Sean Penn shakes hand of Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. Sean Penn photo.
By Casey Bukro
Once again, Rolling Stone managed to embarrass itself by publishing an account by surly Hollywood star Sean Penn of a jungle trip to interview Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. Penn reported that he farted but Guzman graciously pretended he did not notice.
Although pairing a Hollywood star with one of the world’s most wanted drug lords probably sounded like a good story idea, it does not get much more exciting than Penn’s faux pas. Guzman mailed a 17-minute videotape with answers to questions Penn sent by BlackBerry messaging after they met.
An article with Penn’s byline says: “Of the many questions I’d sent El Chapo, a cameraman out of frame asks a few of them directly, paraphrases others, softens many and skips some altogether.”
Penn admits: “Without being present, I could neither control the questioning nor prod for elaborations to his responses.”
Rolling Stone calls that an “interview.”
It should know better. The magazine is still recovering from apologizing for its “Rape on Campus” story at University of Virginia, which it later admitted was a “journalistic failure that was avoidable.” The entire story, which proved to be false, was based on an interview with one person. The failures, Rolling Stone editors admitted, included faulty reporting, editing, editorial supervision and fact-checking.
Now it’s Sean Penn in the jungle. Penn said it was his idea to contact Guzman. But the article amounts to a printed “selfie.”
On the Jan. 11 PBS News Hour, moderator Judy Woodruff said “some are questioning the ethics of Rolling Stone’s methods” and “the ethics of interviewing an infamous drug lord.”
The program featured Angela Kocherga, Borderlands News Bureau director for the Arizona State University Cronkite School of Journalism, speaking on the ethics of the Rolling Stone piece.
“It raises very tricky questions about what constitutes journalism,” said Kocherga. “It raised some very troubling issues about access and what constitutes real journalism as opposed to more of a conversation, rather than what they are calling an interview.”