Yawning Bread. May 2007

Fall of the BP chief, part 2




Part 1 -- which you should read first before coming here -- provides the gist of the narrative. You will see from there that John Browne, the CEO of the petroleum giant BP, brought himself down by lying under oath. His sexual orientation would only have indirectly led to this, it having already been an open secret for years.

John Browne

However, he must have felt it important not to let the open secret become too open, for why else did he fight so hard (and gambled so much) to prevent the Mail on Sunday (MoS) from publishing its story?

The seldom acknowledged fact is that despite avowing the creed of non-discrimination and judging people by merit, the business world fairly reeks of heterosexism -- and male chauvinism too, as many a female executive can attest. Browne's close friends and colleagues may have no issue with his gay side, but other business contacts would be another question.

"Homophobia may be withering in offices and on the shopfloor," write Patrick Collinson of The Guardian, "but among Britain's business elite the closet remains firmly shut. At the global oil majors, routinely negotiating deals in countries not known for their tolerance of homosexuality, being openly gay is simply not an option." [1]

What this means is that despite the best intentions in the world, career paths are effectively blocked for openly gay men -- a "pink plateau", as the Guardian put it.

Yet hiding one's homosexuality deep in the closet is not an option either. Beyond the well-documented damage to one's psychological health, there is always the risk of blackmail.

* * * * *

Another issue raised by this case is that of freedom of speech. Aside from Browne damaging his own case by his stupidity, do you think the court should have upheld the injunction?

Would MoS' exposé be so injurious that the court should take pre-emptive steps to stop it? As mentioned above, Browne's career would be finished if it became too open that he was gay, aside from being painted by a low-brow tabloid newspaper as someone with no integrity towards his company's assets and loose with his sexual morals.

If we still say the newspaper should be free to publish, are we being callous about people's lives? Moreover, consider the right to privacy. If libertarians expect the State to respect privacy as a fundamental right, surely, at least to some degree, we should expect the private citizens and the media to display similar restraint?

* * * * *

Why did MoS judge that its exposé was newsworthy? That it could boost sales?

As with many of such stories, the commercial impact they have comes from riding popular prejudices. People like to read stuff that reinforce their worldviews, better yet if the stories are also salacious.

If popular prejudice didn't exist, such stories would have no traction. There'd be nothing to pander to. In this particular case, the MoS' story is only newsy and salacious if being gay is seen as immoral and shameful.

But whether it's this story or another one tomorrow that attempts to scandalise someone else, the fact is whenever we allow prejudices and judgmental attitudes to persist, we sow the ground for this kind of parasitic journalism to bloom. When that happens, the case for censorship is strengthened. If we care for freedom of speech to be protected and hate to see censorship justified, then it is necessary to help weed out prejudice and holier-than-thou attitudes generally.

* * * * *


Ah yes, holier-than-thou. That should set the stage for a discussion about allegations that Browne first met Chevalier through a gay escort agency. Many people will go "tsk, tsk".

Actually, if you try to think with a clear head, it is the sensible option for a person in Browne's position. A CEO is a very busy man. He's not going to have the time lingering in gay bars or online chat rooms, hoping to score. Not to mention that it would magnify the risks of uncontrolled gossip manifold. If he needs sex -- and surely we're not going to say he shouldn't need sex, are we? -- dealing with a reputable escort agency is a far better course of action.

This is true for gay executives as for (unmarried) straight ones. 

Prostitution is only a moral problem if it is associated with coercion. Unfortunately, most people who go on moral crusades never think clearly. They start with the lazy assumption that anyone providing sexual services for pay must surely have been coerced into it, and anyway sex is such a unique activity that it must always be given away free; it must necessarily be morally wrong for it to be commercially transacted.

Readers might ask, why am I defending this case of Browne allegedly using an escort when I virtually gloated over Ted Haggard [2] doing the same?

Come on, the difference should be obvious. Haggard preached that homosexuality was a sin and campaigned against equal rights for gay people. His engaging in the delights of gay sex, behind his wife's back too, was hypocrisy to the max.

Speaking of which, last month another hypocrite also quit after being outed as such by a TV news network. US Deputy Secretary of State Randall Tobias admitted that he had used the services of an escort agency. See box on the right.

Unlike Haggard and Tobais, Browne was no hypocrite. Under his watch, BP even instituted an internal network for gay staff, in addition to being covered by the UK's anti-discrimination legislation [5]. He didn't go around espousing one set of  beliefs while doing the opposite. While the Haggard and Tobias scandals were real exposés, the Browne one was not. The Mail on Sunday might have wanted it to be, but it was no more than an example of tawdry journalism, and an abuse of the freedom of speech. 

© Yawning Bread 



Randall Tobias exposed

The Randall Tobias story broke on 27 April 2007, with him resigning from his position as the Bush administration's Deputy Secretary of State after confirming to ABC News that he was on Jeanne Palfrey's list of clients. For 13 years, Palfrey (dubbed by the media as the "DC Madame") has run a "high-end adult fantasy firm" and is currently facing charges.

As director of U.S. Foreign Assistance and administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Tobias had been at the operational end of George Bush's social conservatism. He had been instrumental in restricting funding only to HIV-prevention programs that promote abstinence over condoms. This even when a long-term study authorised by the US Congress 9 years ago recently announced its results showing that abstinence-only programs don't work [3]. Health agencies doing HIV-prevention work have been pointing out ever since that Tobias' directive is ideologically-motivated, not fact- or needs-based.

But where the true irony lies is in the fact that Tobias also required agencies receiving funds to oppose prostitution. This effectively cut off funding to agencies that work with prostitutes in trying to reduce HIV in this subsector. 

Presented with incontrovertible evidence, he admitted to ABC News that he had several times used Jeanne Palfrey's escort service "to have gals come over to the condo to give me a massage." More recently, he had been using another service "with Central Americans" to provide massages. Tobias, who is married, insisted however that there had been "no sex." [4]

Are we so stupid as to buy that?


  1. The Guardian, 2 May 2007, 'Pink plateau' blocks path to top for gay executives -- by Patrick Collinson  
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  2. See the article Quicksand conservatism  
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  3. Slate magazine, 28 April 2007, Abstinence Bushie Busted http://www.slate.com/id/2165259/   
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  4. ABC News, http://blogs.abcnews.com/theblotter/2007/04/senior_official.html 
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  5. The Guardian, 2 May 2007, 'Pink plateau' blocks path to top for gay executives -- by Patrick Collinson 
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