Folks are furious at actor Sean Penn and Mexican-American actress Kate del Castillo because they got chummy with El Chapo, the notorious drug kingpin rearrested last Friday. Why exactly is that? Penn was not "acting" as a journalist, he was one when he and the soap star bravely entered the jungle and risked physical and financial harm to pursue the huge exclusive interview with the fugitive who was the most wanted man in the world.
If the interview came down under the circumstances described, then it took major balls, and I’m not just referring to the precarious small plane flights and hairy jungle drives and hinky situations endured.
I would have done it. And I would have kept my mouth shut if I promised the source that I would keep my mouth shut about the vital logistic details. There was no immediate crime to be prevented, no urgency other than the embarrassment being suffered by the corrupt and incompetent Mexican government.
Were they brave? Yes. If the interview came down under the circumstances described, then it took major balls, and I’m not just referring to the precarious small plane flights and hairy jungle drives and hinky situations endured. Try it sometime, going beyond the reach of the civilized world to get a story.
And look at the rage they are both incurring. It is as if they are the ruthless criminal who terrorizes and poisons the world with his violence and toxic product.
They are not co-conspirators with the world’s most wanted man. They wanted to talk to him the way others have talked to a rogue's gallery of bad guys ranging from Pol Pot to Stalin to Hitler to Castro to Mark Chapman to John Wayne Gacy or Ted Bundy. This is what enterprise journalists do. They take newsworthy information from sources however distasteful, and they convey it from point A to point B.
So, honestly, were you interested in what El Chapo had to say? Or are you only interested in hearing from people you consider appropriately socialized and nice?
The fact that Sean Penn admitted he gave El Chapo final say on the published product is distressing, but I am heartened by the fact Penn gave us full disclosure of that condition and further, that Penn claims no changes were requested or made.
As far as I know, neither Penn nor del Castillo are drug dealers or ruthless murderers, although Ms. del Castillo did play one on TV in her long-running soap "La Reina del Sur," (The Queen of the South).
Because Ms. del Castillo had a more intimate and complicated relationship with El Chapo, becoming a pen pal of sorts, let me deal with the Sean Penn situation since his role is closer to what reporters do.
Presidential candidate Senator Marco Rubio has called his interview with El Chapo “grotesque.” Why exactly is that? Because the fugitive is a scumbag drug dealer? So what? I interviewed mass murderer Charles Manson and a long string of other miscreants.
Why do journalists interview these lowlifes? We do it because their stories are newsworthy, and politicians looking to condemn their efforts are just looking for cheap shot morality plays.
If you want to be outraged about something be outraged about the insatiable appetite of Americans for every kind of narcotic and dangerous drug that can be grown or synthesized. Like John Miller, the former federal official, journalist and current commissioner of the NYPD who interviewed the then (1999) world's most wanted fugitive and dangerous man Osama bin Laden, Sean Penn is protected by the First Amendment and by custom.
We don't prosecute the messengers in this country. And we don’t blame them for the bad news.
This was a gritty example of enterprise journalism.
If you personally don't like Penn because he's an a**hole or a quasi-Commie or because he was friends with Venezuela's late crazy man president Hugo Chavez — it doesn't matter.
What matters is that he performed a public service in nabbing this important interview. If, as the Mexicans claim, the interview provided authorities with vital information leading to El Chapo’s capture, well sometimes that’s the price bad guys pay when going public. Pay back is a bitch. As a general rule, it is a bad idea for notorious wanted men to give interviews to high-profile celebrities.
Now, I want El Chapo extradited to the United States to stand trial in Brooklyn's Eastern District Federal Court on charges that will lead to multiple convictions that will put him out of sight of the sun, six stories underground in ADX Florence Colorado Super Max forever.
The self-confessed (thanks to Penn) biggest supplier in the world of heroin, meth and coke, El Chapo, aka Shorty, deserves no less. If you’re mad at Sean Penn you’re mad at the wrong guy.