Sean Penn slammed for interview with drug lord

A newspaper, displayed at a newsstand in Mexico City on Sunday, shows a picture of drug lord Guzman (in blue striped shirt) with US actor Sean Penn. The actor, who wrote about his clandestine meeting with Guzman last October, has been criticised on e
A newspaper, displayed at a newsstand in Mexico City on Sunday, shows a picture of drug lord Guzman (in blue striped shirt) with US actor Sean Penn. The actor, who wrote about his clandestine meeting with Guzman last October, has been criticised on everything from the interview's ethical merits to his writing style.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Actor met Mexican kingpin Guzman 'to see if media, govt portrayals of him were right'

WASHINGTON • Actor Sean Penn has come under fire, one day after Rolling Stone magazine published his account of a clandestine meeting with Mexican drug baron Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

In the article, the actor and director says he met Guzman deep in the Mexican jungle in October for a "seven-hour sit-down" because he was "drawn to explore what may be inconsistent" with media and government portrayals of the drug lord.

On the American right, where Republican presidential hopefuls are battling it out, Penn's exploits were greeted with scorn.

US Senator Marco Rubio, one of the Republicans running for his party's nomination for the White House, said Penn's efforts were outlandish, but not before dishing out a healthy plate of criticism on the star's acting career.

"Look, I think Sean Penn is not someone I spend a lot of time thinking about. I didn't even know he was still around," Mr Rubio said.

"If one of these American actors who has benefited from the greatness of this country, who has made money from our free enterprise system, wants to go fawn all over a criminal and a drug trafficker in his interviews, he has a constitutional right to do it. I find it grotesque."

On the left, even the most circumspect of phrasing pegged Penn's exploits as begging "a lot of interesting questions".

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders told ABC news: "I haven't thought about it much. I've been kind of running around Iowa."

The White House, which avoided answering questions on any ethical and legal violations that may have occurred, denounced comments made by Guzman himself during the interview.

In a stunning admission of his criminal enterprise, Guzman told Penn, over sips of tequila, that "I supply more heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana than anybody else in the world".

Mr Denis McDonough, White House chief of staff, told CNN that Guzman's "braggadocio action about how much heroin he sends around the world, including the United States, is maddening".

Asked whether the US will participate with Mexico on its requests to question Penn, Mr McDonough replied: "It poses a lot of interesting questions for him and others involved in this so-called interview. We'll see what happens."

Leading media lawyer Floyd Abrams told AFP on Sunday that the interview will likely not put Penn in any legal jeopardy as it "doesn't violate any law".

Journalists, meanwhile, spared no effort in criticising Penn and his article on everything from its ethical merits to his writing style. Chief among concerns was the fact that the story had been read and approved by Guzman before publication, a move that is highly irregular within the field, although some defended the magazine, on the basis that the scoop was worth it.

Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron tweeted a link to a story last month about the dangers and risk of death faced by Mexican journalists, commenting: "Good moment to remember what happens to real journalists who cover Mexican drug traffickers."

NBC correspondent Luke Russert, son of famed American journalist Tim Russert, sarcastically asked on Twitter: "Is Sean Penn's interview with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in the next issue?" He was referring to the leader of terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

On Fox News, conservative commentator Gayle Trotter accused Rolling Stone and Penn of complacency and a "complete moral inversion of journalism" that amounted to "aiding and abetting a known felon".

The New York Post tabloid summed up the situation by reposting a now famous photo of Guzman and Penn shaking hands, with the line "El Chapo, meet El Jerko" underneath.

AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 12, 2016, with the headline 'Sean Penn slammed for interview with drug lord'. Print Edition | Subscribe