Editorial: Since when is El Chapo an editor?

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If a Chicago reporter in the early 1930s ever had an opportunity to interview the notorious fugitive gangster John Dillinger, we like to think he or she would have jumped at the chance.

Interviewing a bad guy, even when that means agreeing to not reveal his hideout, is no journalistic crime. It can be an important story.

But we sure hope no Chicago reporter granted Dillinger permission to edit the story in advance of publication, altering or throwing out whatever parts offended him. That’s not journalism. That’s public relations.

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This is the journalistic crime Rolling Stone magazine and its celebrity reporter, Sean Penn, committed in interviewing the world’s most notorious drug lord, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, at his northern Mexico hideout. The magazine granted Guzman final approval of Penn’s meandering 10,000-word article, and it doesn’t matter a bit that Guzman reportedly did not change a word. As any war correspondent can tell you, reporters inevitably write differently — excluding or pulling punches — when they have to get their stuff past a censor.

Or maybe, as in Penn’s case, they butter up the censor.

“This simple man,” Penn wrote of Guzman, “from a simple place, surrounded by the simple affections of his sons to their father, and his toward them, does not initially strike me as the big bad wolf of lore.”

Please. Where were Rolling Stone’s editors? This “simple man” was the most powerful drug trafficker in the world for more than a decade. Forbes magazine in 2011 ranked him the 10th richest man in Mexico.

Guzman, now under arrest again in Mexico, could be extradited to the United States to stand trial, possibly in Chicago. If so, we’ll be looking for an interview, but with no strings attached.

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