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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Should Sean Penn Get a Pulitzer Or A Jail Cell?


I was shocked to hear that actor Sean Penn had met with and interviewed El Chapo, the drug kingpin that had broken out of a Mexican prison, while he was on the run.  Penn reportedly wrote an article for Rolling Stone that was released just after the reports came in that the billionaire killer was finally captured after being on the lam for six months.  Should Penn have been arrested too?

I am all for the First Amendment, so I need to think this through to determine where I fall on this.  On one hand, Penn associated with a brutal criminal who broke out of jail.  Isn’t Penn obligated to tell the authorities?  Shouldn’t Penn want him back in prison?

On the other hand, Penn didn’t necessarily help him escape nor do anything to keep authorities from him, but he failed to act on knowledge that could have helped get him.  What if he’d done the same with Osama bin Laden or the Boston Marathon bomber or the couple that shot up a California company Christmas party? What if he did the same for John Wilkes Booth while on the run for 12 days after killing President Lincoln?

No one says Penn can’t meet with the guy for a journalistic story, though since when is Penn a journalist?  But where Penn erred is he didn’t turn his source in.

Journalists should not be making deals with criminals where the public’s safety is at large.  Or am I wrong, that in order for journalists to get information, they have to make such deals? What happens if he turns him in after getting the story – could El Chopo sue? Would bad guys now never talk to Penn again, knowing they can’t trust him to deliver a story without turning them in? Do any escaped killers really expect anyone to honor any agreements?

Penn is lucky he is still alive, let alone not in jail.

Journalism is a very complex art. Reporters will film and photograph a war but not pick up a gun to help an American soldier.  They will protect the identity of their sources even when those sources are criminals.  They will also agree to meet with people wanted by the American government in order to tell their story such as with Eric Snowden or Roman Polanski. So should the Mexican drug lord be viewed any differently?

But El Chapo is a bloody killer who has flooded America with enough drugs to fill every Walmart store.  Penn couldn’t get the story and then cooperate with the police?  Any agreements he signed with El Chapo would be invalidated.  How do we justify Penn’s actions?

If we believe freedom of speech needs to be protected at all costs then we don’t necessarily do anything to Penn, as despicable as his actions may be.  A free media means Rolling Stone has the right to publish such an article, Penn has the right to write it, and the law shouldn’t interfere.  But it’s a confusing and conflicting argument to support when you break it down to this:  A convicted killer is on the loose. What’s more important?  Honoring your work to him or his victims?  Should Penn get a Pulitzer or a jail sentence”?

Another sticky issue here is that Penn and his publisher agreed to give a convicted piece of crap right of refusal to edit the piece. so now we have the subject of a story dictating its writing. Is this really journalism?

I know I lean liberal and say the First Amendment comes above Penn going to jail, but some wonder if there should be a law that says once a “journalist” meets with a known fugitive that he or she has to tell the authorities that a meeting took place and where. This way we still have a free press and an informed public but we also have justice prevailing. We simply can’t put a story above endangering the welfare of the people, can we?

On the other hand, the media should be allowed to expose secret dealings of the government, even if it means that such exposure risks lives. Boy, I tell you, it’s a very challenging thing here, to discuss rights vs obligations. 

What do you think should be done here?

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2016


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