Sean Penn, Castro and – of course – Israel

Over at the New Yorker, George Packer does a much better job than I could ever hope to taking down Sean Penn’s humiliating stab at whatever passes for "journalism" in his freeze-dried imagination, his fawning interviews with Raul Castro and Hugo Chavez (in the Nation, but an expanded version is to be posted at Huffington Post. Yay!).

I can’t resist adding a few thoughts, though, and one of them even has relevance to this blog:

Sean: First of all, real journalists pay for those flights aboard Air Force One, so yes, your luxurious stint on the Venezuelan energy ministry’s aircraft does indeed raise questions. Someone pretending to be a journalist might have, you know, asked before you patronized your readers:

When you read the next report from a journalist flying on Air Force One, or hopping on board a US military transport plane, be so kind as to dismiss that article as well. We appreciated the ride in all its luxury, but our reporting remains uninfluenced.

"Be so kind?" Be so kind as to never again set your clumsy thoughts to the ether, bub.

Second, if Raul Castro offers you and two colleagues an interview and then rescinds the offer, narrowing it down to just you (maybe because you share notions of how journalists are supposed to behave?), you don’t sneak off without waking your friends up. You at least ask them what questions they would like asked, and you share notes IMMEDIATELY upon your return.

Finally, wtf?

"Mr. President," I say, "watching the last presidential debate in the United States, we heard John McCain encouraging the free-trade agreement with Colombia, a country where death squads are notorious and assassinations of labor leaders have been occurring, and yet relations with the United States continue to get closer, as the Bush administration is currently attempting to push that agreement through Congress. As you know, I’ve just come from Venezuela, which, like Cuba, the Bush administration considers an enemy nation, though of course we buy a lot of oil from them. It occurred to me that Colombia may reasonably become our geographically strategic partner in South America, as Israel is in the Middle East. Would you comment on that?"

"Mr. President," I say, "watching the last presidential debate in the United States, my mind began to wander, and how the f*** is Guy Ritchie getting a $90 million payout from Madonna while I have to work for a living? Anyway, the last time I saw a journalist, was it in that thing Meryl did with Tom? They asked a really convoluted question not because journalists really ask questions loaded to the max with setups, but because it’s become one of the most promiscuous and painfully transparent plot exposition devices in the biz, so what about Colombia and Israel, huh? Death squads? The same? Huh? Huh?"

One more thing. Do not – EVER – accept wine from a dictator. This is dumber even than, say, flying Chavez Air.

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