Vinson: Mainstream journalism vs. Sean Penn's interview with El Chapo
Tuesday, February 2, 2016 10:17 am
By MIKE VINSON
"Gonzo journalism" has been defined as: a style of journalism that is written without claims of objectivity, often including the reporter as part of the story via a first-person narrative.
The first time I heard the term "gonzo journalism" was when it was applied to writer Hunter S. Thompson. Thompson first broke onto the national scene in 1966 with his best-selling book, "Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs." Thompson would go on to write other notable works, such as "The Rum Diary" and "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." Still, Thompson was a frequent contributor to "Rolling Stone" magazine.
However, regarding Thompson's noteworthy literary accomplishments, I most identified with "Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs." And here's the reason why: Thompson rode, partied, lived, and fought with the Oakland and San Francisco (California) chapters of the Hell's Angels motorcycle club for a year or so before publishing his book. .
The quintessential outlaw scribe, Hunter S. Thompson, sadly enough, committed suicide on February 20, 2005. August 20, 2005, in a private funeral ceremony, Thompson's cremated ashes were fired from a cannon. Attending Thompson's funeral, among others, were celebrities such as U.S. Senator John Kerry, "60 Minutes" correspondent Charlie Rose, and actors Johnny Depp and Sean Penn.
As of February 2014, Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzman was the boss of what many law enforcement officials considered the most powerful and most dangerous drug cartel on the planet: the Sinaloa Cartel, based out of Sinaloa, Mexico. It has been estimated the Sinaloa Cartel was/is responsible for 80 percent of the drugs--methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin--smuggled into the United States, as well as hundreds of murders.
However, in a joint effort involving the Mexican Navy, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and the U.S. Marshals Service, El Chapo was arrested in Mazatlan, Mexico, on February 22, 2014. Having escaped from a Mexican prison in 2001, authorities placed El Chapo in a maximum security Mexican prison called Federal Social Re-adaptation Center No. 1.
July 11, 2015, El Chapo escaped from Federal Social Re-adaptation Center No. 1, disappearing into his shower stall and exiting via a manhole, directly underneath his shower drain, that allowed him to descend down onto a small motorcycle, secured to a metal track, which allowed him to travel down an underground tunnel to freedom, an engineering feat that has world-class minds still shaking their heads. After El Chapo's escape, the only other person who received as much press coverage was presidential hopeful Donald Trump.
In a major gun battle that left several dead, El Chapo was recaptured in Sinaloa by a Mexican Marine Special Forces team, January 8, 2016. The very next day, January 9, 2016, "Rolling Stone" magazine released an article titled, "El Chapo Speaks." The author of the article was none other that Academy-Award winning actor (and director/producer) Sean Penn.
Back in early October 2015, through a connection named Kate del Castillo, a Mexican soap opera star on whom El Chapo supposedly had a crush, Penn traveled to Mexico and met with El Chapo, thus the "Rolling Stone" story. Many are chastising Sean Penn for interviewing El Chapo, a murderous drug lord who has destroyed countless lives.
On the Sunday/January 17, 2016 episode of "60 Minutes," during an interview with correspondent Charlie Rose, Sean Penn stated: "I absolutely understand justice and the rule of law. And so I do what I call experiential journalism. I don't have to be the one that reports on the alleged murders or the amount of narcotics that are brought in. I go and I spend time in the company of another human being, which everyone is."
Penn also stated to Rose, during the interview: "I'm really sad about the state of journalism in our country." I agree with Sean Penn, here, because when it comes to high-profile, potentially embarrassing cases, the American media tends to spoon-feed the general public large portions of handpicked, politically-correct fluff. I can speak from the heart on this because I know for a fact how the media, over the years, has mishandled the profile of James Earl Ray regarding his alleged role in the assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.
As Hunter S. Thompson rode with the Hell's Angels, Sean Penn went to the Mexican jungles and met with El Chapo. Regardless your take on Penn's interview, we all must agree on this: It was the "real thing"!
The question is: Do we need more journalistic efforts such as was delivered by Sean Penn?