Sean Penn Hates You For Hating His Interview With El Chapo
Oscar-winning journalist Sean Penn is talking about his exclusive, controversial and possibly life-threatening interview with Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán Loera, better known to the world as "El Chapo." And he wants his critics (basically everyone who has read the piece) to shut up already, telling 60 Minutes' Charlie Rose, "I have a regret that the entire discussion about this article ignores its purpose, which was to try to contribute to this discussion about the policy in the War on Drugs."
Penn, aided by Mexican actress Kate del Castillo—El Chapo is her #1 fan—managed to speak to Guzman last October (but Penn wasn't taking notes), and later received a video of him answering questions. He also offered Guzman editorial approval of the story, which raised eyebrows. In his conversation with Rose, the actor-activist scoffed, "At the same time, you know, when...'journalists' who want to say that I'm not a journalist -- well, I want to see the license that says that they're a journalist."
While there's no license, media ethicist Kelly McBride wrote on Poynter that a strong editor would have helped the feature a lot:
During the actual writing, an editor should have been working with Penn to identify a structure, build a coherent argument and then challenge readers to see a complicated character operating in a complicated system. How do you do that? You have to bring in other voices. Here’s what’s missing from Penn’s El Chapo piece:
- A sociologist or economist. If you want to argue that American capitalism and social structures are partially culpable for the mob state that created El Chapo’s kingdom, bring in an economic expert who’s done research in this area.
- A law enforcement specialist. There are plenty of people who argue that America’s criminalization of drugs harms Mexico. But you can’t just toss that out as an accepted fact. Your readers deserve to hear about the successful experiments in decriminalization.
- Regional economic data. Rather than letting your source proclaim that there are no options, bring in some basic economic data that provide context.
- His neighbors. Penn claims El Chapo is a "Robin Hood-like figure" who improves life for the poor people of his hometown in his home state of Sinaloa. Let’s hear from them.
- A victim’s family. This may be the biggest stakeholder missing from the story.
- A Mexican newspaper editor, like this one. Cartels have terrorized journalists. Their voices would add some needed accountability.