“I’ve got nothin to hide.”
Those five words don’t amount to much in normal circumstances, but when they come from Sean Penn in the wake of the most controversial journalism piece of the year, we’re going to pay attention. (And yeah, the year is young, but can you see anything topping this in 2016??)
For those who aren’t up to date, Penn arranged a jungle meeting with infamous Mexican drug lord Joaquin Guzman, aka El Chapo, and wrote about his experiences for Rolling Stone. Guzman escaped from Mexican prison six months ago, and was a fugitive when the two met. It’s a strange, interesting piece, and a little incomplete for the mere fact that after their initial meeting, the follow-up for the formal interview never took place. In lieu of that, El Chapo sent Penn some video footage with answers to written questions that were frankly not very revealing, and came off more like a professional athlete spouting cliches than a wanted criminal exposing his inner self. Penn took criticism for this, and Rolling Stone came under the gun for allowing Guzman to have final approval over the story, even though he didn’t request any changes.
It’s a story that’s already pretty strange, but it keeps getting stranger. Shortly after Penn left, El Chapo’s compound came under attack, and after a long battle, he was re-captured on Friday in a Sinaloan coastal city. The Rolling Stone story went live on Saturday night, but what it didn’t mention is that El Chapo’s fate may have been sealed by Penn’s visit. The AP report that included Penn’s five-word response also mentions a critical fact that has recently emerged—it appears that he may have been under surveillance by authorities after Guzman made contact with him and the actress Kate del Castillo, who was Penn’s go-between. It’s not clear exactly how Penn’s meeting facilitated the original raid, or who was watching him, since the Mexican source on that information has remained anonymous.
However, it does raise another question about Penn’s journalism: Did he take proper security measures to protect his source? If reports out of Mexico are true, it’s fairly obvious that he did not.
In any case, Penn rallied to his own defense today, and it will be fascinating to see how this story develops over the next month. As for Guzman, a complex extradition process is underway that could result in a U.S. trial and incarceration.