Sean Penn, journalistic integrity and El Chapo

Sean Penn, journalistic integrity and El Chapo

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If Sean Penn gets under the skin of journalists, perhaps it's because his immoral interview with El Chapo reflects much of what's wrong with journalism today.

CBS’s Charlie Rose discuss actor Sean Penn’s brand of journalism on 60 Minutes. Inset, Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.

WASHINGTON, January 19, 2016 — CBS’s Charlie Rose took Oscar-winning actor Sean Penn to task for his foray into the rarefied realm of investigative journalism.

“Why does Sean Penn want to go to Mexico to interview a drug lord whose escaped from prison, with a notorious reputation for doing terrible things and supplying a lot of drugs to America? What’s the point?” asked Rose sternly on 60 Minutes.

He was starting a national conversation on the War on Drugs, said Penn. That attempt, he insisted, requires what he calls “experiential journalism.”

“I don’t have to be the one who reports on the alleged murders. Or the amount of narcotics that are brought in. I go and I spend time in the company of another human being, which everyone is,” said Penn.

“Do you think we over demonize El Chapo too much?” asked an incredulous Rose.

“I think that to over demonize any human being is not in our best self-interest. Like it or not, we’re married to him. They’re of our time. They’re effecting us … If all we aim to understand is that this is a very bad person, then let’s not understand anything else.”

Andrew Seaman, of the Society of Professional Journalists, is not impressed by Penn’s chummy pre-interview understanding with El Chapo, which allowed him read and approve the story before it was published. “Allowing any source control over a story’s content is inexcusable. The practice of pre-approval discredits the entire story—whether the subject requests changes or not. The writer, who in this case is an actor and activist, may write the story in a more favorable light and omit unflattering facts in an attempt to not be rejected.”

A search of the Society of Professional Journalists’ website will find no mention of CNN’s foreign affairs reporter Elise Labott, who was suspended for coordinating her coverage of Hillary Clinton with the Democratic presidential candidate’s campaign. She did this when the former Secretary of State testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee concerning the 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.

Nor will you find any mention of reporters Jan Crawford (CBS) and Ari Shapiro (NPR). They were recorded coordinating attacks proffered as questions to then Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

The day after the Benghazi attack, Romney said of President Obama’s slow response, “It’s never too early for the United States government to condemn attacks on Americans and to defend our values.” He added that Obama’s timidity in foreign policy “reflects the mixed signals they [the Obama administration] are sending to the world.”

As Noah Rothman reported in Mediaite, reporters “asked if it was appropriate to criticize the Obama administration while Americans were being killed overseas and asked if that, too, constituted a mixed signal to the global community.”

We now know that members of the Obama Administration deliberately lied when they blamed the Benghazi attack on a mob angry over an American-made anti-Islamic video. Obama repeated the lie in a speech to delegates of the United Nations General Assembly. Hillary Clinton repeated the lie to the families of the American dead.

If Sean Penn gets under the skin of the mainstream media it’s because his brand of “experiential journalism” mirrors their own. Worse, Penn is intellectually honest about his immoral, moral equivalence.

El Chapo is just a fellow “human being” desperate for understanding and acceptance. The scores of innocent people gunned down or beheaded on his orders are irrelevant when you accept the premise that we Americans, like it or not, are “married to him.” And El Chapo is merely a catalyst for a national conversation on the War on Drugs.

That’s view is nearly identical to that of New York Times columnist David Brooks concerning Obama’s recent deal with a different and equally vicious mass murderer.

“By reaching an agreement on nukes and lifting the sanctions,” wrote Brooks, “Iran would re-emerge as America’s natural partner in the [Middle East] region.”

Like Sean Penn, the mainstream media would gladly “marry” us off to the most unsavory characters.

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