How Rolling Stone handled Sean Penn’s exclusive interview with El Chapo

The New York Times reports: Several months ago, Jann Wenner, a founder of Rolling Stone magazine, received a call from the actor Sean Penn.

Mr. Penn, Mr. Wenner said in an interview on Sunday, wanted to discuss something important. But he did not want to speak openly over the phone, so the two began to speak elliptically about a potential project.

That vague conversation was the beginning of what eventually became an article, written by Mr. Penn, that rocked both Mexico and the United States when it was published Saturday night. It was an exclusive interview with Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the notorious drug kingpin known as El Chapo, that was conducted while Mr. Guzmán was on the run from the authorities after an audacious escape from a Mexican prison last year.

The 10,000-word article includes accusations of cooperation between the military and Mr. Guzmán’s Sinaloa cartel, as well as Mr. Guzmán’s acknowledgment of his status as a drug dealer and his thoughts about the ethical implications of his business. Mr. Guzmán, whose escape from prison — his second — made him one of the most wanted fugitives in the world, was caught on Friday, before the article was published.

But after its publication, questions have been raised about the ethics for the magazine in dealing with Mr. Guzmán, a criminal being sought on charges of drug trafficking and murder, and in allowing him to approve what would ultimately be published about him. The Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio, speaking Sunday on “This Week,” on ABC News, acknowledged Mr. Penn’s “constitutional right” to meet with Mr. Guzmán, but called the interview “grotesque.”

Steve Coll, the dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, said he was concerned by the editorial approval offered to Mr. Guzmán. But ultimately, he said, “scoring an exclusive interview with a wanted criminal is legitimate journalism no matter who the reporter is.” [Continue reading…]

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