Mexican drug kingpin El Chapo has been recaptured by the Mexican government after his second escape from prison. But while he was on the lam he made time for a clandestine meeting with Oscar-winning actor and activist Sean Penn in the Mexican jungle. Penn wrote about his experience meeting El Chapo in a sprawling, 10,000-word essay for Rolling Stone. And then the rest of the media wrote about that. Bob weighs in.
"Fast Times At Ridgemont High" by Sammy Hagar
BROOKE: From WNYC in New York this is On the Media, I’m Brooke Gladstone.
BOB: And I’m Bob Garfield.
NBC: The saga of Mexican drug lord el Chapo took a new turn today.[LocalNBC_saga]
FOX: “Hollywood actor Sean Penn secretly met with the drug lord in the Mexican Jungle!”
CNN: “El Chapo and Sean Penn! Their shocking meeting. The world’s most wanted drug lord and an Oscar winner, deep in a secret mountain hideaway. Now Mexican authorities want to know where it all happened, how, and when…” [CNN_elchapo]
BOB: What an uproar over Sean Penn’s blockbuster article for Rolling Stone on his clandestine interview with the drug lord Joaquin Guzman, the murderous El Chapo.
For instance, here’s Mexican-American Journalist Alfredo Corchado on BBC:
CORCHADO: “It’s not journalism and to call it journalism is an epic insult to journalists in Mexico and beyond who have paid the ultimate price in seeking the truth.”
BOB: Maybe Corchado doesn’t realize he’s talking about an Oscar winner and globetrotting anti-Imperialist at Large, fighter of paparazzi and injustice. But the criticism of Penn has been merciless, for merely giving a sympathetic hearing to the a man they say has the blood of 100,000 victims on his hands. Here’s retired War on Drugs General Barry McCaffery on CNN this week:
MCCAFFERY: 10,000 words
BOB: Now hold on. Sean Penn did not spend 10,000 words glorifying a pitiless sociopath. About 8000 of the words -- including 26 of the first 33 paragraphs -- were Penn talking about himself.
PENN: Shame on you. You calll yourself a reporter? Shame on you! You’re nothing but a self-promoting hack!
BOB: That’s Sean in the 2010 movie, Fair Game -- and speaking of fair , of course he had to spend pages documenting preparations for the what-turned-out-to-be-not-quite-secret meeting. You don’t just book clandestine jungle-fortress expeditions on Expedia.com. Come on. And then there was the complaint that Penn and Rolling Stone were cynical to cooperate with a murderous fugitive, as per political analyst Gayle Trotter on Fox News:
TROTTER: “Sean Penn and Rolling Stone are basically aiding and abetting a felon…”
BOB: Also incorrect. Journalists always have and always will seek out Doers of Evil, whether your bin Ladens, your Mansons, your Biebers, what have you. As Jeffrey Toobin observed on CNN,
TOOBIN: We’re in the news business here and if someone had given me the opportunity to interview El Chapo I would have run for the opportunity.
BOB: The question is, would Toobin or any other actual journalist have had the artistic sensitivity and surpassing human empathy to truly get el Chapo? Quoting from Penn’s article: This simple man from a simple place, surrounded by the simple affections of his sons to their father, and his toward them, does not initially strike me as the big bad wolf of lore.
The hard-hitting journalism didn’t end there, either. There was also an accompanying Youtube video, excerpted in the piece, featuring Guzman answering Penn’s written questions:
(en espanol with voiceover translation)
WOMAN: With respect to your activities, what do you think the impact on Mexico is? Do you think there is a substantial impact?
EL CHAPO: Not at all. Not at all.
WOMAN: How is your relationship with your mom?
EL CHAPO: My relationship? Perfect. Very well.
WOMAN: Is it one of respect?
EL CHAPO: Yes, sir, respect, affection and love.
WOMAN: We hear avocado is good for you, lime is good for you, guanabana is good for you. But we never hear anyone doing any publicity with respect to drugs. Have you done anything to induce the public to consume more drugs?
EL CHAPO: Not at all. That attracts attention. People, in a way, want to know how it feels or how it tastes. And then the addiction gets bigger.
BOB: Now that is true. You don’t see El Chapo running Super Bowl ads. Of course, in fairness, the Avocado Cartel, has kept the death toll well below 100,000. But, here again, where others see “bloodbath,” Penn sees thoughtful restraint.
Quoting again from “El Chapo Speaks”: “unlike many of his counterparts who engage in gratuitous kidnapping and murder, El Chapo is a businessman first, and only resorts to violence when he deems it advantageous to himself or his business interests.”
Penn’s point being: Joaquin Guzman is a true-to-life Godfather’ It’s not personal, just business. Not senseless killing; sensible killing. Thank God for such moral clarity.
Speaking of which: how about that Rolling Stone? Fresh off of its triumphant expose on gang rape at a University of Virginia -- where the only thing the story got wrong was that the rape and cover-up didn’t technically, you know, “happen” -- Jann Wenner and his have team surpassed themselves. Any publication can print drivel. Anyone can print celebrity drivel. But celebrity drivel in sympathy with pure evil? That’s something.
As Wenner told the New York Times, quote, “It’s not a vindication but a restatement of how good we are, how strong we are.” Meanwhile, let us give thanks for our newest journalistic hero, Sean of the Jungle, may his judgment and courage, never flag.