'The Cartel' author excoriates Sean Penn: What should have been asked

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'The Cartel' author excoriates Sean Penn: What should have been asked

choco

http://deadline.com/2016/01/sean-penn-el-chapo-don-winslow-response-the-cartel-1201685328/

Bestselling novelist Don Winslow has written two epics about the Drug War: 2005’s The Power of The Dog and The Cartel, the latter of which was one of the best reviewed novels of 2015 and sold to Fox for a film that will be directed by Ridley Scott. Winslow has spent nearly 20 years researching the Mexican cartels, and the most of the violence in The Cartel is based on real events. He dedicated the book to the more than 100 journalists killed in cartel violence, and named every slain reporter in his intro. He agreed to write for Deadline why he was so appalled by Sean Penn’s El Chapo encounter and subsequent 60 Minutes interview.

by Don Winslow  "Call It Anything You Want, Except Journalism"

As someone who has researched and written about the Mexican cartels and the futile ‘war on drugs’ for coming on twenty years, I know how tough a subject it is. Mind-bending, soul-warping, heartbreaking, it challenges your intellect, your beliefs, your faith in humanity and God. No journalist or writer who has ever tackled it has emerged quite the same – and all too many have not survived at all, but been tortured, mutilated and killed on the orders of such as Joaquin Guzman. (I resist the cute sobriquet of ‘Chapo.’ He is not one of the Seven Dwarfs – not Dopey, or Sneezy or Bashful. He’s a mass murderer.)

When I first heard that Penn had done an interview with Guzman, I was wondering what terms were demanded to grant that interview. Penn has a reputation of not shying away from controversy or hard, unpopular stances. I was hoping that he would ask Guzman questions that would matter.

Mr. Penn tells Charlie Rose that he considers the article a failure because it did not succeed in addressing his real issue – our policies of the ‘war on drugs.’ But in an article of 10,500 words, the phrase ‘war on drugs’ appears three times. It was not the purpose or focus of Penn’s horribly misguided piece.



Penn’s article had nothing to do with the forty year, trillion dollar failure that is the ‘war on drugs’ — it was instead a brutally simplistic and unfortunately sympathetic portrait of a mass murderer. Penn thought he had scored a journalistic coup – instead his interview was the by-product of Guzman’s infatuation with a soap-opera actress (Guzman didn’t even know who Penn was) and told the exact story that Guzman wanted – with line by line editorial approval courtesy of Penn and Rolling Stone.

Guzman was never called to answer the hard questions. That’s a shame, because these questions need answers.

I was hoping to hear Guzman explain why, after his first so-called ‘escape’ (I use single-quotes because the word ‘escape’ does not normally encompass the active complicity of one’s jailers and government) in 2001, he launched a campaign of conquest to take over rival cartels’ territories – a brutal war with a body count of over 100,000 lives.

In his article, Penn refers to Guzman’s “unguarded will to speak freely.” Well, I wish I had heard Guzman “speak freely” about the under-aged girls who were routinely brought to him in his luxurious prison ‘cell’ (as Francisco Goldman reported in his excellent New Yorker article, ‘El Chapo III – The Farce Awakens’); about the hit he ordered on rival cartel boss Rodolfo Carillo Fuentes that also killed Fuentes’ wife and launched yet another round of violence that killed thousands.

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?

A reporter less concerned with ‘experiential journalism’ would have asked this “Robin Hood” about being a rat. Would have asked him whether it’s true that starting in 2000, when he was still in prison, Guzman, through his lawyers, gave information to the DEA about rivals. Or that it was a tip from Guzman in 2002 that led to the capture of his rival Benjamin Arellano Felix? Or asked him how he feels about betraying friends and partners to the police, as he did in 2008 when he turned on the Beltran-Leyva brothers, causing yet another ‘war’ that killed hundreds.

Those questions might have wiped the smile off Guzman’s face, which Penn reported he had for over seven hours during their interview.

Seven hours, and Guzman was not asked about the 17 unarmed people his gunmen slaughtered at a drug rehabilitation center in Ciudad Juarez, again on the suspicion that they were working for a rival cartel. Or, as Oscar Martinez has reported, about the kidnapping, forced labor, mass rape and murder of hundreds of Central American migrants.

Instead 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.



