Sean Penn and Rolling Stone fluff up El Chapo's reputation

When El Chapo was arrested (again) I didn’t pay all that much attention to the story. That’s not to say that it wasn’t important or that both Mexico and the DEA didn’t have a good reason to hunt him down, but it’s not the sort of thing that’s going to change the world in a substantive, positive way. When you take out a cartel kingpin like that there are plenty more ready and eager to take his place. Even if you could identify, locate and take out his entire army, all you’d manage to do would be to cause some momentary confusion and turmoil in the market and a new group would rise up to fill the demand. That’s just the dark side of capitalism on the black market.


But now we’ve seen another low point in “journalism” which popped up in relation to the story and it will come as no surprise that it once again features Rolling Stone magazine. In case you missed it, actor Sean Penn managed to arrange a day long meeting with the drug lord back in October and it turned into a feature “scoop” for Rolling Stone. The real question here is, if you knew where a mass murdering drug lord was when the entire civilized world was hunting for him, wouldn’t you call the DEA instead of your editor? That clearly wasn’t the route that RS and Penn chose, instead preferring to help Guzman fluff up his reputation. (Washington Post)

Penn provides a lengthy account of how he met the elusive criminal. Penn tried to protect his communications using burner phones and encryption and anonymous email addresses. The meeting was brokered by the Mexican actress Kate del Castillo and took place at an undisclosed location in the Mexican mountains.

Penn reportedly spent seven hours with Guzmán and then did follow-up interviews by phone and video, including one posted on the Rolling Stone website of Guzmán in a paisley blue shirt speaking in front of a chain-link fence.

Guzmán, who in the past has denied participation in the drug trade and portrayed himself as a peasant farmer, spoke unapologetically and serenely about his lucrative trade.

Where he grew up, in the mountains of Sinaloa state, “the only way to have money to buy food, to survive, is to grow poppy, marijuana,” he said, and he began at a young age.


You can see from the descriptions that Penn had to go to great lengths to keep all of this secret. Disposable phones, bogus email addresses… he obviously knew he was doing something the authorities would be interested in, but managed to evade them. Some of the cable news coverage I’m seeing this weekend seems to imply that Sean Penn’s work “may have assisted” in El Chapo’s capture, but when you look at the details of what the Mexican government is saying, it clearly wasn’t intentional. (Associated Press)

Mexico Attorney General Arely Gomez said Friday that Guzman’s contact with actors and producers for a biopic helped gave law enforcement a new lead on tracking and capturing the world’s most notorious drug kingpin.

The official, who spoke Saturday on condition of anonymity, said it was the Penn interview that led authorities to Guzman in a rural part of Durango state in October. They aborted their raid at the time because he was with two women and child.

It doesn’t take a detective to read into those descriptions in figure out that neither Penn nor anyone at Rolling Stone picked up the phone and dropped a dime on Guzman. Instead, the Mexican authorities got hold of some of the information from the interviews and obtained “clues” as to his whereabouts and, thankfully, tracked him down again. But only after RS was ready to unleash their scoop.


The content of the interview is fairly disgusting as well. They make a bit of an effort to show that they realize he’s a bad man, asking him to comment on the number of people who become addicted to the drugs he peddles and such, but most of the material tells the story of a humble farm boy who had no choice in the crushing economic conditions but to go into the drug trade. He brags about his fleet of submarines, planes, boats and helicopters, all of the success he’s achieved and makes himself out to be a legend in his own time. In truth, of course, he was responsible for a lot more wreckage than just the poison he was shipping around the world. He reportedly has ordered the assassination of scores of people.

This part of the interview was particularly nauseating.

“It’s a reality that drugs destroy. Unfortunately, as I said, where I grew up there was no other way and there still isn’t a way to survive, no way to work in our economy to be able to make a living.”

Despite the deadly wars his Sinaloa cartel has fought with other gangs and authorities, Guzmán described himself as not a violent person.

“Look, all I do is defend myself, nothing more,” he said. “But do I start trouble? Never.”

Apparently Mexico has their own version of the Hollywood problem, since the entire affair was brokered by the popular Mexican television actress Kate del Castillo, mentioned above. She was on record as having publicly given her support to El Chapo and accused her own government of going after him unfairly. It’s stupidity like that which cements the legacy of a criminal like Guzman as some sort of Robin Hood figure, helping the oppressed people of rural Mexico and providing jobs to the poor.


And now Rolling Stone has played into that legacy building effort rather than trying to help bring a monster to bay. Well done again, Rolling Stone. You’re a great American institution to be sure.


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