‘Cartel’ Author Don Winslow Dismisses Sean Penn’s El Chapo Meditation As Anything ‘Except Journalism’

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The legend of Sean Penn, journalist, continues after fellow legend El Chapo landed in the slammer once again. Penn only wanted to enjoy some tasty waves and talk drug history with the Sinaloa kingpin, who has since been pictured standing in his prison cell. With any luck, officials are keeping the guy on an upper floor (in addition to moving him periodically) to avoid a tunnel reprise. In addition, Chapo is being heavily guarded by humans and dogs who monitor for his scent.


El Chapo shall remain imprisoned until his extradition to the U.S., which is an anti-climactic end to his outward reign. The master of evasion fell due to a combination of massive tacos, a pet monkey, and a crush on an actress. Sean Penn also played a role with clumsy maneuvering to achieve one farty Rolling Stone profile. Jeff Spicoli can’t make the connection, although he expressed “regret” for his “failed” article. He went gonzo and tried to be Hunter S. Thompson with something called “experiential journalism,” but Penn still threw blame elsewhere: “I’m really sad about the state of journalism in our country.” Journalists piled atop the Penn carcass, and now Cartel author Don Winslow pens a lengthy take down of Penn’s “journalism” for Deadline.

Winslow previously spoke with us about his fascinating obsession with the bribes and politics of the drug trade. He also pops into related border control discussions, but his specialty lies with the type of research Penn never considered. Winslow feels that Penn went (to put it mildly) soft. He framed El Chapo as a schoolboy-like doe, who was practically pushed into ruthlessly helming the drug trade after a rural upbringing. We learned nothing concrete about El Chapo from Penn’s 10,000+ words, and Penn asked no hard-hitting questions. Instead, we heard about how El Chapo loves his mom and finds pride in moving more meth, heroin, and cocaine than any other cartel. Winslow wants to know why the following questions weren’t asked:

An entry-level journalist would have pushed Guzman on the many millions of dollars in bribes he has paid to co-opt police, judges and politicians, about his treaty with the sadistic and hideously violent Zetas when it was convenient to him. I would like to have heard about the people on his payroll who dissolved their victims’ bodies in acid, about the decapitations and mutilations, about the blood soaked bodies displayed in public places as intimidation and propaganda. I would like to have known, for instance, how Guzman feels about the 35 people (including 12 women) he had slaughtered because they were allegedly Zetas (this was when he was at war, not peace, with them) only to discover later that they were innocent.

Any thoughts about that, Mr. Guzman? Any feelings?

Winslow continues with countless other examples of El Chapo’s brutality, and then he moves onto how Penn vaguely type-mumbled something about atrocities before romanticizing everything:

We were told by Penn that Guzman “only resorts to violence when he deems it advantageous to himself or his business interests.” I guess that makes it all right, then; and, of course, will be of great comfort to the families of his victims. You know, Guzman ‘needed’ to do it.

Incredibly, there were no questions asked about the murders of many Mexican journalists with their horrifically mutilated bodies left out in public like garbage.

Winslow sort of concedes that anyone who went to El Chapo with hard questions would never come out alive, which is true. However, Penn never demonstrated any intent to expose the truth, and we know this because he and Rolling Stone offered El Chapo complete editorial control over the profile and interview. Perhaps the piece blew up larger than Penn expected, but that’s what happens when one surrenders to Espinoza the owl and spaces out over drones, man. Penn’s reality will never be a journalist’s reality, but he still feels free to criticize a profession he’ll never understand.

(Via Deadline)