Sean Penn Blames Media for Failures in Haiti Recovery

Sean Penn, CBS Appearing on Monday's CBS Early Show, actor Sean Penn described ongoing relief efforts in Haiti following January's earthquake and condemned the media for its lack of coverage of the disaster beyond the initial weeks: "I think that the media has played an enormous part in the failures that are still going on today and the recovery here and the relief operations."

Those comments from Penn were prompted by co-host Harry Smith wondering: "People would be curious why you went in the first place. And then, why you stayed. What's the best answer for that?" Penn replied: "...if they're wondering that, then that would be an indictment of the American and the international press that came here in the immediate aftermath of this devastating earthquake." Penn explained: "The United States sent its military, that did an extraordinary job in immediate relief....And then when they went on with other deployments, when the amputations en masse stopped, the media left."

Smith gave absolutely no reaction to Penn's scathing criticism, but simply went on to tout praise for the left-wing actor's work on the island nation: "I was reading the comments of a lieutenant general from the U.S. Southern Command who you came in contact with. And he said, 'you know, maybe I don't agree with Sean Penn's politics but I can tell you this, he's a doer, not a talker....I applaud the leadership he has shown. He doesn't have to do this.'"

While teasing the exclusive interview earlier in the show, Smith gushed over Penn: "Sean Penn went to Haiti right after January's devastating earthquake....He has made a serious life commitment to these folks....one person who has been there much of the last six months, very much under the radar, doing really the Lord's work there, quite frankly, is Sean Penn."

This is not the first time Smith has fawned over Penn's work. On the February 23, 2009 broadcast, Smith described how he "wept openly" at Penn's portrayal of gay activist Harvey Milk in the movie 'Milk.'

On March, 7, 2010, CBS foreign correspondent Lara Logan did a profile piece on Penn's work in Haiti for the network's Sunday Morning program. At one point, Logan asked: "Does it make you angry when people talk about, you know, 'Sean Penn, the Hollywood star, the movie star, coming in and trying to do something,' and they're kind of cynical about it?" Penn replied: "I haven't had an awful lot of time to pay attention to them. You know, do I hope that those people die screaming of rectal cancer? Yeah, you know, but I'm not going to spend a lot of energy on it."

Here is a full transcript of Smith's July 12 interview with Penn:
7:30AM TEASE

HARRY SMITH: Also ahead this morning, a big Hollywood name takes on a big job. Sean Penn went to Haiti right after January's devastating earthquake. His organization is now taking care of some 50,000 refugees. He has made a serious life commitment to these folks. He's going to tell us exclusively about the challenges Haiti faces six months after the quake in just a little bit.

7:45AM TEASE

SMITH: Still ahead, we're going to go to Haiti and talk exclusively to actor and activist Sean Penn. He has been there almost nonstop since January's deadly earthquake. He's got quite a story to tell. We'll get it from him in a couple of minutes.

8:00AM TEASE

SMITH: Six months to the day since the earthquake in Haiti, and one person who has been there much of the last six months, very much under the radar, doing really the Lord's work there, quite frankly, is Sean Penn. He joins us exclusively in just a couple of minutes to talk about the work that needs to be done there and the gaping reality gap between what needs to be done and what is actually getting accomplished. So, we'll talk to him in just a couple of minutes.

ERICA HILL: Beyond sobering, unfortunately.

8:08AM SEGMENT

SMITH: Six months after Haiti's earthquake, the numbers are still staggering. Between 220 and 300,000 died. Another 300,000 were injured. And about 1.5 million people still are homeless. That is as we head into hurricane season. Before the quake, actor Sean Penn had never been to Haiti. He has been there almost full time since January, building a relief organization that is helping tens of thousands of survivors. And Sean Penn joins us exclusively from Port-au-Prince this morning. Sean, good morning.

SEAN PENN [CEO, J/P HAITIAN RELIEF ORGANIZATION]: Good morning.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Six Months Later; Sean Penn on Haiti Relief Efforts]

SMITH: In the six months that you have spent, most of the last six months that you have spent there in Haiti, what is the most important thing you have learned there?

PENN: Well, I think there's a – there's a tremendous coordination issue between the international agencies, the government of Haiti. And so, what happens, is that floods and floods of money come in when people are seeing immediate trauma and the drama that goes along with that. And then there are agencies, big agencies, that have a lot of time sorting out the ways to best spend the money and that have the detailed capacity to do it. And so, what happens is that you get six months down the line and those things that would be preventative have not been put in place to – in any legitimate measure. And so, I think that there's a big learning curve here and something that we're going to have to take away with us for disasters to follow and the disasters that are likely to continue happening in Haiti.

SMITH: People would be curious why you went in the first place. And then, why you stayed. What's the best answer for that?

PENN: Harry, I'll tell you, the very best answer for that is, frankly, that if they're wondering that, then that would be an indictment of the American and the international press that came here in the immediate aftermath of this devastating earthquake. The United States sent so much money. The United States sent its military, that did an extraordinary job in immediate relief, the most decisive action of any organization so far to date in this country. And then when they went on with other deployments, when the amputations en masse stopped, the media left.

And so many of the questions and criticisms could have been answered. People could understand what's going on here, they could understand the heart and the courage of the Haitian people and the necessity for the coordination efforts that still are not happening, in anything close to an effective way. I think that the media has played an enormous part in the failures that are still going on today and the recovery here and the relief operations.

SMITH: You know, it's interesting. I was reading the comments of a lieutenant general from the U.S. Southern Command who you came in contact with. And he said, 'you know, maybe I don't agree with Sean Penn's politics but I can tell you this, he's a doer, not a talker.' And he said, 'Sean knew how to work, both with the U.N., break its bureaucracy down.' He said, 'I applaud the leadership he has shown. He doesn't have to do this.' Why do you do it?

PENN: You know, I came here – I'd never been to Haiti before, but I came here with a group of people who would all have their own answers for that and we found ourselves surrounded by thousands of others who would, again, have their own response to that. But I guess generically is the best way to answer it, is that you come to Haiti, in our case we came down with the idea of spending about two weeks and trying to help out. And there's something that takes over and it's really an obligation because you see the strength of the people who have never experienced comfort and the gifts that that can give to people like myself and to our country and culture.

You see the enormous gaps. And you see that at least in your own small way, it's each of us, every agency in its own small way, that chips into what is such an immeasurable problem here and one that Sanjay Gupta early on had said – had called 'awful, indelible, fixable.' And it is fixable. And it'll be – you know, it remains to be seen whether or not the American people, the world community, are going to join together and maintain the kind of commitment that the United States military showed here and to do this completely rather than to do a cosmetic emergency response and then let a country that's been suffering for so long suffer that much longer.

SMITH: Sean Penn, we thank you very much for doing what you're doing down there and also for taking a few minutes to clue us into just what it's like there in Haiti six months later. Thank you so much.

PENN: Thanks for bringing attention to it.

SMITH: Alright, you bet.
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC