Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Sean Penn, El Chapo and the "war on drugs"

Eric Vance at The Last Word On Nothing harshes on Sean Penn for his article on El Chapo (No, Mr. Penn, That Is Not Why We Hate You 01/19/2016:

I am a journalist working in Mexico and I can guarantee you I’m not jealous that I didn’t get to interview Mexico’s most notorious criminal while hiding out in the mountains of Sinaloa. I wouldn’t want that interview. Put another way, There’s no way in hell, heaven, purgatory or anything in between that I would take that interview, even if it was offered.

It’s not that I’m scared – sitting next to Chapo Guzman is probably the safest place in the whole country. It’s that I’m not qualified and I know it. I’m a science writer – I write about fish and jungles and ancient temples. I wouldn’t want to interview the country’s most well-known druglord because I don’t have the perspective to do it right. Journalism requires a combination of experience and research being brought to bear on issues that affect society.

And when you go into an interview unprepared, especially with someone bringing their own agenda, you run the risk of getting “snowed.” Completely covered up under spin and misdirection and allowing the subject to control the interview because you don’t know the ways they can confuse the conversation. I’d get chewed up and spit out. Totally humiliated.

Which is exactly what happened to Mr. Penn. In fact, from interview to execution, his “article” was a lesson in how not to do journalism that should be taught in every j-school in the country. Reading his tome of self-indulgence, all I could feel for him was pity because he did such a bad job. And sadness at the loss of an opportunity.
He also criticizes Penn's article for devoting very little attention to what Penn says was his main goal, to highlight the disastrous nature of the "war on drugs."

In his report (El Chapo Speaks Rolling Stone 01/09/2016), Penn does write this:

What I didn't know, and what was not yet being reported, was that from the time the weather cleared, a military siege on Sinaloa was imminent. Evidently, El Chapo and his men, after leaving us the night before, had skirted through the jungle back to a ranch property. According to media reports that didn't come until days later, a cellphone among his crew had been tracked. From the time the military and the DEA moved in on them, the reports of what happened are conflicted. A source familiar with the cartel informed me on October 3rd that the initial siege had begun. That source and another on the ground in Sinaloa reported that over the next several days, two military helicopters were shot down and Mexican marine ground troops laid siege to several ranch properties. There were additional reports that 13 Sinaloa communities had been ravaged with gunfire during simultaneous raids. La Comision Nacional de los Derechos Humanos (the National Commission for Human Rights) struggled to enter the area but were prohibited. Villagers protested their treatment by the military. By the time news agencies broadcast the story in the United States, the mayhem throughout Sinaloa in those days had been essentially reduced to a nearly successful raid that had surgically targeted only Chapo and his men, and claimed he had been injured in flight with face and leg wounds. [my emphasis]
This figures mainly as a dramatic postscript to Penn's recently-completed visit with Chapo Guzmán. In such a long article, that doesn't amount to that much about the drug war. Even with this early paragraph sketches out a fairly vague questioning of the whole effort:

There is little dispute that the War on Drugs has failed: as many as 27,000 drug-related homicides in Mexico alone in a single year, and opiate addiction on the rise in the U.S. Working in the emergency and development field in Haiti, I have countless times been proposed theoretical solutions to that country's ailments by bureaucratic agencies unfamiliar with the culture and incongruities on the ground. Perhaps in the tunnel vision of our puritanical and prosecutorial culture that has designed the War on Drugs, we have similarly lost sight of practice, and given over our souls to theory. At an American taxpayer cost of $25 billion per year, this war's policies have significantly served to kill our children, drain our economies, overwhelm our cops and courts, pick our pockets, crowd our prisons and punch the clock. Another day's fight is lost. And lost with it, any possible vision of reform, or recognition of the proven benefits in so many other countries achieved through the regulated legalization of recreational drugs. [my emphasis]

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