was curious as to why I had been shifted to a different vehicle but I didn’t ask.
I was later informed that the pastor of the church needed me along because of the same rule. It was an effort to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.
Honestly, I was a little surprised by that because it hadn’t occurred to me. But I was a bit impressed as well with the integrity such a practice implied.
But a politician is a bit different.
While it might be just as admirable that anyone would want to take any steps they feel is necessary to avoid scandal, there’s something a bit impractical about a politician doing this.
For one thing, what would happen if he were elected and a female constituent needed to meet with him? Would she be required to find some male to accompany her?
And for the journalism field, there are a growing number of reporters these days who work solo. The official name for such a position varies from company to company, of course. But when I was a reporter in the early 1990s, it was known as a “one man band.” (We called it that even when the man happened to be a woman.)
There were plenty of occasions when I had to lug a camera, a deck — now the camera and deck are one — and a tripod by myself.
I couldn’t begin to count the number of reporters I’ve worked with over the years who’ve similarly had to go it alone in the field. Sometimes, in a newsroom, there are no extra bodies waiting around with their feet up reading magazines to be called to accompany someone just because a man doesn’t want to be alone with a woman. (And that’s true no matter how noble the goal of such a request happens to be.)
If the rule is a personal matter for a politician, but that rule limits a journalist’s access simply because of her gender, that’s 100% on the politician, not the reporter.
Essentially, it’s discrimination. For all he knows, any male reporter he grants access to based on his gender could be gay. Couldn’t that potentially be just as scandalous if we’re going to play the “what if” game?
If it’s so important to him they have a male chaperone, he needs to be the one to provide one. For her own accountability, she’ll have a camera and recording equipment in her hands.
The Billy Graham Rule may have the greatest intent. But it can’t come at the cost of blocking access to journalists or at the cost of discrimination.
If your religious or moral convictions are important enough for you to make such a stand, it should be on you to walk the walk.