Penn not adding to drug dialog

Published 7:00 am Saturday, January 16, 2016

On Friday, actor Sean Penn declared his Rolling Stone interview with Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the notorious Mexican cartel leader, to be a failure.

Penn says, on “60 Minutes,” he wanted to have a national dialog about the war on drugs.

So naturally he, a hugely famous celebrity, got an exclusive interview with the most notorious drug salesman in the world as that salesman hid from Mexican law enforcement.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

This was supposed to jumpstart a dialog on drugs.

I agree with Penn that we should change our nation’s drug policies and offer help to addicts rather than jail time.

I also don’t believe there’s anything wrong with interviewing a wanted suspect—and any journalist worth his or her salt would have taken that story immediately.

When famous or infamous people grant you an interview, you take the chance. But it is laughable to imagine a celebrity interview would accomplish anything more than what it has accomplished—derision.

Every media critic I’ve read jeered the piece for two reasons. First, they criticized the fact that Rolling Stone gave Guzman final edit, which means he may have taken out whatever didn’t suit him.

Rolling Stone says he didn’t change anything, but this violation of a basic tenant of independent journalism could have impacted the article in other ways.

Second, and a much worse sin in my mind, Penn is a terrible interviewer.

His questions are softball at best, with little pushback and almost no follow up questions (aside from pressing Guzman on his relationship with his mother and whether or not he dreams).

Penn asks Guzman about whether or not drug use would decline if he were jailed and Guzman says no, as someone else would just supply the drugs. This fact is at once obvious and frustrating.  No kidding—people will still do drugs, whether or not Guzman lives or dies.

Penn says on “60 Minutes” he wants “the drug problem to stop.”

I doubt very much if that’s what Guzman wants. But, I wouldn’t know. Sean Penn didn’t ask that question.