Thanks largely to the 24-hour cable news cycle, the line between “journalism” and “entertainment” blurs more and more with each passing day—but it seems like Rolling Stone Magazine is unaware that there should be a line at all. Rolling Stone is, of course, now famous for its “A Rape on Campus” story, a tale of a vicious and gruesome rape which went viral… and then turned out to be nearly entirely fabricated.
This time, they’ve found a new and innovative way to debase journalism: clandestinely interviewing a known international drug producer and trafficker. In this gonzo piece, Sean Penn burns through seven-odd cheap cell phones and ruminates on farting in front of El Chapo, the leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel, amongst other things. He’s transported to secret locations and we learn from El Chapo himself that “El Chapo” is really not that bad of a guy—he pinky swears—and he’ll even fund a movie about himself.
Interviewing unsavory characters is neither a new nor bad facet of journalism. People have interviewed Ted Kaczynski, Osama Bin Laden, (other bad people here) and it’s perfectly legitimate. What makes El Chapo’s interview bad journalism? Well, not to worry. We’re going to clear that up for you.
The crux of the biscuit is the apostrophe. It was El Chapo’s interview, not Rolling Stone’s. El Chapo was given final editorial control over the piece, jeopardizing the piece’s integrity and calling into question the very reason (barring click-bait) to even bother putting together the piece itself. According to Rolling Stone, he made no edits, but that is irrelevant: it was always in the mind of the journalist and the editors that El Chapo would be seeing the article before print, and it was surely edited accordingly. Especially considering the dapper fellow’s position as head of a violent drug cartel.
This is an affront to journalism, and especially to anyone covering the narcotics beat in Mexico. Cartels regularly blow or shoot up Mexican news outlets who portray them unfavorably or who attempt to shed light on their influence in local affairs. Rolling Stone, an American publication located on American soil, has a duty to report on the truth. Instead they printed a movie pitch from El Chapo.
It was, in short, all about driving clicks. This article was pure entertainment and the public fell for it: everyone read it. It received a lot of media coverage. With the rise of VICE media, clickbait, leading headlines from Buzzfeed and the like, these kinds of entertainment articles disguised as journalism are becoming more and more common, while real news outlets can’t keep up. Just this week, Al Jazeera America shut down, and the ailing The New Republic has been sold for the upteenth time. Both are quality media outlets, and both have had dwindling viewership. Meanwhile, Rolling Stone chugs along merrily, despite its crass abominations of journalistic integrity. Que sera, sera.
In short, Rolling Stone Magazine is no longer in the journalism business. They’ve crossed over into the realm of cheap-entertainment and their reputation cannot be redeemed.