Likewise, Penn failed to ask the hard questions about Guzman’s export of mass amounts of heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine to the United States and around the world. Instead, Guzman was allowed to brag about being the world’s biggest drug exporter (a claim his lawyers now deny that he made) without a moral challenge. Guzman and his Sinaloa Cartel partners are directly responsible for the heroin epidemic now causing a record number of overdose deaths in the United States.

But we learned that Guzman has no responsibility for these real-life consequences, because he grew up poor and had no choice, which is an insult to his own people and the many rural Mexicans who have gone on to lead useful, positive lives in which they didn’t kill thousands. Some of them are doctors who have treated his victims, others are nurses who have been murdered in emergency rooms, still others are journalists who gave their lives reporting the truths that this interview neglected.

Instead, we hear about how nice Guzman’s shirt is, how he comes across as a bashful teenager, that he loves his children (including, ostensibly, the son who was killed when he followed his father into the drug trade), that his children love him, that he provides “much needed services in the Sinaloa mountains, funding everything from food and roads to medical relief.”

This last bit is true, but let’s not stop there. Guzman and his cartel have also built clinics, churches and playgrounds. (It’s nice that kids have someplace to play when not being gunned down in cartel crossfires or orphaned in Guzman’s endless wars of ‘self-defense.’) But this tired rationalization of an impoverished youth and the justification of subsequent good deeds have been used by every murderous gangster since the beginning of time.

We learn that this “simple man from a simple place, surrounded by the simple affection of his sons to their father, and his toward them [pardon me while I go vomit] does not strike [Penn] as the big bad wolf of lore.”

It’s not “lore.”

By any objective standard, Joaquin Guzman Loera is an evil man who has caused untold suffering for others.

At some point in time, he will be asked to answer for this.

But not in the article that Penn wrote, and one of the most important issues is why Penn didn’t ask these questions. Penn was clearly so enamored of his subject and the article was further compromised by topics excluded under the agreement and questions that were never asked. Mr. Penn has said that Guzman didn’t request any changes. Why would he? He got to tell the story exactly the way he wanted to tell it.

And I’m shocked that Rolling Stone – fresh off the scandal from its UVA rape debacle – would give editorial approval to a mass murderer in exchange for an interview.

Penn’s story was not a failure because people failed to understand it, as he claimed on 60 Minutes. It is a failure because he failed to understand who he was interviewing, the crimes his subject committed and the responsibility he had to ask real questions. Penn’s failure is further compounded by his 60 Minutes interview, which was as misguided and self-serving as the Rolling Stone article.

I applaud Sean Penn for his important work in New Orleans and Haiti, but I condemn what he did here.

He should apologize and stop trying to explain it. Sometimes wrong is just wrong.
J
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Re: 'The Cartel' author excoriates Sean Penn: What should have been asked

J
I agree with a lot of what Don Winslow said here, and I truly respect his work and his dedication to the subject, I have read his books since 2008, and have read them all.  I too, am of the mind Penn is out of his depth, his involvement is just shameful and embarrassing...however, in all my respect for Winslow and his work, including 'The Cartel', I could write, (and have in much more subdued tones) a blistering critique of his handling of 'cartel' elements including the personification of La Barbie in 'The Cartel', and that he wrote the script or at least approved for 'Savages', one of the more embarrassing and offensive portrayals of drug wars in recent years....and I love the guys work, and I really respect him, I'd love to spend an hour or talking writing, reading, etc with the man.  Incredible talent and clearly a man of principle.  
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Re: 'The Cartel' author excoriates Sean Penn: What should have been asked

choco
I appreciate and respect your input J. Thank you. I have not read his books, and frankly probably don't have enough background or historical info to judge their validity, so I thank you for chiming in.

I thought it interesting that the intro paragraph of this article says "most" of the events portrayed in The Cartel are based on actual occurrences. Frankly, I really hate that approach because the reader/viewer never knows which were fictionalized or true.

I am at least glad he really put forth some specifics re the Penn "interview"/paean to Chapo.

I'm sure Chapo views the inclusion of Penn in the visit with Kate to be a huge mistake. Whether it accounts for his take down, I personally do not agree.  The SOFSEC article on mainboard says they actually thought they were closing in only on El Cholo Ivan and they were surprised when they found Chapo too.

