Newspaper article International New York Times

Journalism Ventures Tinged with Activism

Newspaper article International New York Times

Journalism Ventures Tinged with Activism

Article excerpt

Sean Penn's career on several occasions has led him into journalism, with controversial results.

As the rest of the world was learning about Sean Penn's interview with the Mexican drug lord Joaquin Guzman Loera, known as El Chapo, in Rolling Stone magazine, Mr. Penn himself was in Beverly Hills, in the company of fellow celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio, Justin Bieber and Patricia Arquette.

Mr. Penn, 55, the Academy Award-winning actor and director, was attending a fund-raiser Saturday for the relief organization he co- founded that is helping Haiti recover from its devastating 2010 earthquake.

The many contradictions at play in such a moment are emblematic of Mr. Penn's long and layered career, in which he has become as well known for his roles in movies like "Dead Man Walking" and "Mystic River" as for his outspoken activism, which on several occasions has led him into journalism, with controversial results.

As Mr. Penn has helped raise awareness and money for international crises, he has also gained access to and written about generally reviled figures like Mr. Guzman, who was recaptured in Mexico on Friday after twice escaping from jail, and Hugo Chavez, the former president of Venezuela, who died in 2013.

For his journalistic detours, Mr. Penn has faced his own share of criticism, some of it blunt and some of it cloaked as satire.

Speaking to ABC's "This Week" on Sunday, Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, said that if American actors like Mr. Penn want "to go fawn all over a criminal and a drug trafficker in their interviews, they have a constitutional right to do it."

Mr. Rubio added, "I find it grotesque."

Readers were not much kinder. Within hours, if not minutes, of the publication of the Rolling Stone article, Mr. Penn was being vilified for his self- indulgent prose style and his awkwardly friendly attitude toward Mr. Guzman, a wanted criminal.

"This simple man," Mr. Penn observes, "from a simple place, surrounded by the simple affections of his sons to their father, and his toward them, does not initially strike me as the big bad wolf of lore."

In addition to an aside about his fear that his genitals might be cut off and his description of flatulence in front of Mr. Guzman, Mr. Penn asks in the Rolling Stone article, "are we, the American public, not indeed complicit in what we demonize?" He goes on to suggest that as consumers, we are complicit in every murder, and in every incidence of corruption "that comes as a result of our insatiable appetite for illicit narcotics."

After an account of drinking tequila with Mr. Guzman, and comparisons to the Brian De Palma crime movie "Scarface," Mr. …

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