Sean Penn’s Series on Iran Visit to Run in Monday’s ‘SF Chron’

By: Joe Strupp

Nearly two months after Sean Penn went to Iran as a San Francisco Chronicle correspondent to observe the nation’s elections, a five-part series by the actor is set to run in the paper beginning Monday, Chronicle Editor and Penn friend Phil Bronstein told E&P.

The long-awaited, multi-part series, which will include about 10,000 words, was handed in to editors more than a month ago by Penn, who was in Iran for the June 17 elections.

“As with anything like this, it required a fair amount of work between the editor and the author,” Bronstein told E&P, noting he did not directly edit the piece, but has reviewed it. “I recall seeing anywhere from nine to 11 versions. He came in a couple of times to meet with editors, and [spent] a lot of time on the phone.”

During his stay, Penn observed, among other things, students chanting “Death to America.” He also had his camcorder briefly seized by police while shooting a protest.

The series will run in the paper’s Datebook feature section for five days. But, Bronstein stressed, it is more than just stories about the Iran voting. “He was there during that time, but if you read the series, he wasn’t really covering the elections,” the editor said. “He was experiencing Iran and Tehran during that moment in time.”

Penn, who paid his own travel expenses, was authorized to travel as a Chronicle correspondent by Bronstein. He said any payment for Penn’s work had not been determined. Penn wrote a lengthy two-part series in January 2004 about a similar trip to Iraq, for which he was not paid, the editor said.

“He wanted to go [to Iran] during the elections, but it was never going to be about the elections,” said Bronstein, himself a veteran foreign correspondent. “Most of the material is not about the elections.” The editor said it is similar to the Iraq series in that it takes a personal, rather than detached, approach.

As for another Penn assignment in the future, Bronstein remained uncommitted but open. “It all depends on what the topic is and the approach,” he said.

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