A New Kind of Celebrity Journalism

Sean Penn is writing a series of foreign dispatches for The San Francisco Chronicle, again.

The first time he served as foreign correspondent for the paper, his three-part series on Iraq -- which included a photo slideshow, mostly of him -- was the source of many annoyed letters from readers, like this one from Merle Divens: "Just want you to know that no one gives a damn what Sean Penn thinks or does. He only makes films filled with violence. Who made him a journalist anyway? What are his credentials to do anything? What is his education?"

This time, he's in Iran, where's he's making such observations as the following:

Iran is not an unsophisticated country. These are not unrefined people.
His articles are also often focused on himself, instead of on the country.
I noticed that many Iranians were freely smoking cigarettes in line, certainly no signs prohibiting it, and immediately joined them. I was quickly singled out by a uniformed customs agent who instructed me to put out my cigarette. Only me. Not the Iranian passengers.
But that’s the point of the pieces: Let’s see what happens when a well-known Hollywood actor goes to an enemy land! The result is rather chaotic: a video on the Chronicle site shows him being beseiged by photographers during a museum visit.

Maybe his pieces will get people who wouldn't otherwise read an article on Iran to learn something about the country. Some readers may get a kick out of having an Oscar-winning celeb double as a journalist.

What do you think? Should Sean Penn stick to acting, or should we give celebrities the room to stretch their creative muscles and try reporting, even on serious topics like American-Iranian relations?

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