Wednesday, May 2, 2007

BP Chief Executive Resigns After Tabloid Details Relationship with Former Escort

British Petroleum Chief Executive John Browne resigned yesterday after a British tabloid published details of his long-time relationship with a Canadian-born escort. The high-profile businessman had sought to prevent the Mail on Sunday from reporting details of his relationship with Jeff Chevalier but the House of Lords rejected the claim.

“For the past 41 years of my career at BP, I have kept my private life separate from my business life,” Browne said in a statement. “I have always regarded my sexuality as a personal matter to be kept private. It is a matter of personal disappointment that a newspaper group has now decided that allegations about my personal life should be made public.”

The tabloid, the Times and other British newspapers reported Browne, who has close ties to Prime Minister Tony Blair, had lied to a court about how he and Chevalier met. The Mail also published documents that show Browne allegedly used BP resources to help Chevalier’s business, urged BP executives to serve on its board and made other questionable business and personal decisions. Browne’s resignation closely resembles the series of events that lead to former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey’s resignation in 2004 after he acknowledged an affair with a former aide. McGreevey appointed Golan Cipel as his Homeland Security adviser despite a lack of qualifications for the position. Browne, unlike McGreevey, led a corporation. But he, like the former governor, made a series of decisions that ultimately lead to his downfall.

The focus of this story should remain on Browne’s alleged conduct and not his sexual orientation. The question of outing remains a sensitive topic for many LGBT people in this country and around the world. Some writers, such as Michelangelo Signorile, argue it is unethical not to report on a person’s sexual orientation while others, such as Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute, urge journalists to exercise extreme caution on this topic. The debate will obviously continue but the story behind Browne’s resignation will certainly continue to dominate headlines as it continues to unfold.

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