Reporter clashes with hosts at Sean Penn Haiti benefit
A local reporter was evicted from an interview with Sean Penn at a Haiti benefit Thursday night after asking him a question that event organizers deemed out of bounds.
A bit of history: Last week, the Oscar winner -- who's been doing relief work in the earthquake zone -- told CBS that critics cynical about celebrity do-gooderism should "die screaming of rectal cancer." Washington Examiner reporter Tara Palmeri, last in line to question Penn in a closed press room at the Washington Hebrew Congregation Thursday night, wanted to know more. So she used her turn to bring up Penn's cancer quote.
It didn't go over very well -- least of which with Penn, who told Palmeri, "I think that you're invested in a culture that I'm not interested in." In a YouTube video of the exchange, a woman off-camera -- who Palmeri identifies as C.J. Jordan, the event's publicity coordinator -- can be heard telling Palmeri her question was supposed to be about the night's benefit.
"It's related to the Haiti benefit," Palmeri says.
"Ma'am, this is the end of your interview," Jordan replies.
It goes downhill from there. On Friday, Palmeri told our colleague Marissa Newhall that Jordan escorted her out of the press room into a reception area, where several other reporters were gathered. "I was told that they were going to call my editors and have me fired if I didn't write a letter of apology to the ambassador of Haiti," who was a guest at the event, Palmeri says. "She told me, 'You desecrated this sacred place.'"
Jordan, a former coordinator for John McCain's presidential campaign who has been volunteering at the Haitian embassy since the Jan. 12 earthquake, confirmed those details Friday: "I told her that she didn't know who I was, and that if she wanted to keep her job she should write a letter of apology," Jordan told us.
Upon Penn's arrival, Jordan says, he agreed to answer one question each from six media outlets -- terms set by Jordan, who says she did not specify that questions only be about the benefit.
"When someone of that magnitude is giving of his time and talent for a worthy cause, you know, we want to be respectful," Jordan says. "But more importantly we were in the temple. And all the other reporters asked wonderful questions. She could have led into that question into a different manner."
"I think this whole thing has been blown out of proportion," Rabbi Bruce Lustig told us on Friday. In a story Palmeri wrote about the fracas, she claims that Lustig -- whose Cleveland Park synagogue is donating 50,000 packaged meals to Haiti, and provided space for the event -- tried to take her camera and delete its contents. Lustig says he approached Palmeri and Jordan in the reception area, noticing obvious tension, and tried to help.
"I did not hear the question. It was clear that they felt she was being rude. My first comment to the reporter was we of course believe in the First Amendment, but there's a time and place for everything," Lustig told us. (He says he only suggested that Palmeri delete her video footage, and offered to help when she appeared to be fumbling with the buttons.)
So . . . how was the benefit? "It was very successful," Jordan told us. "We had standing room only and it was an outpouring of love for the people of Haiti. Mr. Penn's remarks were wonderful." Jordan paraphrased: "'If bringing attention to me means bringing light to Haiti, then I understand that.'"
The Reliable Source
March 12, 2010; 3:45 PM ET
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