El Chapo Wasn't Sean Penn's First Super-Villain Interview: All About His Controversial Reporting Career
The actor and humanitarian has reported on human rights issues around the world
While it remains to be seen whether or not Sean Penn will face legal repercussions over his interview with drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmén, Penn has faced some backlash from journalists and pundits.
“If the byline [on the El Chapo piece] said ‘Hunter S. Thompson,’ no one would be as critical of this piece,” a source tells PEOPLE, “and instead in the spirit of Gonzo journalism it would be lauded as courageous and unprecedented.”
(Presumably, some of the issues raised by journalists will be addressed in an upcoming Charlie Rose/Penn interview, which Rose announced Tuesday.)
Penn does have something of a storied history working as a journalist: he’s written about Iran, Iraq, Cuba, Venezuela, Haiti and Hurricane Katrina; was the first foreigner to interview Raél Castro; and the only person to get El Chapo.
Penn met with President Raél Castro of Cuba in 2008 for a seven-hour talk, during which he disclosed that he’d met previously with Castro’s brother Fidel. For the story about Raél, he also interviewed Venezuelan President Hugo Chévez.
“I had three primary motivations for this trip,” Penn wrote in The Nation at the time. To deepen my understanding of Chévez and Venezuela and excite my writing hand, and to enlist Chévez’s support in encouraging the Castro brothers to meet with the three of us in Havana.”
In 2009, Penn flew to Cuba to meet with Fidel again, for Vanity Fair, though no article was ever published about that meeting.
Penn covered Iran’s 2005 elections over a five-day period of stories for the San Francisco Chronicle, and a year prior wrote a piece for the paper that warned of the dangers of U.S. occupation in Iraq.
Penn’s work as an activist has been less controversial: He co-founded the J/P Haitian Relief Foundation that is currently helping Haiti to recover from its devastating 2010 earthquake, and arrived in New Orleans to aid in recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.