But leave it to the gob to humiliate Chapo in all ways possible and blame his capture on his communications with Kate... I guess they figure payback is due cus Chapo humiliated EPN with his second escape.
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Re: 'The Cartel' author excoriates Sean Penn: What should have been asked

Chivis
Administrator
Boy I sure do agree about the "Most of the events are actual occurrences".  can't have it both ways, either its a novel or not.

and I think these journalists have gone overboard in slamming Penn.  He had an opportunity and jumped on it just as most people would, I believe it is entertainment rather than journalism.  but I don't think he owes anyone an apology.  That reeks of the green eyed monster.

I do wish his questions would have come from a place of knowledge and if he did not have time to really learn the history he should have surrounded himself with someone to help him that did.

The network was much more complicated than two actors and a drug trafficker, read lucio post for yesterday.  they were piecing the network, meeting places, communication network etc to close in on him. As for cholo ivan.  I heard that right when the news broke.  then nothing until the post you refer to.  Cholo Ivan was an important capture if they truly thought it was him alone, they wanted him for intelligence.

as for penn and castillo.  Penn was not going with her, she was going to be in culiacan but told penn at the last minute she "better go with you".  

I think we will never know exactly.

but I have a question.  If I had the exclusive interview with the most wanted drug trafficker in the world, who never gave an interview, I would not have sat on it for two months.  I mean what if he gave another a month later?  then Rolling Stone would be the "also ran"

did he say why he waited until chapo was captured?  It sure lends itself to the CIA theory.  
 
The way I see it.... the more people that don't like me, the less people I have to please
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Re: 'The Cartel' author excoriates Sean Penn: What should have been asked

Chivis
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In reply to this post by choco
ok i just read the entire post above.   winslow sounds silly at best, yeah right he would ask those questions.

I was going to buy his book.....forget about it
 
The way I see it.... the more people that don't like me, the less people I have to please
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Re: 'The Cartel' author excoriates Sean Penn: What should have been asked

Moros
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Re: 'The Cartel' author excoriates Sean Penn: What should have been asked

J. Stewart
I believe that is right, too. Surely this was a "one man show" and Penn was only the tool to bring it out.
If journalism was so easy and straightforward as Mr. Winslow wished it was, we all woul`d be happy! But IRL those offensive questions he suggest that Penn would have asked, was not an option in this case.

Concidering the circumstances I don`t think there coul`d be any other outcome of the interview. It`s unfair to blame Sean Penn; afterall he went to the lions nest and did what he could. I also understand if there was/is educated journalists that turned the offer down because it woul`d crippled the whole meaning of being a reporter.

Actually I think there is some jealousy involved from Mr. Winslow`s side... That Penn actually came face to face with Mr. Guzman is a real story to tell!
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Re: 'The Cartel' author excoriates Sean Penn: What should have been asked

Mexico-Watcher
This post was updated on .
In reply to this post by choco
Choco,  Chivis and BB others: With all due respect.  I read "The Cartel" a novel, by Don Winslow and I highly recommend it to everyone who is innterested in modern Mexican history, especially as it relates to crime, corruption, and the narco world.

If you read the "novel" you will be educated as well as entertained.  You will recognize many actual people and events skillfully woven into a gripping and cohesive story (something that must have been extremely hard to do).  

History shows that novels can be powerful means of revealing normally hidden truths about things that matter.  Charles Dickens,  Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Jack London, John Steinbeck, James Michner, Larry McMurtry, and Mario Puzo readily come to mind as novelists who entertained and educated the public.  

IMO,  these writers were truly social and behavoral "scientists" (mostly ethnographers) because they often did grueling, sometimes dangerous, research into their subject matter.  Each of these writers often gathered mountains of hard data and often actually braved going into places that were decidely unpleasant or dangerous in order to gather these data for their "novels."  Commonly, much of the data was NOT used per se, but remained available in the writers' memory banks and dusty files.

Often, the characters, events, and storylines of these great writers revealed worlds better than dry statistics or "scientific" writing could ever do.  A "good" novel has the "ring of truth" to those who live in the actual worlds of the book's story.  When poor people, migrant workers, slaves, soldiers, sailors, cowboys, boxers, miners,  whores, drug addicts, thieves, and killers , variously, endorse authors for their ability to capture truths.... then, that writer has to be respected for making contributions to our understanding of the myrid worlds, past and present that people live and lived in.  Our poor family of miners and migrant farm workers loved John Steinbeck's novel "The Grapes of Wrath" because it helped us understand our own worth and humanity as downtrodden mainly invisible folks. Of course we understood the novel was fiction, but to us some of the described events in the book (and movie) brought tears to our eyes because it hit home with what it is like to be scared and hungry.  Steinbeck, and others of his ilk,  told truths about the human experience...And that is why people still love them to this day.

