Any serious journalist given a shot at interviewing El Chapo (a.k.a. Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera) would snap it right up. The honest ones would admit that, at least. So the criticism directed at Sean Penn’s 11,000 word Rolling Stone piece about his secret softball encounter with this infamous Mexican drug dealer boils down to the fact that he didn’t man up and ask tough questions. But how tough would any journalist be under similar circumstances? I’m asking.

A paragraph in Penn’s article indicates that his apparent motive for not doing a Mike Wallace-style interview ((apart from the fact that he hasn’t the training or the temperament of a journalist) stemmed from concerns about possibly getting whacked.

“The trust that El Chapo had extended was not to be fucked with,” Penn writes. “This will be the first interview El Chapo had ever granted outside an interrogation room, leaving me no precedent by which to measure the hazards. I’d seen plenty of video and graphic photography of those beheaded, exploded, dismembered or bullet-riddled innocents, activists, courageous journalists and cartel enemies alike. I was highly aware of committed DEA and other law-enforcement officers and soldiers, both Mexican and American, who had lost their lives executing the policies of the War on Drugs. The families decimated, and institutions corrupted.”

If you, a committed, first-rank, Seymour Hersh-level journalist, had been in Penn’s position, would you have felt any hesitancy about challenging El Chapo’s benign view of his actions and motives? Journalistic honor would demand a tougher approach, of course, but alone in the jungle with the guy and his criminal henchmen, knowing he’s ordered the murder of hundreds if not thousands? Would you completely ignore the fact that taking the life of another journalist would barely register against his ultra-violent legacy?