Monday, January 18, 2016

“Sometimes Wrong Is Just Wrong”

Don Winslow, author of last year’s best-selling novel The Cartel, about efforts to bring down a drugs kinpin in Mexico, is not impressed—no, not impressed at all—by U.S. actor Sean Penn’s recent success in scoring an interview with Joaquín Guzmán, the freshly recaptured head of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel. Winslow writes in Deadline Hollywood:
As someone who has researched and written about the Mexican cartels and the futile “war on drugs” for coming on twenty years, I know how tough a subject it is. Mind-bending, soul-warping, heartbreaking, it challenges your intellect, your beliefs, your faith in humanity and God. No journalist or writer who has ever tackled it has emerged quite the same – and all too many have not survived at all, but been tortured, mutilated and killed on the orders of such as Joaquin Guzman. (I resist the cute sobriquet of “Chapo.“ He is not one of the Seven Dwarfs—not Dopey, or Sneezy or Bashful. He’s a mass murderer.)

When I first heard that Penn had done an interview with Guzman, I was wondering what terms were demanded to grant that interview. Penn has a reputation of not shying away from controversy or hard, unpopular stances. I was hoping that he would ask Guzman questions that would matter.

Mr. Penn tells Charlie Rose that he considers the article a failure because it did not succeed in addressing his real issue—our policies of the “war on drugs.” But in an article of 10,500 words, the phrase “war on drugs” appears three times. It was not the purpose or focus of Penn’s horribly misguided piece.

Penn’s article had nothing to do with the forty year, trillion dollar failure that is the “war on drugs”—it was instead a brutally simplistic and unfortunately sympathetic portrait of a mass murderer. Penn thought he had scored a journalistic coup—instead his interview was the by-product of Guzman’s infatuation with a soap-opera actress (Guzman didn’t even know who Penn was) and told the exact story that Guzman wanted—with line by line editorial approval courtesy of Penn and
Rolling Stone.
You can read Winslow’s full commentary here.

(Hat tip to Linda L. Richards.)

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