Don Winslow is and author who obviously has done tremendous ethnographic and other social science research (such as into the phenomenology and psychology of killing).  Some of the incidents Winslow depicts or weaves in his stories could only have been written after intense observation or interviewing with knowledgeable subjects ....not easy and expensive in time, money and personal sacrifices!  Friends, one does NOT simply sit down at a computer and pound out a novel such as The Cartel!  

Don Winslow, greatfully and properly acknowledges the help and contributions of many journalists and others who helped him with his writing.  I can imagine the hard work it took to get  certain "inside" facts from these helpers... but that is what good writers do to tell a believable story in the tradition of the aforementioned writers.

Dangers: Authors who write about topics such as governmental secrets and corruption, vice, crime, and murder have real problems that constrain how they do so.  One can get sued or even killed for being too revealing about things written that identify real people.  Just on survival and practical grounds, writers of verisimilitude novels, often "must" obscure things they write about.  For similar reasons, they must protect their information sources.  So, in a way, we can understand that "The Cartel" had to be a fictionalized novel about very dangerous and powerful people in high places.

I highly recommend reading "The Cartel" and all of Don Winslow's other novels because they are very entertaining and because they provide  social science insights useful for understanding topics explicitly unavailable or forbidden to us.   So, do yourself a favor, and enter the Mexican worlds of endemic crime, political corruption, gruesome violence, and human depravity from the comfort of your old stuffed chair.  I'm sure you won't  be sorry.... and you will learn somethings that may surprise you.

Mexico-Watcher
777
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Re: 'The Cartel' author excoriates Sean Penn: What should have been asked

777
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Good read!
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Re: 'The Cartel' author excoriates Sean Penn: What should have been asked

J. Stewart
In reply to this post by Mexico-Watcher
Wow, that was really deep, true and emotional (atleast for me!). I have waited (too long) for the translated version in my country but now I realize that waiting just makes me older and not any wiser. I`ll buy the english version first thing tomorrow!
Thanks, Mexico-Watcher! :hugs:
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Re: 'The Cartel' author excoriates Sean Penn: What should have been asked

Siskiyou_Kid
In reply to this post by J
My mom gave me "The Power of the Dog" and "The Cartel" for my birthday, but I'm still working on "The Power of the Dog". Winslow is a good writer and he goes after the subject in a way that I'm somewhat envious of.

Ioan Grillo's new book arrived today, and it looks like I'll probably finish reading it tomorrow.
Those that say, don't know. Those that know, don't say.
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Re: 'The Cartel' author excoriates Sean Penn: What should have been asked

Mexico-Watcher
In reply to this post by J. Stewart
J. Stewart wrote
Wow, that was really deep, true and emotional (atleast for me!). I have waited (too long) for the translated version in my country but now I realize that waiting just makes me older and not any wiser. I`ll buy the english version first thing tomorrow!
Thanks, Mexico-Watcher! :hugs:
J. Stewart: Thanks! ...I gladly accept your hug.

BTW, Did you know that Charles Dickens and John Steinbeck "explicitly" wrote some of their novels to cause moral and civil  unrest aimed at positive social change?  Dickens and Steinbeck were sickened and angry at the social injustices in their times and they chose to educate the masses about this via their novels.  Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Nancy, Fagin, Tom, Rose of Sharon, Ma, and the preacher were composite depictions of real living people.  

Sometimes stories that touch our hearts are much more powerful than mountains of dry facts aimed at our intellect.  Certainly, I understand that  "The pen 'is' mightier than the sword."

In my estimation, Mexico and the USA "need" good  realistic novels to trigger positive social changes, because there is too much glamorization of the evils that stem from illicit drugs.

