Doing the Right Thing
Executive editor Mimi Swartz on interviewing Eva Rowe about her fight against oil giant BP.
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texasmonthly.com: What inspired you to write an article about Eva Rowe? Describe your first encounter with her.
Mimi Swartz: My former boss called and suggested the story idea to me. I liked Eva from the beginning. She was tough and wanted to be sure I was someone she wanted to talk to, but then she opened up and was very frank, though it’s painful for her.
texasmonthly.com: How long did you work on the piece?
MS: Several months off and on.
texasmonthly.com: What was the most challenging thing about it?
MS: Getting all the personal information and then all the information on the company into a coherent narrative.
texasmonthly.com: Was it hard to maintain objectivity in your relationship with Rowe?
MS: She’s very likable, but with our editors and fact checkers you know you have to stay objective.
texasmonthly.com: You portray Rowe in many different lights throughout the story—innocent, wild, deprived, ruthless. How would you best describe her?
MS: She’s all those things, which means she’s human.
texasmonthly.com: How responsible is BP for the explosion in Texas City on March 23?
MS: I would say it is very responsible, especially when you consider that OSHA hit the company with a record $21.3 million fine.
texasmonthly.com: Describe the relationship between Rowe and her attorney, Brent Coon?
MS: They are close, like people who have been through a war together.
texasmonthly.com: How have things changed for Lord John Browne and BP because of the Rowe case?
MS: Lord Browne had to resign because of a potential scandal in his personal life; without him, the company will most likely be in flux for a while.
texasmonthly.com: There was plenty of documentation depicting the dilapidation at BPTC long before the incident. Why do you think BP ignored the concerns?
MS: Because there was a culture of silence there—of not complaining, of getting the work done and the profits up no matter what. Judging from several documents, workers also felt they would be punished or ignored for complaining.
texasmonthly.com: As you mentioned, Rowe’s lengthy battle with BP took a hefty toll on her—both physically and emotionally (arrests, drugs, a car wreck, breakups). Do you feel that the end reward justified the pain of the process for Rowe?
MS: I think that’s a question for her, but I suspect her answer, most days, would be yes. But, again, I think it has been difficult.
texasmonthly.com: What was the most interesting thing you learned during the process of this story?
MS: The most devastating thing I learned was how careless the company was with the health and safety of its workers.