Sean Penn’s latest role is a gonzo reporter with dubious journalism ethics. In a story published Saturday night by Rolling Stone, the actor wrote about how he flew to Mexico for a secret interview with the notorious drug lord El Chapo, who was captured on Friday after breaking out of prison twice.
Mr. Penn—and Rolling Stone—agreed to give the story’s subject the right to review and edit the story before publication in order to get the the then-fugitive to agree to the interview.
Disclosure: Some names have had to be changed, locations not named, and an understanding was brokered with the subject that this piece would be submitted for the subject’s approval before publication. The subject did not ask for any changes.
Although the subject did not ask for changes before the piece was published, the agreement goes against one of the most basic rules of journalism and is, not surprisingly, drawing criticism.
Also drawing criticism? Mr. Penn’s writing, which would have benefited from some edits.
The piece begins:
It’s September 28th, 2015. My head is swimming, labeling TracPhones (burners), one per contact, one per day, destroy, burn, buy, balancing levels of encryption, mirroring through Blackphones, anonymous e-mail addresses, unsent messages accessed in draft form. It’s a clandestine horror show for the single most technologically illiterate man left standing. At 55 years old, I’ve never learned to use a laptop. Do they still make laptops? No fucking idea! It’s 4:00 in the afternoon.
And it just goes on from there. And on.
The lengthy story does eventually get to Mr. Penn’s meeting with El Chapo in the Mexican jungle, a meeting that may have led to the capture of the most wanted man in Mexico.
Mr. Penn may have gotten the interview and written the story, but he isn’t exactly convincing in the part.