Sean Penn interviews El Chapo Guzmán

An actor of ample talent and generous means, Sean Penn dabbles in journalism as a hobby: he can afford it and, more importantly, he does it with competence. Indeed, he pulled off a journalistic feat by interviewing for Rolling Stone one of the most sought men in the world: El Chapo Guzmán, head of the Sinaloa drug cartel. There are, however, three problems with his interview: the first one is the editing, with a few convoluted sentences that fell through the editing comb, misspellings in the very few Spanish words used (these days this is unacceptable in a major U.S. publication), and profanities that add no value to the writing and only undermine respect for the writer; the second one is the use of a collective “We” to mean the American society, by claiming that they are supporting the drug cartels with demand (but only some Americans use drugs, and some, as yours sincerely, would object to be lumped together, even though it may be true that “nobody knows who he is working for”); but the third, more important issue, is the very long introduction with which Sean Penn attempts to justify his eventually successful quest. It bespeaks of a convoluted morality—adolescent at that—of a man who notes the hypocrisy of it all, of governments that deal in weapons and embark on futile and by necessity deadly wars, and of corporations that launder the cartels’ dirty money yet take to the pulpit to condemn “narcos” and the illicit drugs businesses. Isn’t all this wrong? Indeed. It has always been, and it still is. As it happens, El Chapo is very much aware of what he does and, he acknowledges, in his short responses to the questions, that yes, “it’s a reality that drugs destroy.” He goes on to say in simple sentences that he loves his mother, thanks God for the good things he has in life, and that his family is doing well. El Chapo is no hero and makes no claim to it, yet in his straightforwardness and common sense of a small town Mexican, he has an integrity and honesty about himself that clearly so many people struggle to find, in the haze and confusion about what’s right and wrong. Or that two wrongs—the hypocrisy of politics and drug trafficking, for instance—don’t make one right. Next time Sean Penn ventures into journalism, he may spare readers his inner moral debates and go straight to the story, which is a good piece of writing. And that should be all that matters.

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