If you had an opportunity to sit face-to-face with the most wanted man in the world, and pick his brain, would you take it? If you’re a reporter and have the roving soul of a journalist, you may leap at the option. However, if you’re considering the deplorable actions of said individual, you’d probably keep a safe distance.
Earlier this September, actor Sean Penn secretly arranged a meeting with Joquin Archivaldo Guzmán Loera, otherwise known as infamous drug lord “El Chapo.” Penn’s article appeared in Rolling Stone magazine in early January and quickly enraged and intrigued the masses.
How could an American citizen stretch the boundaries of the law just for an interview? How could he describe this horrible man so positively after the endless crimes he’s committed? In the following days, viewers would be divided between those who believed the article was rogue journalism or just plain treason.
First, I’ll speak on Penn’s background. Penn is a 55-year-old actor, filmmaker and activist. He’s appeared in films such as “Dead Man Walking” and “I Am Sam.” His extensive Hollywood career has allowed him to gain traction for ending up in the forefront of many political and social affairs.
Penn is also a large supporter of same-sex marriage and spoke frequently on the matter after portraying the role of Harvey Milk in the 2009 film, “Milk.”
Penn laid down harsh criticism on the presidency of George W. Bush as well, once writing a Washington Post article that called for Bush to be impeached. Penn also aided the citizens affected in Hurricane Katrina, but was criticized when he brought along a photographer to capture the devastation.
Along with his aid in New Orleans, Penn continued his help when he founded the J/P Haitian Relief Organization after the destructive earthquakes in Haiti. After this effort, he was titled the Ambassador-At-Large for the country of Haiti.
Now, with Penn’s stirring article, one is posed with the question of the article’s morality. Some tend to see Penn as a helpful advocate, while others see him as a man who views himself as greater than the general public; a member of the upper-class who has an inflated ego.
Was his article written for the public’s benefit, or was it for his own self-spotlight?
Personally, I have the view of a journalist. One has to consider the danger that Penn himself went through just to get this interview. He had to keep a series of “burner phones,” most likely had to lie to his friends and family and perhaps go against his own self-morality just to speak to the world’s most wanted man to conduct an interview.
Feel free to admit it America. You love the drama. You read every word of that Rolling Stone article. Maybe you were a bit put off, like I was, by the positive description that Penn used to paint a picture of this kingpin. He wrote that El Chapo was “an owl who flies among falcons.” He also described his “twinkling eyes” and compared him to a “Robin Hood-like figure.”
So maybe you wouldn’t particularly use those words to talk about a man who brutally killed many innocent people in the name of drugs and money, but Penn doesn’t ignore that. He goes on to say, “I’d seen plenty of video and graphic photography of those beheaded, exploded, dismembered or bullet-riddled innocents, activists, courageous journalists and cartel enemies alike.” So although he may have initially painted a pretty picture, the reader is quickly reminded that El Chapo wasn’t that much of a stand-up guy.
One also has to consider that El Chapo had to read over this article before it was published. If he didn’t like it, there wouldn’t have been an article to begin with. Penn had to change names, locations and probably fluff up certain aspects. His operation was incredibly venturesome, and maybe he was going through with it all in the name of prestige, but in the end, America got a behind-the-scenes pass into the life of a hardened criminal. There’s something thrillingly wrong about it, but America was captivated. It’s risky, it’s raw and it’s real. It’s journalism.
So whether you consider Penn to be a traitor who went behind the backs of the United States and Mexican governments or you consider him a brave and committed journalist, that’s your call. Either way you see it, El Chapo is now behind bars and we have this thoughts and secrets written down in Rolling Stone.
That’s all thanks to Sean Penn.
Email Courtney Casey at firstname.lastname@example.org