George Packer in The New Yorker:
The cover of the December 15th Nation magazine features an article by the veteran foreign correspondent Sean Penn on his recent trip to Venezuela and Cuba. Travelling in the company of Douglas Brinkley, the noted actor, and Christopher Hitchens, the world-famous hedge-fund executive and philanthropist, Penn was the invited guest of President Hugo Chávez, of Venezuela, well-known as an advocate for the Social Gospel, and of Raúl Castro, Cuba’s humorous, wonky, and athletically gifted new chief executive.
During the course of his extensive interviews with Chávez and Castro, Penn displays skills as a stenographer that would come as a pleasant surprise to fans of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” Many pages of Castro monologue are transcribed and transmitted to North American readers without interruption (except when “Raúl interrupts himself”), proving that Penn understands the first principle of the good interview: make the subject feel comfortable enough to open up. Good interviewers also know how to analyze the material they work so hard to elicit, and Penn treats his readers to gems such as “Inside, I’m wondering, Have I got a big story to break here? Or is this of little relevance?”