Stephen Schwartz, who once spent a decade at the San Francisco Chronicle, explains how Senn Penn recently ended up in its pages, “reporting” from Iran:
The first matter worthy of interest was the report that the actor Sean Penn, who has specialized in playing brain-dead stoners, death row convicts, and similar dead-end characters in movies, had been sent to Iran, to “report” — i.e. journalistically — on the elections there, for none other than my old paper, the Chronicle.
Well, it turned out that exercise in nonsense was even less significant than it first appeared. According to my sources in the Chronicle newsroom, Phil “I Kick Butt” Bronstein, the paper’s cowboy-boot wearing Editor, issued a memo this week assuring his staff that Penn would not be employed as a Chronicle correspondent. Rather, the actor was provided a general credential letter as a potential freelancer, and was encouraged to write diary-style stories that would be carefully evaluated for possible publication. Bronstein, formerly known as “Mr. Sharon Stone,” told his staff that Penn, formerly “Mr. Madonna,” who made a fool of himself by stumbling around Iraq before the commencement of its liberation, would not be paid a retainer, and that the paper was not looking for political comment from the actor.
This stance was seemingly cautious for the hotheaded Bronstein, best remembered in San Francisco for a donnybrook on the premises of his former newspaper, the San Francisco Examiner, in which he broke the foot of a political consultant, Clint Reilly. But Bronstein’s efforts to legitimize Penn’s adventures are nothing new. The actor returned to Baghdad in 2004, filing dull jottings to the Chronicle describing his progress through various airports and offering fervent endorsements of Medea Benjamin, the long-serving anti-American agitator who heads Global Exchange, a propaganda front for the Castro dictatorship and similar obnoxious regimes. Penn’s prose was padded with pedestrian observations about wartorn Iraq. On that occasion also, the inarticulate actor’s experiment in journalism benefited from the patronage of Bronstein. But the Chronicle editor, whose chief reportorial achievement was his discovery of her closet full of shoes after Imelda Marcos’s husband Ferdy fell from power, apparently came under criticism from the real reporters who work for him, when Penn set off for Iran claiming to represent the paper.
Well that’s good to hear. On the opposite coast, I wonder how Andres “Piss Christ” Serrano went over with the reporters for the New York Times when he supplied photos for a story on Abu Ghraib last week–coming after the Times had already run 34 consecutive front cover stories on the topic, ending late in the prior month.