Mexico-Watcher
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Re: 'The Cartel' author excoriates Sean Penn: What should have been asked

choco
In reply to this post by Mexico-Watcher
MW... thanks for your thoughtful and thorough elucidation of historical novels and their valid contributions to literature. I am not as keen as I used to be to dig through the sordid details of the depravity behind it all, because I am just focused on other, more positive things these days, but I appreciate your perspective. Thanks for sharing.
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Re: 'The Cartel' author excoriates Sean Penn: What should have been asked

choco
In reply to this post by Chivis
Initially I just chocked Penn's self-indulgent bio-Chapo-expose up to naivete, but when he went on 60 Minutes whining about how his "message" had gotten lost, I lost my patience! No way in hell was that article written to talk about the US drug consumption complicity in creating/maintaining Mexican cartels or the failed "war on drugs."

So, at that point, imo, he became fair game... just as Winslow points out.

Also, it's not like Rolling Stone could just decide the day that Chapo was arrested to THEN publish a front page article about the Chapo interview. These things get planned far in advance, in this case probably back in October. It was some grand cosmic harmonic convergence for the planned El Cholo capture to actually reel in Chapo... all on the eve of the Rolling Stone publication.  EPN got very lucky indeed. I wonder if heads are going to roll somewhere. I'm sure Chapo was furious.

ps Chivis... just curious, I have not watched the RS video "interview" of Chapo... do you think he came across as something of a dullard, or was he just handed stupid questions?  Did your opinion of him change re his storied reputation as a cartel wizard?  Or is he rather The Wizard of Oz and people will pay no attention to the man behind the screen anymore?
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Re: 'The Cartel' author excoriates Sean Penn: What should have been asked

Chivis
Administrator
Yes, a few times I watched it.  I don't think he came across as dumb as rocks, but less than I imaged all these years.  I knew his traveling teacher stopped going to La Tuna when he was 8, so he lacked an education but that has nothing to d with intelligence.  I was taken aback at how simple he is.  

But to fairly judge, we would have to hear him more than once.  He did seem focused and a little nervous.  

The wizard of oz is what lucio says in one of his posts

It makes one wonder, what role El Chapo truly had with the Sinaloa Cartel. Was it someone else who in reality is the premier leader, sitting at the top of the Sinaloa’s organizational chart? Someone smarter, perceptive, and inflexible? Or has he lost what he once had, somehow he seemed far more powerful as an enigma.  I saw a cartoon the other day with Kate Castillo looming large next to a tiny El Chapo as the Wizard of Oz which sums up what I am thinking.


That said, I still don't think we can fairly assess his command or lack there of, by one 17 min video.
as for the wizard, I am thinking more in line with The Emperor's New Clothes
 
The way I see it.... the more people that don't like me, the less people I have to please
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Re: 'The Cartel' author excoriates Sean Penn: What should have been asked

choco
Based on what Penn said, it took some convincing to get him to do the video... as in a long time cus he did not grasp the concept apparently.

Do you think maybe just nervous about being on camera?  Or maybe he was really worried about impressing Kate!!
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Re: 'The Cartel' author excoriates Sean Penn: What should have been asked

canadiana
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Well said MW.The written word can be inspiration!
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Re: 'The Cartel' author excoriates Sean Penn: What should have been asked

el Jesse James
In reply to this post by Chivis
Buela Chivis, if I may... do you not think it unfair to judge his intelligence based solely on this recent interview? Lets jump back to 1993 shall we? Check out his interview then, its just my opinion but IMO he seems to atleast have an underlying social intelligence about him in that interview. The fire in his eyes... I dont know but he atleast acts as if he is a fairly smart person in that interview, carefully choosing his answers. I mean christ, this dude has been at the top in one of the most pressure-cooker environments for longer than Ive been alive! He obviously was doing something right, no? Not sure how much I believe some of the wacky stories, sounds like celebrity paparazzi tabloid stuff which obviously needs to be taken with a grain of salt. As far as who the CDS power is based on. I never thought it was much of a secret, El Azul has always been known as the main reason CDS has the position and status that they do. But as far as him leaving the sierra, that was a super rookie move most definitely. Quite surprised he would do that knowing the risk.

As far as Chapo "ratting" LOL. Any player who goes into this career thinking there are codes and rules will get eaten for breakfast. The only "rules" should be the obvious, dont harm innocents. Anything else is fair game. You dont *nearly* consolidate an entire nation's drug traffic playing by the rules. All is fair in love and war.
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Re: 'The Cartel' author excoriates Sean Penn: What should have been asked

choco
My thoughts too El JJ.