Rolling Stone Gathers No Accolades

Rolling Stone ChapoA magazine that staked the reputation of countless people on one person’s account just a year ago allowed a suspected murderer and drug lord control over an article.


While Sean Penn’s name appears on an article published tonight on Rolling Stone’s website, an accompanying note makes it clear Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera – known as El Chapo – controlled its content.

Guzmán was recaptured Friday in Mexico after escaping from one of the country’s most secure prisons last year.

The Rolling Stone story cautions that “an understanding was brokered with the subject that this piece would be submitted for the subject’s approval before publication. The subject did not ask for any changes.”

Allowing any source control over a story’s content is inexcusable. The practice of pre-approval discredits the entire story – whether the subject requests changes or not. The writer, who in this case is an actor and activist, may write the story in a more favorable light and omit unflattering facts in an attempt to not to be rejected.

Forfeiting its editorial control to Guzman is the latest misstep in the lauded magazine’s modern history. Last Spring, Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism chastised Rolling Stone in a report for publishing a severely flawed article about campus rape that largely relied on the account of one person. The magazine responded to the report by doing nothing.

Earlier this week, a rejection letter from Rolling Stone’s Hunter S. Thompson circulated around the Internet. In his words, Rolling Stone, “what kind of lame, half-mad bullshit are you trying to sneak over on us?” We expect better. Get it together.


Andrew M. Seaman is chair of the ethics committee of the Society of Professional Journalists.

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